Your teen finally emerges from her room one Saturday afternoon. After finishing her phone call, she asks if you can drive her and her friends to the mall. You reply, “Sure, let me grab my bag and meet you in the car; shopping together will be fun.” Her smile changes to a look of disappointment as she says, “No, just drop us off.” You instantly feel hurt and begin to worry that she’s meeting up with boys, planning to shoplift, exhibit belligerent behavior or take unnecessary, harmful risks.
A 2007 report by Teenage Research Unlimited states that teens make 26 percent more trips to the mall than other shoppers, totaling approximately 47 times a year. Shopping malls are environments that not only attract teens and hold their attention, but draw them in to return time and again, due much in part to their disposable income.
The teenage years introduce a hasty period of development and growth, in which peer relationships are extremely important. Parents see the mall as a place to shop while teens see the mall as a place to meet their friends and a potential opportunity to run into a girl or boy they are interested in. The teenage years are also a time of risk-taking. Taking risks can be positive when it offers young people the opportunity to experiment with their skills and abilities while exploring who they are. But, many risks — such as smoking, drug use, drinking while driving and participating in unprotected sex — can have destructive and long-lasting effects on their health and well-being. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when parents make it their business to know their teens’ whereabouts and habits and are setting concrete intentions, they can decrease the risk for drug use, pregnancy, smoking and injurious behaviors. These parents are involved and monitoring their teens’ actions and behavior.
Key elements for successful parental monitoring include:
1. Discussing behavioral expectations.
2. Developing actions to keep track of your teen.
3. Identifying ways to respond when your teen breaks the rules.
Successful parental monitoring is accomplished with good open communication that does not include hovering. Teens are more willing to talk openly with their parents when they know their parents trust them and are listening. Setting clear expectations for behavior, being consistent, fair and allowing independence are all strategies for successful parental monitoring.
Discuss your expectations in detail. Instead of telling your kids to call you when they’re ready to come home, negotiate a specific time to meet; otherwise they may assume that the mall’s closing time is an appropriate pick-up time.
Be consistent. Check in with your teens by phone periodically. Establish that you will be calling in advance to ensure their safety and know whom they are with. Know their friends and have their contact information — as well as their parents’ contact information — before they go out. Explain the importance of being where they said they were going, and that if they decide to detour that they need to notify you. Review the signs of inappropriate behavior and unwarranted advances from strangers and friends. Be familiar with texting so that they’re willing to communicate and let you know their whereabouts. Establish a texting code. “Need help now” or “NHN” is a quick and safe method to get to them in unexpected situations. Make them aware that you are easily accessible and nearby in case of emergencies.
Be fair and willing to compromise regarding spending at the mall. Identify if the mall visit is for shopping, meeting friends or both. Discuss an amount of money needed to make the shopping experience enjoyable. Determining a set spending amount may discourage shoplifting and may also discourage hasty shopping habits that are usually easily influenced by friends. Before deciding if your teen is ready to hang out in the mall unaccompanied by an adult, encourage one-on-one discussions of the consequences of shoplifting and be ready to enforce an appropriate consequence, if required. Discuss reasonable pricings and make certain your teen understands the differences between planned and unplanned purchases, so as not to develop patterns of impulsive shopping.
Allow independence and don’t be overly intrusive. Every child needs to develop a sense of mastery and self-sufficiency. It is by design that teens must gain the confidence to be able to stand on their own. As demanding as it is to watch teens grow and develop, it is crucial to their well-being and relationships with others that you honor their growing independence. When teens are held back, they may become rebellious. Teens will be more likely to appreciate you when you monitor their safety while guiding them towards independence — sometimes actively and sometimes by getting out of the way.
So, disregard your feelings of insignificance when your teen disinvites you to the mall; compromise instead. Head to the mall together, but split up as soon as you get there so you can do your shopping while your teen hangs out with friends. Set a time to meet so you can drive home together. Use the drive home to talk about your teen’s interests and activities at the mall, but remain nonintrusive. This is the successful plan for parental monitoring at the mall.
Tamara Hill, MSN, DNPc, CPNP-AC, is an acute care PNP at the University of Maryland Medical Center.