Teens get into bad situations. They are at an age where their brains are wired to try out new things without being overly concerned about the consequences. This is why they are able to accomplish so many things that would send adults into state of overwhelm. Imagine changing schools, starting more than one new job, making new friends, losing old friends, joining a multitude of new activities, and being told all of this will impact your future over the course of 5 years. Welcome to the life experience of teens from middle school to the end of high school. This is why their brains are wired to bank on the rewards of a situation and downplay the dangers. However, this is also what can get them in bad situations. It’s your job to give them tools they can use to escape those situations.
1. Know that your teen is going to get into trouble
We hope to give teens the knowledge to make good decisions, use their judgement wisely, and walk away from bad situations. Unfortunately, sometimes the reward center of their brain is going to be too strong. In fact, research tells us that if their friends are watching, their brain is even more likely to ignore potential negative consequences. Knowing that they will find themselves in these situations helps you to prepare to respond without shaming them. You want them to grow from the situation and know that they can come to you, even with the hard stuff.
2. Be the strict parent
Be the parent who has clear rules, boundaries, and expectations. First, this helps kids to understand exactly what they should and should not do and what your reaction will be. Moreover, it helps their friends know who you are. If their friends know that you are the strict parent, then there is no point in asking your child to host the secret party when everyone knows that “her mom would completely freak out.” Furthermore, when your teen needs to get out of a risky situation they can just blame you. “I can’t smoke with you, my dad would smell that as soon as I walk in the house and flip out.” Your teen’s friends will believe her because you’re the strict parent.
3. Let your kid know they have options
Teach your kids your values and how to stand up for those values. Expect that they will and encourage them to do so. However, we also need to understand that there will be situations where your kids will feel compelled to go along with their friends. We need to teach kids that there are options between making the best choice (don’t drink) and going all in on risky behavior (binge drinking). Some teens choose to pretend to sip a drink at a party as opposed to being singled out as the “judgemental non-drinker.”
4. Use code words
You and your teen should have a code word or phrase that they can use to communicate to you to get them out of trouble. Maybe they are at a party and they text you “mash potatoes with garlic.” This is your cue to call and say “Grandma is in the hospital, you have to come home right now.” Now your teen has an easy out to leave a situation that might be going from bad to worse without losing face in front of their friends.
5. Create no questions asked or “I’ll come get you” policies
Create a policy for your kids to be able to call you for help without fear of punishment. If your teen is in a bad situation, it’s better that they contact you to come get them than to try to handle the situation on their own. However, if they fear your reaction or the potential consequences, they may opt to just handle it themselves. For example, if boys are getting drunk and rowdy at a party, you don’t want your daughter to struggle between getting grounded for weeks or hoping that the party doesn’t get much wilder. You don’t want your son choosing between getting yelled at by dad or letting his drunk friend drive him home.
Tell your kids that if they are in a bad situation and they need help, they can always call you! Always! Promise that they won’t be punished for calling you or badgered with questions. Promise that you will help them problem solve ways to not find themselves in that situation in the future.
Remember when they call on you:
1. Don’t punish them for doing the right thing and reaching out for your for help
2. Don’t grill them for all the details
3. Do wait until they feel less defensive and you feel less annoyed to discuss the situation
4. Do problem solve with them ways they can not find themself in that situation again
At this point in your teen’s life, finding themself in trouble is something that comes with the territory. Their brains aren’t wired like an adult’s in which they can foresee the negative consequences that follow their actions. However, it’s important to provide your teen with ways they can keep themselves out of trouble. Keep in mind that the more open and helpful you are to your teen during these difficult times, the more likely that the will come to you in the future when they find themselves struggling.
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Brave Minds Psychological Services helps children, teens and families overcome severe anxiety, stress, and painful experiences. We specialize in developing brave minded youth that can move forward despite fears and significant challenges.