Find balance between boundaries, freedom to help keep your teens safe this summer - Camp Lejeune Globe: Carolina Living

Find balance between boundaries, freedom to help keep your teens safe this summer

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Posted: Thursday, June 14, 2018 12:00 am

For the past two weeks, I have been running a summer safety series for “Raising Healthy Minds.” We have looked at how to keep your kids safe online and in the real world as they enjoy their summer.

As promised, I will be giving some recommendations on how to keep your crazy, I mean wonderful, teens safe for this last part of the series. Adolescence can have its share of instability with fluctuating hormones, moods and discovering one’s identity.

During these influential years, we are hungry to explore ourselves and the world around us and try new things. This is healthy when done within proper contexts. When it is not, there can be harmful consequences. In addition, teens are also developing mentally as they start taking on more adult-like roles and responsibilities.

However, they are not adults and do not possess all of the important judgement-making and problem-solving capabilities that adults 25 and over have. They still need guidance and structure from involved parental figures. So how can you help them become responsible while still keeping them safe whether online or out in the world?

“As your children grow more mature, you can help them learn internet and technology safety such as not sharing any personal information or photos as well as identifying and reporting sexually suggestive advances,” said Nora Rebecca Lewis, Jacksonville Behavioral and Mental Health licensed clinical social worker and outpatient therapist. “As children get older, it is important to understand that adolescents need their private space. Keep an open forum with them, but know to maintain some distance so that you won’t act as a ‘helicopter parent,’ hovering and spying over their every move.”

Lewis noted that “helicopter parenting” can actually have the reverse effect parents desire, as it can make teens want to keep from sharing information with you. By setting boundaries with teenagers, parents can help them understand the responsibilities of growing up while still giving them the “personal space” they desperately want as they grow more independent. Parents should also be careful to model the behaviors they expect from their teens, who are keenly observing.

“Adolescents and teenagers learn best from example,” said Lewis. “While parents may take a more authoritative stance with younger children and teach and lecture them on safety tips, teenagers learn best by taking note of what those around them are doing.”

It is for this reason Lewis highlighted the importance of monitoring your children’s behaviors with friends and family and to act as a role model for your teenager and not a lecturer.

It is important for parents to remember that as teenagers get to the age of going off alone with friends, it is important to teach them to be careful of older adults and also to stay together with friends in groups. Lewis mentioned that wandering off alone puts teenagers at greater risk for being targeted by predators.

“Teach your teenager to never go anywhere alone and that it is never ‘cool’ to put oneself in such danger,” said Lewis. “It is vital that you tell them that although they think they are old enough to do things on their own, they are still just as vulnerable to getting lured and sexually abused by a predator.”

Lewis recommends that parents can continue with "what-if" scenarios with their teenagers as they would with younger children, but should act out more realistic situations they might encounter and use age-appropriate language. These "what-if" situations should resemble more probable situations with peers at group gatherings or in public spaces like malls and movie theaters.

The following is a list of tips from Lewis on how parents can have meaningful conversations with their teens:

• Listen more and talk less.

• Keep your conversations respectful. Kids learn to speak respectfully by modeling the way you communicate. Teens are much more likely to listen if you treat them with respect rather than embarrassing, criticizing, or lecturing them.

• Create times for your teen to talk to you. Do things one-on-one. Sometimes it’s easier for teens to talk when they don’t have to look directly at their parents like in the car or on a walk.

• Reflect the feelings and ideas of your teen.

• Your tone of voice should show that you care and respect your teen. Yelling will only cause your teen to shut down communication.

• Make limits and expectations clear. Writing down expectations and creating an action plan can help. When you give your teen instructions, write them down.

• Cool off before giving a consequence for rule-breaking or failing to meet expectations and don’t shut out your teen when you disapprove of behavior. If you are too upset to talk in a reasonable way, tell your teen you need time.

• Ask open-ended questions rather than questions that will get a "yes" or "no" answer or questions to which you already know the answer. You will get much better responses.

• Admit your mistakes. There is a no better way to set a good example.

Thank you all for joining me in this summer safety series. I wish you and your families a happy summer and let’s continue to strive to keep our kids safe all year round.

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