Chaperoning teenagers is a scary undertaking for most parents. It’s even more daunting when you consider offering space for kids with social challenges. Many parents in this situation will choose to simply bow out and let another parent host a social event. I’m asking you to reconsider.
Our kids truly need social opportunities outside of school. Unfortunately, there is a unique challenge that we must address; our population is unbalanced with the guys significantly outnumbering the girls. While girls are more likely to register for and attend organized activities such as camp and cooking classes, guys are mostly indifferent and happy to sleep and play Xbox. How do we help this population of boys engage socially while they aren’t at school? I think you might be helpful with the answer!
Considering you are already trained as a parent to handle the job, maybe you just need a few pointers on chaperoning teens. The following ideas will give you a place to start.
- Although our teens may have a biological age of 16, they often act younger. In parenting, the key is to respect the actual age. If an 18 year old messes up, pick an age appropriate consequence. A public apology for a mistake might be appropriate for an early adolescent attempting to decode social situations, however a seventeen year old will likely see this as an attempt to shame them. Instead, ask them several questions: What do you think happened? What is the problem? What do you think you need to do about it? This is a stance of empowering them to solve their own problems instead of fixing it. I will admit we are still asking them to recognize their misstep and make amends. It feels like they are creating the solution, building ownership and increasing their learning and compliance. It’s a teachable moment instead of a ‘mom, fix it for me’ moment.
- Cell phones are pervasive. Phones seem to be an extension of our kids’ arms. It may be time to embrace it instead of squash it. Kids will talk about a YouTube video and then bring it up on their phone. Sports scores, wikipedia, memes…are all a few finger taps away. Its just part of their conversation. If you have the opportunity to chaperone, consider your own boundaries. Are you a parent who wants them to check their technology at the door, put it away at specific times (dinner table) or you simply don’t mind them having free use? Consider this upfront before the kids arrive at your house and be ready to respond. For example, if the kids are all on the couch texting each other, then you may state, “It’s time to actually talk to each other.” Teens will test boundaries so if it’s an ongoing problem, ask them to place phones in a basket unless they absolutely need to call a parent. The idea is to create a social opportunity and if technology is squashing it, you may need to help with direction. Do yourself, and your teen, a favor by discussing your feelings and making the rules clear ahead of time.
- Touching. Consider what is age appropriate. What were you doing at this age? Teens explore their personal boundaries with touch; they have to learn what types of touching they may appreciate as well as how to advocate against touching that makes them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, they have to actually experience touch in order to learn the lesson. Often parents bring their teens to school and let us know their child has never liked hugs only to see the same child a few days later animatedly hugging kids after school. In chaperoning, consider your boundaries along with your child’s need to explore. I suggest closing off parts of your house in advance. Teens will try anything, from putting their head in each other’s laps to kissing in front of parents. Remember two things: – They need to learn to touch. It’s not a bad thing. – It’s ok to set boundaries on touch. But remember: be prepared to address the situation if or, more likely, when it happens. Your easiest, and most effective, response is simple, “Um, that makes me feel uncomfortable.” This will help you think a minute about your next plan of action while making it clear to the child they need a new plan. Some of our kids can’t read between the lines. You may need to follow up with, “I don’t think kissing is appropriate in my house/this location.” Less confrontational tactics to try might be bringing in food or sending dogs in the room. It serves to change the focus and allows the more observant to read between the lines that their behavior was not acceptable to you.
- Show up. Do regular check-ins. If teens think you will show up every few minutes, they are less likely to start risky or sexual behavior, or any other behaviors that might embarrass themselves or their friends. If you leave the room for an hour, anything can happen. If you are chaperoning, it means you should have your eyes on the kids at least every few minutes. Also consider placing the kids in the most public room in the house instead of a closed bedroom. An area with several entrances gives off a feeling of ‘we’re not alone’ whereas a closed bedroom screams, “we’re alone.” One of the nonnegotiable rules in my house is kids of the opposite sex are not allowed upstairs (in bedrooms).
- Talk of sex and drugs. Again, exploring smack topics is part of adolescence. When you get uncomfortable, speak up and shut it down. I simply state, “Let’s change the topic” and usually toss out a new topic. For example, “tell me about that hair, bracelets, crazy shoes.” Comment about what’s already in front of you. Sometimes, however, just to keep my kids guessing, I am willing to talk about spicy topics…as long as we have a mature conversation. Sometimes kids want to ask a question and they need a reliable answer. I have two personal rules on this:
I never give permission for sex or drugs I never give my personal history
To wrap up, I think it’s worth the effort to provide social opportunities in your home. Choose another parent helper if you need more coverage. The main two things to do are to comment when you feel uncomfortable and to be present and visible. Teens just want to hang out and be teens. Be the “cool parent” who offers the space and provides the supervision that makes it fun and safe!