Minnell L. Tralle, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
Reviewed May 2016 by Lori Hendrickson, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.
Many communities are discussing prevention of problem behavior in youth before it begins — an asset-building approach rather than a problem-focused approach. One strategy that is effective in preventing problem behavior is parental monitoring.
What Is Monitoring?
Parental monitoring means establishing guidelines and limits for your child in order to keep track of what is going on in his or her social world. Simply put, it means knowing:
- Where your kids are.
- Who they are with.
- What kinds of things have been planned.
- How they will get there and back again.
Parental monitoring also means clarifying with your child your expectations and what to do in an emergency.
Parental monitoring does not mean demanding obedience, attempting to control your child’s choices and behaviors, or imposing your will on your child.
Why Is Monitoring Important?
Research shows that monitoring by parents prevents a number of risky behaviors including alcohol use, sexual activity, delinquency, and other misconduct. Monitoring also gives your children the message that with increasing privileges come increasing responsibilities. It is simply polite to let others know where they are going.
While children may complain that parents “don’t trust them” or are being unreasonable, there is security in knowing that parents care enough to ask. Parents need to understand that monitoring is an important right and responsibility of parenting. Parents also need to monitor as gently and as respectfully as possible.
Tips for Success
Monitoring children early, in ways that are age appropriate, will help children accept this as part of life. If you wait until the teen years to begin monitoring it will feel too much like you are trying to control them. Teens will turn the issue into a power struggle.
Monitoring infants and toddlers simply means making sure that they are safe and that their needs are met. Three-five-year-olds need limits that don't change and parents who show them how to behave. As school-age children begin to step out into the neighborhood and community they will need to know how far they can go, with whom, and when they must be home. Teenagers need increasing freedom to begin their road to independence and parents who monitor their behavior in a respectful and appropriate way. Starting early may be the best strategy, but it is never too late to begin.
It seems so simple. Why make a special effort to keep in touch with your kids? As children begin school they spend less time with parents and their relationships with friends become more important. It is necessary to talk to your children and to know their friends, their school experience, and what their world is like. Parents busy with work and children busy with school activities have very little time to interact. That’s why it takes special effort.
Here are some suggestions for connecting with your child:
- Be a sounding board. Make it clear that you are willing to listen.
- Use everyday family activities to stay close — making dinner, running errands, taking a walk can all be turned into quality family time.
- Build in extra time to “check-in” at bedtime. Do not assume your child has outgrown this important bedtime ritual.
- Use notes and bulletin boards to communicate with each other.
- Get to know your child’s friends by inviting them to your home and on family outings.
There are three ways we teach our children:
The first is by example;
The second is by example;
The third is by example.
— Albert Schweitzer
When it comes to influencing youth, the things you say probably are not as important as the things you do. If parents expect children to let them know where they are going, when they will be home, and how they can be reached, parents need to model this behavior by providing this same information to their children. It is important for family members to let each other know where they are.
Monitoring from a Distance
Parents cannot always be present to monitor their children. Simple family rules will help parents monitor their children when they are out of sight. A phone call to a parent at home or at work at an agreed-upon time or when plans change will help parents know where their children are. If the parent is not available by phone, a neighbor or relative can serve as the connection.
Once children reach the age where daycare or after-school programs seem like “kid stuff,” it becomes harder to provide the structure and supervision they need. Some communities offer a wealth of programs after school and in the summer, while other communities have little available. This is the time when many parents consider leaving their children in self-care for part or all of the workday.
The decision for children to be on their own is a family decision based on the age and maturity of the children. Other factors to consider include the safety of the neighborhood, availability of the parent by phone or a neighbor nearby, the time of day, and the ages and number of siblings. Self-care can give the child opportunities for independence, new skills, trust, and feelings of self-worth. But if the child is not ready for self-care, the risks can be both physical and emotional.
Monitor with the Help of Others
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Monitoring by neighbors and other adults is also effective in preventing negative behaviors. The positive involvement of other adults is a key factor in the healthy development of young people. As children develop, they become more influenced by what other children are doing. They need to know the boundaries and expectations involved in getting along with and playing with others. They need neighbors who keep an eye out for them and reinforce healthy boundaries. Talk to your neighbors about what you expect of your child and their friends (when at your home) and ask for help in reinforcing them. Organize or become involved in parent groups to support and agree on limits for all of your children. This minimizes the effect of that familiar cry, “but all the kids are doing it!"
Monitoring by parents, neighbors and the community is an important part of raising healthy and responsible young people.
Benson, P., Leffert, N. & Roehlkepartain, R. (1997). Starting out right: Developmental assets for children. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.
Shanok, R. S. (1995). Letting go...but staying close. Parents Magazine.
Small, S. A., and Riley, D. (n.d.). Teen assessment project. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Extension.
Steinberg, L. (2004). The Ten Basic Principles of Good Parenting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Thomas, K. (2015, March 13). Parental monitoring helps youth succeed. Penn State University.
Monitoring Your Teens Activities: What Parents and Families Should Know — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Get an overview of key findings from researchers on this topic, and suggestions for tips and families for monitoring teens.
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Helping children become responsible — Help your children to become more responsible by following these guidelines.
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Have You Talked with Your Teen Today? — Get an overview of what teens typically want to talk to their parents about, and get tips for having positive conversations with your teens. Part of the Teen Talk : A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers series. English | español