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Parenting Your Teenager: Ask Questions

Many parents seem to be more than a little confused about what they have a right to know about their teens.

The question I often get goes something like this:

"We want to know where our 16-year-old son is going to be, and who he is with. He makes it sound as if we are the most out-of-it parents, and that it is abusively embarrassing to him that we want to know what he and his friends are doing. Are we being fair?"

You have the right, need and obligation to know all these things, and more. I believe that every parent of a teen has the right to know and the crucial need to know several pieces of information that I call the W's.

These crucial W's are:

1) Who they are spending time with. One of the most powerful forces in the life of a teen is influence: of parents, media, culture and especially friends.

With friends, it's not the question of can your children be influenced, but how they will be influenced. We have come to use the cliche of peer pressure, but this is really about influence.

One of the clearest warning signs of problems is when a teen has two sets of friends _ one that the parents know, and one the parents have never seen and your kid does not want you to see.

Your teen does not want you to see them for a reason, and it's not a good one. A good rule of thumb is that your teen is not allowed to go anywhere with someone you have not at least met. Another simple but little-used strategy is to know the parents of your teen's friends. Also, if you can make your home the hub of his or her circle of friends, where lots of activity takes place or at least begins, you have a good thing going.

2) What they are going to be doing. "But Mom, (stretched into a two or three syllable word) we don't know what we are going to be doing!" Possible answers _ "Well, you'll need to know the answer, and then I'll need to know the answer before you can go" or "That's fine for now, when you decide you must let me know."

Another one you will hear is "But everyone else gets to do it!" This is one the Top 10 things never to believe. It's just not true. Everyone else does not get to do it. And even if they did, you as a parent still have the right to say no.

3) Where they are going. The what and the where go together, and the same rules apply. Watch out for the scam where Billy tells his parents that he is going to Bobby's house, and Bobby tells his parents he is going to Billy's house. This one can be easily handled and checked on when you know the parents of your teen's friends.

4) When will they be back. This brings up the pleasant issue of curfew. The dilemma: Parents want kids home at a certain time, kids want to stay out later.

I've never encountered the situation where a kid wanted his curfew to be earlier. Solution: The parents pick a curfew time. Notice I said the parents and not the parents and kids. This one begins with the parents, and then it's up to the kids to earn more.

While we are at it, let's define late. Late is late, and 10 p.m. is 10 p.m., unless there is something major that is unavoidable. If you consistently make 10:10 acceptable and not late, you send the message that the rules don't really count, and you foster more and more lateness, not to mention giving up your power as a parent.

If the curfew is kept for three months, an additional 15 minutes is added. If they are late during the three months, the three-month earning period starts over from that point.

This model represents the real world where privileges are not just given but earned based on performance.

I've seen more than one family make this a very smooth process by requiring that a small form be filled out, answering all the W's before a request to go out is even considered.

Now, a word of warning:

Your teens will not like this. That's OK because that is not the point. The point is to teach responsibility and other things about the real world, and make this labor-intensive job of parenting a teen just a little less stressful.

While requiring your teens to obey the W's may not be easy, it sure can help you to avoid some other loathsome W's, such as: Waiting up until the Wee hours of the morning, Wondering and Worrying.

Visit ParentingYourTeenager.com for tips and tools for thriving during the teen years. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 5 day e-program on The Top 5 Things to Never Say to Your Teenager, from parenting coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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