Importance of Parental Supervision
Parents across the nation were horrified after extensive evidence in the Columbine High School shooting spree indicated that the two teens responsible for the tragic slaying of 12 peers and a teacher had planned and arranged their brand of terror for months. Reportedly, they built bombs in one of the boy's garages, as well as stockpiled weaponry and ammo right in their bedrooms. "Where were the parents?" everyone asked. How can parents not be aware that their child is in the garage building a bomb or in his room assembling a sawed-off shot gun?
Here's a Clue
Most parents and their preteen children spend less than an hour a day – about 6 percent of their waking hours – talking to each other, according to a survey of fifth- through eighth-graders by Philips Consumer Communications. The survey indicates that parents misunderstand what's important to their kids, underestimate their maturity, overlook problematic behavior and withdraw themselves from their children's daily lives.
About 62 percent of young adolescents said the opposite sex was a significant concern, while only half of the parents surveyed thought their child was interested in boyfriends or girlfriends.
Most disturbing, only 20 percent of preteens found it easy to talk about difficult issues with one or both parents. More than half the kids polled said their parents don't give them a chance to explain themselves.
"Clearly, there's a connection gap if half the people in a conversation think they don't get a chance to explain themselves," says Kutner. "If one person tends to dominate most conversations at the expense of another, it can create an environment filled with misunderstanding, anger and resentment."
Communication is Key
What can parents do? First, experts say, a fully engaged parent of a preteen should offer firm discipline and communicate high expectations for personal and academic behavior. Parents must provide close supervision, and teach by example. Constructively settle conflict and try to understand an adolescent's physical, emotional and social development, recommend the experts.
It's ironic that sound communication is a parent's best weapon during a child's adolescence, yet often times it's seldom utilized. If a parent is concerned that her preteen is doing something that threatens safety or morality, such as drug experimentation, associating with the wrong crowd or any bizarre behavior, the parent is much better off coming forward with a conversation. Experts say parents should fess up their fears and put the ball in the child's court. Kids always want to know that parents care what they do and what's happening in their lives.
Supervision is Allowed
Once kids reach the preteen years, some parents think it's time to loosen the supervision reins. While it's true that preteens need less hour-to-hour supervision, it's not the time to throw up your hands and leave preteens to live their own lives.
"Kids who are properly supervised get into far less trouble," says Ann Marie Ambert, a sociology professor at York University. She says guidelines regarding the use of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and other taboos should be instilled early. By the time children hit their preteen and teen years, it becomes increasingly more difficult to instill the same lessons. Ambert says parents shouldn't wait to impose restrictions until their child is 15 or 16 years old. At that point, it may be too late.
"Parents today are more likely to downplay the possibility of problems in their children's lives," Ambert says. In her opinion, parents can be naive and often close their eyes to significant problems with their children. They either feel defeated, don't know how to confront the child, or where to seek help. These are issues that need attention. Ambert assures parents that ignorance is not bliss – and ignoring a serious problem is not an effective method of treatment.
Walk the Line
Parents who clean their kids' rooms or put away the laundry needn't close their eyes to the surroundings. Think of it as a free peek into the child's world. But many experts say talking – not stalking &3150 is the essential ingredient to uncover the corrupt deeds you suspect your preteen has committed.
Most experts agree parental trust is a fragile bond. Openly confront preteens with any problems or suspicions you have – instead of snooping. Parents should walk a fine line between spying and caring. Bedroom snooping is taboo, and certainly, reading personal papers, diaries or eavesdropping on kids' phone conversations could abuse the parent/child trust.
If parents suspect their preteen is in a life-threatening situation, such as contemplating suicide, addicted to drugs or planning some act of violence or destruction, experts say they should definitely take necessary action. They advise parents to seek help for kids in these circumstances, even if they won't admit there is a problem. However, most experts caution that violating trust is the last resort, something that should be done when all other options have been exhausted.
Normally, treat kids' space the way you want them to treat yours. If parents would never permit preteens to rummage in their purses, then parents needn't examine their child's wallet. That applies to desk drawers, personal papers and other effects. The idea is that respecting a preteen's turf will encourage him to respect his parents' space in return.
Whether your preteen has smoothly sailed or turbulently traveled the superhighway toward autonomy, parental communication and supervision skills will help pave a positive path toward the even more complex teen years to come.