How do you let your teenagers go but at the same time keep them safe? After all, it’s tough being their age these days. Teens are growing up in a world that worships freedom to do what you want, rejects responsibility, and provides many ways for them to do both. As a result, being the parent of a teenager is tough too.
Part of parenting is learning how to let go well, giving your teen more freedom and responsibility as he or she grows. A later curfew. The keys to the car. A part-time job. An overnight with friends. The speed at which you do these sort of things will vary depending on each teen’s track record and maturity.
As your child moves gradually out of your home and into the world, they will increasingly be influenced by those they are spending more of their time with—their friends. So for you to remain in the know, you’ll need to get to know them better. Here are 4 must-knows about your teen’s friends.
- Get to know them. Have your teen invite their friends over to your house. Observe their interactions not only with you but with others in your home. Are they respectful of people and property? Do they speak well of their parents and family? Without interrogating them, you can learn a lot from a friendly conversation. How are they doing at school? What are their extracurricular activities? Do they go to church or are they involved in any community service? What does their style of dress tell you? Without prying, do they have any personal issues that you should at least be aware of? If they are part of a group with your teen—at church, or a sports team, or school club—ask the leader about them informally. And what does your teen like about their friend? Again, you can find out a lot with a friendly conversation. Even if your kids are now adults, you can still invest in their friendships.
- Get to know their parents. Your teen’s friend may tell you about their family, but that’s only one perspective. If your teen and her friend seem to be forging a strong relationship, you need to know a bit more about life at the other house. Introduce yourself or have them over for dinner so that they know more about you, and learn what you can about them. If you find you’re on a similar wavelength in regards to parenting, you will be able to form a strong alliance. So when your teen next says, “That’s not fair. Bill’s mom lets him do it,” you’ll either know it is true or be able to call up and find out. And if the parents’ values and attitudes are markedly different, you at least know enough to be a little cautious.
- Get to know the ground rules in their home. Simply saying, “I’m just going to hang out with Jenna,” isn’t enough to go on when your teen heads out the door. You need to know what is going to be happening and where. Who else is going to be there? If it’s a sleepover, will the parents be home? What are the ground rules regarding movie viewing? Alcohol in the house? Teenagers are notorious for changing their minds and their plans, of course. So will your teen contact you to let you know if that happens and check in with regards to the new thing they want to do?
- Get to know the details of their time together. When your teen comes home, it’s great for you to be there and be awake. But when they walk in the door, don’t demand a blow-by-blow account of all that happened. They will feel like you don’t trust them which may only push them further away. But you can find out plenty through casual conversations.
As our kids were going through their teen years, we found that some nights they’d come home and were in a chatty mood, other nights they were not. When they were not, we just let it go and caught up about it at another time. When they do want to talk, don’t just ask what movie they saw, but talk about it. Get them to tell you what they thought about it so they feel like you are looking for a conversation, not a confession. Also, be aware of your teen’s attitude, even language, after they have been hanging out with their friend. Have they changed? If so, it is for better or worse? When you get to know these four things, they may help you to determine whether to let more rope out or reign it in a bit.