School has been over for just a week now, and my phone is ringing off the hook. Mostly the calls are about, the "just hanging around" issue when a teen is asked where and what are you doing? Now instead of this just being a weekend question, parents are forced to ask this question on a nightly basis. Hello the next 10 weeks!! And the summer is just starting. Good time to anticipate potential summer conflicts so that you have some plans in place.
A parent I talked to today asked how she should handle her 16 year old son's summer chant. " I don't know what I am doing, I don't know where I am going, I don't know when I will be home." She has found out from another parent that kids like to hang at the houses where parent's have yet to lock up the booze. She related a story she heard from a parent about a boy who kept on a friend to pilfer his parent's booze that was not locked up saying: " Oh come on, they will never find out." Which is almost always true by the way. This parent has heard from many of her friends, "what are you going to do? They are teens, they are going to drink, there is nothing you can do about it. LOCK UP YOUR ALCOHOL AND YOUR PRESCRIPTION DRUGS!!!!
Here is what I have to say about that attitude. True many teens will or already do drink. It is also true that in most cases, even with a lot of due diligence like locking up your alcohol, and calling houses to make sure that parents are home, and even with parents home, kids drink. OK so we have established that teens drink. That does not mean that there is nothing you can do, that you are completely powerless. Parents who say nothing because either they just don't want to deal, hate conflict or have a "kids will be kids attitude" are sending their kids a very powerful message. Go. Do. Just don't let us find out about it. Teens who get this message have no motivation to set any limits on themselves. These are the teens who drink too much, too fast, and often find themselves passed out in a pool of vomit in someones basement. Teen's who get a consistently strong message that drinking can be dangerous, harmful to the brain, and put one in compromising and scary sexual situations etc etc will probably still drink too. Here is the difference, the repetitive and annoying lecture you give every time your teen leaves the house is somewhere in their brain. So yes, maybe they do down a or two or a shot or two. But, most likely your annoying voice in their head might save them from downing a six pack of beer or 8 shots of booze. Your boring, seemingly meaningless lectures provide your teen with a niggle that just might save their life. So please don't just give up the ship here. Everything you say or do indeed has purpose and meaning, as long it is said in a loving and nurturing tone. Because of course that is the key. Don't set up the no-drinking as some sort of a challenge. " If I find out that you use drugs or alcohol, you'll be grounded for the summer," kind of comment just challenges your teen to do it and not get caught.
As far as the hanging around thing. It is important for your teen to check in with you. Often teens leave in the afternoon, don't return home for dinner, and sleep out at someones house. If I was a parent with a kid like this I would see a red flag. If your teen is leaving your house and only coming home to change their clothes, that's because they have found a home with little supervision. Beware!!!! There should definitely be some discussion about sleeping out. I recommend no consecutive sleep overs unless they are going away with a family on a trip. If your teen is roaming your town, you should have them send a "changing location" text. Let them know that it will be less embarrassing for them to write a text saying that are walking into town for pizza, or moving on to Jesse's house than you calling a parent to find out where they are. And lying about location is a much more serious pain in the ass.
If you have a teen on the brink of getting a drivers license, I would tie the license and the keys to your car, to showing responsibility this summer for keeping you in the loop. If they choose to lie about location and activities, then that scares you about their ability to be responsible and safe when driving. Teens always have choices. Don't just tell them to make the right one, help them make it. Remember they are impulsive, distracted, and motivated for fun, you need to provide them with options that will keep them safe.
There are some great things about Summer teens. Their schedules aren't quite as busy. You don't constantly have to be on them for getting their homework done. Summer is a great time for replenishing your relationship, for having fun, for being relaxed together. Maybe during the school year, it is too crazy to even try to have family dinners. Summer....no excuse. Make this a requirement of all family members. Include everyone in the decision making. Teens are working and hanging with friends, parents are working,playing tennis, playing golf but don't let these scheduling excuses get in the way for everyone to commit to dinner. It won't be the same night every week, but send a message that family is important, and attendance is mandatory!
Summers are fun and summers require planning and accountability for everyone. Fun and safety are not mutually exclusive.