By Dr. Jan Hittelman

As concerns rise regarding teen substance abuse and other risk behaviors, many parents out of fear are “clamping down” and policing their own children. Many “experts” are recommending parents periodically search rooms, monitor cell phone use, text messaging, computer use, and Internet sites visited. The real challenge for parents of teens is trying to balance developing a trusting relationship with looking out for your child’s well being. If we have difficulty calming our fears, there are far more effective and respectful ways to help ensure that our children avoid a wide range of risk behaviors.

• Engage in frequent, mutually respectful, discussions regarding these behaviors. Try and listen more than lecture. Encourage your child to share his/her point of view. There is a wealth of evidence that when parents effectively communicate their concerns regarding risk behaviors, children engage in them far less often.
• Encourage your child to participate in the discipline plan regarding risk behaviors and consequences. This will increase the likelihood that they will take responsibility for their behavior and truly learn from their mistakes.
• Give fair warning. When/if you are considering monitoring your child’s behavior, let them know the reasons that you are doing so and be honest with them about what you are going to do. Losing the element of surprise is far outweighed by losing their respect.
• If your trust is violated, provide your child with opportunities, guidance and encouragement to regain your trust. We learn through our mistakes. Take advantage of these teaching moments and encourage your child to learn from their mistakes.

Trying to find the right balance between trust and oversight will help ensure that we develop healthy, respectful, and lasting relationships with our children.