Monitoring Your Children? 4 Areas Not to Ignore


One of the most difficult questions we ask ourselves as parents is, “When  should I jump in and monitor my child, and when should I step back and allow  them some privacy?” I’ve worked with many parents who were shocked to find out  their child felt depressed, was smoking pot or drinking, or had falling grades  in school. On the other end of the spectrum are helicopter parents, who hover  constantly and are hesitant to allow their child any privacy or independence  whatsoever.

Related:  Does your child disrespect you at every turn? How to be more  effective.

Any  time you increase the amount you check up on your child, let him know exactly  what behavior you will need to see from him in order to feel comfortable giving  back some freedom and privacy.


Here’s a good start: If  your child usually behaves appropriately—getting  homework done and taking care  of his other responsibilities—he will probably be  fine with minimal checking-up  unless he gives you good reason to think  otherwise, even if he sometimes cops  an attitude or acts annoyed when you ask  him to do things. (A good reason to jump  in might be a sudden change in  behavior, dropping grades, or disinterest in  things he used to enjoy doing.) If  your child is getting below-average grades in school, yells  when you ask him to do  homework,  seldom comes home on time and has  lied  about where he was, or has even become verbally abusive or intimidating  when  you tried to give him a consequence, he is going to need more limits and  checking-up  on to ensure his safety.

Striking a Balance as a Parent

Some parents believe  it is their responsibility to control their children  and ensure 100% that their  children do the right thing, all the time. Other  parents feel it’s best to let  their children do whatever they want until they  misbehave or break a rule. I  tend to favor the middle ground: it’s your  responsibility to set limits, check  up on your kids occasionally (the amount  you will do this depends on their  behavior), hold them accountable when it’s  needed, and teach them how to make  good choices even in tough social  situations.

Let’s face it, though—the  world can be a scary place and the urge to be a  helicopter parent exists for  many of us. I’ve talked to parents who’ve gone to  the extreme, even when their  child didn’t give them any reason to suspect they  were breaking family rules.  Some parents even put GPS devices with geofences on  their kids’ cars, monitor  their child’s every move via cell phone, and check  their child’s social media many  times a day to catch any activity that could be  deemed even the tiniest bit  inappropriate. Understand that you have every right  to do these things, but it  may not be accomplishing everything you want to  accomplish.

Related:  Doing too much for your child? How to get them to be  responsible.

That is why it’s so  important to try and strike a balance between “helicopter parent” and the  “completely detached parent.”  In my article, Why   Fixing Things For Your Child Doesn’t Help, I said that if you’re  trying to  prevent your child from every possible mistake or indiscretion, you  may be  hindering her ability to think for herself and make decisions on her  own.  Unless your child is on a clear downward spiral, has given you a concrete   reason to be suspicious, or engages in risky behavior repeatedly, it’s probably   best to let her have some breathing room. James Lehman reminds parents that   independence and autonomy are legitimate needs of adolescents. Teens need a   little slack on the leash so they can learn about the world around them and   figure out who they are as individuals in that world. After  all, you want your child to learn to manage her  responsibilities on her  own some  day. This is vital to becoming a self-sufficient,  fully functioning adult.

Four Areas to Keep Tabs on

Though parents should  be involved in most aspects of their adolescent’s  life, there are four key  areas you should pay special attention to. “Involved” here means that you are  talking to your children about safety in the areas  below, for example, and have  established clear expectations, limits and  consequences for unsafe choices, rather than hovering.

That said, let’s take  a closer look at these four key areas.

    1. The Internet: For the  child who seems to use the internet appropriately most of the time,  discussions  about safety and rules will suffice, as well as random check-ins  when your  child is using the computer in a private area. You might also do  random history  checks and require that your child be your “friend” on Facebook.  You can also “favorite” your child on Facebook so that you get an alert every  time your  child posts something new to their wall.
      But  remember, your child  probably doesn’t go around asking his friends to post  inappropriate things on  his wall, but they will. That’s not within your child’s  control. Give him a  chance to find such things and delete them on his own  first. If your child “unfriends” you, then you might require him to give you a  working password in  order for him to keep using Facebook. Other possible  consequences could include  requiring your child to sit at the kitchen table  while using the internet until  he is ready to try making safe choices on his  own again. Be clear about what  specific actions will tell you he is ready to  have another chance.
    2. Cell Phone: This one  is a bit tougher. You might decide to handle this by doing random  phone  checks—pick up the phone unannounced and browse through the apps and text   messages. Let him know when he gets the phone (or at some point when you’re   having a conversation about safety) that you will be doing these checks. You   might also ask your child to give you their friends’ phone numbers as well as   their parents’ phone numbers so that you can reach your child in case of an   emergency. When a new number shows up on your bill, ask who it is so you know   who your child is talking to. If your child is irresponsible with his cell   phone, contact your service provider about parental controls or contact the   manufacturer for assistance in setting some restrictions until your child is   ready to try making better decisions on his own again. Again, be clear about   what you need to see and for how long in order for him to get some freedom   back.

Related:  How to give consequences that really work.

    1. Drug or Alcohol  Use:The first step here is to know the warning signs of substance abuse  and  stay aware of the current trends in the teen realm. is a great resource you  might look into  and visit regularly. If you have any reason to be suspicious,  let the checking  up begin! This might mean that you search your child’s  belongings to see if  they are in possession of anything that might confirm your  suspicions. You  might also call the parent of the friend they were with to see  if they were  really there and what kind of supervision they had.
      We advise  more  checking-up on your child when drugs or alcohol are involved because is a   serious safety issue, and the mind-altering effect these substances have can be   very difficult to overcome if you don’t respond early. If your child is using   drugs or alcohol, we recommend that you find a local adolescent substance abuse   counselor to consult with and restrict some privileges by giving an earlier   curfew, reducing the amount of money you give your child, and restricting (or   taking away) driving privileges.

Related:  Parenting a child with a substance abuse problem?

  1. Social  Influences: It’s important to get to know your child’s friends. Rather than  always  letting your child go to her friend’s house, require her to have her  friend  over to your house once in a while. This will help you get a feel for the  other  kid’s interests and character, as well as the dynamic between her and your   child. For example, is your child the follower, or does she operate on level   ground with her friend?

If  you become suspicious that your child is making poor decisions when she’s  with a  certain friend, we recommend talking to her about what she can do  differently  next time. Institute a period of restricted contact—the friend  comes over to  your house for increasingly longer times at an increasing  frequency as long as the  kids make good choices together. This encourages your  child to think about her choices  and practice making better ones. Ultimately,  your child is responsible for her own  behavior. To blame the other child for  your child’s poor choices is a cop-out.  Remember, to those other parents, your child  may be the “bad influence.”

Whenever  possible, you should talk to your child ahead of time and let him  or her know that  you will be checking up on them. For example, the very first  day you buy them a  cell phone, let your teen or pre-teen know it’s subject to  random checks by you.  Sit down and talk about the rules. If you see an issue  starting—let’s say you  catch your son texting at 1 a.m., even though the phone  is supposed to be off  by 9 p.m.—have a problem-solving discussion with him. Let  him know what you see  happening, ask him what his reasoning is, restate your  rules and expectations,  and inform him of the consequence he will receive if it  happens again. Anytime  you increase the amount you check up on your child, let  him know exactly what  behavior you need to see from him in order to feel  comfortable giving back some  freedom and privacy. This will motivate your child  to practice making better  choices—and will help him become more responsible in  the long run.

Related:  How to raise responsible kids.

Coaching kids  helps them develop the skills to make better choices on their  own; letting them  know what will happen next time helps them to make an  informed decision. This  also sets your child up to succeed rather than to  fail.


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