By Jane St. Clair
If you have the choice between leaving your kindergartner or your 17-year-old home alone, which one do you pick? Many would say you should choose the kindergartner because they can't get into as much trouble as your teenager can. After all, a kindergartner won’t engage in such destructive behaviors as experimenting with drugs and alcohol, sex or gang-related activities. Nor will they text 200 friends on their cell phone and invite them over for a spontaneous party.
Does this mean your teenager needs a babysitter? No. Most researchers who study children believe that over-supervising a teen actually stunts development. What is important is to love, support and trust your teen, and respect their privacy and independence.
Experts in the field of adolescent psychology advise parents to allow their teens as much privacy as possible in areas that do not have to do with safety. For example, you can respect your teen’s privacy by not reading their emails or letters, or going through papers in their room. You can still retain the right to view everything they post online or view anything left in a public place if you still feel like your teen isn’t fully disclosing their activities to you.
While you need your teen to practice decent hygiene and occasionally tidy up their room, you do not need to be on their case about what they wear, what music they like and what hairstyle they choose. You can retain the right to not allow unkindness, obscene language and violence in your home. You should also intervene or seek professional help if your teen is into self-destructive or criminal behaviors such as abusing drugs or alcohol, suicidal ideation, stealing, violence, sexually abusive relationships or associations with gangs.
Keeping Tabs on Your Teen
Specialists in adolescent development do not believe it is a good idea to leave teenagers alone for long periods of time, such as over a weekend. Leaving them alone routinely for three or more hours a day is also not good practice, even if you check up by phone, because it is possible for your teen to lie to you about their whereabouts if they are using a cell phone. Criminal activity among teenagers actually increases dramatically between the hours of 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., when many teens are left unsupervised.
The better thing to do is to encourage your teenager to engage in adult-supervised activities after school or to find an after-school job. Know where your child is, especially at night, and give them a curfew. Get to know his friends personally and, most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. The more you communicate with your teenager, the more they will seek your counsel and tell you about what’s going on their life. Then you will never feel as though you need a babysitter for your teen.