We Know: When Parents Should Interfere with Their Teenagers' Lives
A few helpful hints on parenting from former middle school teacher and children's writer Molly Hersage.

Not Everything Teenagers Say And Do Is Cause For Concern

Parents who do not begin each interaction with their teenager by asking themselves if there is an issue of safety or distrust, find it very difficult to limit the number of battles they participate in. The most common mistake parents make when interfering with their teenager’s life is to be trigger- happy; that is, parents create conflict with their child over too many, unnecessary issues. The most harmless example of choices teenage children make is choices about their physical appearance, such as hairstyle. How important is it to you that your child adheres to specific standards or conventions you hold, for hair? Is it worth battling with him over? Parents can also be overly restrictive about the activities they allow their children to be involved in while at home. Life for the teenager who seeks to feel free of his parents’ rules can be a constant battle. As a result, teenagers often spend limited time at home.

When to Interfere

There are two situations in which it is always appropriate for parents to engage in a discussion with their children. Parental interference should always occur when a child has a record of being distrustful or if you believe your child may be in danger.

Issues of Trust

The first situation is when there is a lack of trust between parent and child. Trust becomes an issue when your child’s past behavior shows he has been dishonest with you. If your silence in the past led your child to make a decision that went against a defined family boundary or expectation (see "How to Set Boundaries with Your Teenager") you have a right and responsibility to speak up. Scenarios most likely to relate to distrust of a child by his or her parents include: Repeatedly disrespecting curfews, lying about plans with friends, and making promises to parents that go unfilled. If you child has never done any of these things, you have no reason to distrust him. Do not interfere with him because you fear he might violate your trust in the future. If, on the other hand, your child has done one or all of these things, you have a right to engage him in a serious discussion.

Issues of Danger

A second situation in which you should engage your child in a discussion is one that may involve danger. Dangerous scenarios that teenagers may become exposed to fall into one of two categories: physical or psychological. A physical danger can be anything that threatens your child’s exterior, or their physical body. This can include a child’s being the target of bullying, palpable threats, bodily intimidation, molestation, rape, or any other sexual abuse. Psychological danger can be defined as anything that negatively affects the mind or emotions of a child. If you believe your child’s physical or psychological state is being jeopardized, you must try to do everything possible to speak with her. Whenever a parent fears for their child’s safety or emotional well being, there needs to be a dialogue. There are a number of dangerous situations that can threaten adolescents. If you know your child is being exposed to situations where drugs, alcohol or sex may be offered to her, you must talk with her about the realities of the situation she will face. Do not leave her to react to difficult decisions on her own or to be vulnerable to peer pressure. Secondly, if your child exhibits any strong emotions such as sadness or anger, there is an issue of danger. Do not leave her to ‘sort though the feelings on her own.’ Talk to her right away. If you feel overwhelmed or confused, seek professional assistance to guide you and your child to a better state of mind Although addressing these issues can feel uncomfortable or difficult, you have a responsibility as a parent to engage in a meaningful dialogue with your child about her feelings, her experiences, and her life.

When it is Time to Interfere

Before initiating a dialogue with your child, it is also important to acknowledge your own feelings of the situation, as they may differ greatly from your child’s. Think through your own discomfort, fears and concerns. Make sure that when you sit down with your child you are calm, collected, and ready to act as a centered, parental figure. Only then will you be ready to concentrate on your child’s feelings, desires and concerns.

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