As a parent, it is natural to be anxious and worry for your kids’ safety. When they’re young, you’re always worried about them getting hurt when they’re out of your sight. Every little fall as they learn to walk, or every small head bump can have you panicking about any bodily damage. Parents make sure food is prepared well and is nutritious enough to promote healthy development and growth. You watch them grow up before you eyes, always wondering if they are going to be alright when they venture out of the house. When they go to school you wonder about how to take care of them even when they are in class. Issues like bullying, peer pressure, being left out, not fitting in, academic difficulties, and even small friendly arguments can make you feel like nothing you do can protect your children as much as you want. This feeling becomes much more intense as you children reach the threshold of teenage years.
Being a parent to a teen is certainly difficult: not only are children growing older, but they are beginning to change in profound and significant ways. Outwardly, there are immense physical changes that even your kids might not be able to fully comprehend. They grow taller and at times wider, with some faster than others. Inwardly, their changes at even more prominent. There is a complete reset of their emotional and intellectual landscape as they begin to form ideas, opinions and new thoughts. They begin to expose themselves to more learning and experiential opportunities, and a lot of this is commanded by the friends they surround themselves with. Social acceptance and how they are perceived socially becomes their primary thought process: what are people thinking about me? Am I cool enough? Am I worthy enough among my peers? This social acceptance becomes their entire perspective, and while this is entirely understandable, this can also lead to trouble for both the kids and the parents.
Here’s one of the most common fear-provoking situations for a parent: your teenage child is hanging around bad company, and somebody suggests trying out alcohol or drugs. In this situation, your child might become hesitant and even scared, but might not contact you for any advice either because they don’t want their friends to think badly of them, or because they are not sure how you’d react. However, there is no denying that the situation is uncomfortable for your child, and they aren’t willing to be a part of the activities. In this case, talk to your child beforehand about a protocol that can be helpful for the both of you. This idea originally came for Bert Fulks, who is a pastor in West Virginia, and wanted to communicate better with his teenage son. It helps your child to communicate an SOS while still not losing face in front of his peers.
When you child doesn’t like the situation or wants to leave, ask him to add an “x” below a seemingly innocent message. Here is an example:
Parent: Is everything alright over there?
Child: Yes, everything is great. X
This X in the message can be construed as a signature among teenagers that is usually meant as a “kiss”, but this can also help you and your child to communicate about a situation. This can be followed by a phone call to your child that can go something like:
Parent: Hey Dan, something has come up and I need to come get you right now.
Child: What happened?
Parent: There is no time to explain, I’ll tell you when I get there. Be ready in 5 minutes.
This way, your child can tell his/her friend that something has happened and they need to leave. This can also help your child to understand that you care and support them even when they do something that is risky, and builds more trust between parent and child. It is important for your child to realize that even when they disobey something, their parents want to help them and not punish them. This trick can save you and your child from a risky situation in the future while still not damaging your child’s social and self-esteem.