Children :: Top five ways to keep your kids out of trouble over the summer

Summer is a challenging time for parents of teens and pre-teens. Gone are the daily structure and routine of the school year–giving teens more time to pursue other interests, or activities that may get them into trouble.

Research shows that teens who are bored may be at a higher risk of using alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs. Bored teens are also more likely to have sex.

What should parents do? Nancy Diacon, director of the Menninger Adolescent Treatment Program, offers the following tips to make the rest of the summer safe and enjoyable for you and your teen or pre-teen.

Keep them busy
Lounging in front of the television all day might be your teen?s idea of a perfect summer, but it is a recipe for boredom. Talk with your teen about what kind of activities interest him or her and plan accordingly. Summer jobs, sports, camps and volunteer opportunities are positive activities that can keep your teen occupied and also serve as valuable learning experiences.

Set boundaries
Clearly communicate the summer house rules to your teen. Don?t be afraid to tell him or her what?s acceptable and what?s not. Expect to be challenged about your rules, but use the challenge as an opening to a discussion about why you believe that rule is important. If your child makes a reasonable argument for modification of a rule, work with them in making it a modification you can live with. If safety is a concern, stick to your guns.

?Kids respect that,? Diacon says. ?They may fight rules, or they may say that they are stupid. But it actually makes them feel safe to know where the line is and what will happen when they cross that line.?

Follow through
Carefully consider the consequences you set for when your child breaks a rule, making sure the response fits the infraction, and that the consequence is something you can live with. For example, if you ground your child for the summer, are you prepared to enforce that punishment even if it means living with a sullen and argumentative teen for several months? And, would that consequence really be appropriate? Parents will lose credibility by trying to stay in control through harsh consequences or not following through on promises.

Look for signs of trouble
Look for noticeable signs of change in your child if you suspect your child is at risk for getting into trouble, Diacon says. Children who may be participating in risky behavior, or who may be experiencing emotional or psychological problems may change their normal routine and not act like their normal selves. Other signs of trouble may include: not sleeping, not eating, socially withdrawing, sleeping more and irritability.

Follow your instincts
If you believe your child is getting involved with drugs, alcohol, sex, or criminal behavior, or has had behavioral problems in the past, don?t hesitate to seek professional help from a mental health counselor. Getting professional help in the first two to six weeks provides the best opportunity for heading off difficulties. A second opinion often helps both parents and teens, Diacon says. ?It helps to get an expert opinion and one that can come from an objective viewpoint. When adolescents develop a trusting relationship with a mental health professional, they can better understand concerns of their parents. In addition, communication of age-appropriate expectations from the professional can keep parents out of a power struggle.?

Source: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) CASA 2003 Teen Survey

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