Notes from an emergency room doctor: Is this
a familiar dialogue between you and your teenager?
"Where are you going?"
"When will you be home?"
"What are you doing?"
If so, your kid's going to be lumped into that
group of adolescents that psychologists have found
to be at higher risk of engaging in "problem
behaviors." These "behaviors" include
premature sexual activity, substance abuse, cigarette
smoking, marijuana use, and school underachieve-ment.
Common sense would seem to support the theory
that unsupervised teenagers would be at greatest
risk. And, indeed, several very scientific studies
confirmed just that. Adolescents unsupervised
after school had significantly more problem behaviors
than those who were supervised by an adult. They
engaged in more substance abuse, more risk-taking,
were more depressed, and had poorer grades. Psychologists
hypothesized that these kids left "home alone"
became lonely and in turn depressed and prone
to antisocial activities, were influenced by unsuitable
television shows and reading material, or were
pressured by peers into engaging in risky behaviors.
"Good parenting" we might then conclude
would require that either Mom or Dad, or perhaps
a grandparent, be around when young Billy comes
home. Ah, how wonderful that would be. But how
impossibly nostalgic. These are times when both
parents have to work to make ends meet. And a
child today is as likely to grow up in a single
parent household as a two parent one.
On the other hand, some researchers have implied
that too much adult supervision of after-school
time diminishes the ability of a teenager to develop
their individuality and independence and transition
to responsible adulthood. An overprotective parent
they theorize can be as negative an influence
as an absent one.
But this conundrum of how to bring up our children
has a solution. Further research turned up this
interesting fact. There was no significant increase
in "problem behaviors" among those adolescents
who had adult supervision and those who were unsupervised,
but whose parents always knew where they were.
So, good parenting does not demand that you
quit your job or send your kid to boarding school.
And if your teenager has to be "home alone,"
you need not feel the angst of being a neglectful
parent. You must, however, have the strength of
will to demand honest answers. To the questions,
"Where are you going? "When will you
be home?", "Out" and "Later"
are not satisfactory answers. All of us who have
teenagers know it's not a trivial task to get
those answers. Nevertheless, demanding answers
is probably the simplest solution to the complex
problem of how to bring up a teenager right.