US mums can hire a retired New York police detective to keep tabs on their children and take photo or video evidence when they get up to no good. Sound tempting? There are more effective – and less intrusive - ways to communicate with your teenager. Here's how to keep the channels of communication open with your teenager - and stay calm in the process.
Share your concerns
'Talking shouldn't be something we just do when there is a problem, it should be a part of our way of life,' says Sarah Newton, parenting expert and author of 'Help! My teenager is an alien – the everyday situation guide for parents'. 'Research shows children of families who communicate more are shown to get better results at school, are less depressed, and less likely to drink alcohol, smoke, or use marijuana.'
Don't get upset if your child won't communicate with you but let them know you love them and are there when they do want to chat.
Set clear rules
Your teenager needs to know certain actions, such as staying out all night, drinking or taking drugs, being aggressive, will not be tolerated. Kids need structure and being clear about what behaviour you expect from your teenager will help you both.
Spend time with your kids
Sharing activities with your teenager provides a great opportunity to talk with them in a relaxed atmosphere and will encourage them to open up.
'Don't force them to spend time with you but be around as much as you can,' says Sarah. 'And remember - spending time together should be about doing things that bring you closer, not just an opportunity for you to get things off your chest!'
Keep your word
'If your teenager asks to confide in you, try your best not to break their confidence,' says Sarah. 'Agree to only what you think you can deliver. And if you can't follow through tell them as soon as possible, apologise and show you're human.'
Been there, done that
Sharing your own experiences of broken romances and mishaps at school and arguments with your parents, will help your kids to understand you weren't always the responsible adult you are today. By sharing a story of a past insecurity and how you overcame it they'll learn you, too, are human and that these experiences are all part of normal teenage life.
Put yourself in their shoes
Think back to what it was like when you were a teenager. Remember the fears, frustrations, worries and anxieties. Says Sarah: 'When we can see how the situation may look from their point of view, we can show real support and most of all, show our child we care, respect and understand them.'
If problems do arise, remain calm. If you approach your teen in 'attack' mode, they won't feel they have any other option than to either battle back or retreat. No matter what they've done, they still need to be given the opportunity to explain themselves. You can then decide on whether their explanation justifies their actions and what recourse you need to take.
Listen to the entire story and your teen's viewpoint and explanation before you come to a conclusion. Instead of interrupting, yelling, getting upset or making judgments, ask questions that will help them decide the appropriateness or inappropriateness of their actions or reactions.
Listen, don't lecture
When you're busy or distracted by your own worries, it's easy to only half listen to what your teenager's saying – don't! Even if this time they're only talking about something trivial, you'll send the message they're important to you and you'll take the time to listen to them. And remember, listening means just that – listening. If they want advice, they'll ask for it.
Says Sarah: 'When we give unsolicited advice we don't allow our teenagers to take responsibility for their own actions, thereby giving them the message that we don't consider them capable of solving a problem. Not giving advice fosters responsibility and decision-making skills in your child. So let them know you will be there if they need any help but you trust them to come to the right decision.'
'Snooping says one thing and one thing only: "I don't trust you, I don't believe you and I think you are irresponsible!"' warns Sarah. 'That's a powerful message to give a child and one you can rarely come back from. And what if you find something you don't like - how can you talk to your child without letting them know you've been spying on them? The fact is you can't.'
Sarah Newton, author of 'Help! My teenager is an alien – the everyday situation guide for parents,' has been helping families for over 16 years, initially as a police officer in the Met and then running her own youth consultancy business. She regularly appears in the media, giving her expert opinion. For more information, visit www.finkcards.com
Do you struggle to talk to your teen?
Have you any communication tips to share?