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Monitoring your child's contact with his or her surrounding world

Do you need to be a superhero with x-ray vision and eyes in the back of your head to be a careful monitor? Of course not. You don’t need to be with your child every minute of every day, either. Being a careful monitor combines asking questions and paying attention, with making decisions, setting limits, and encouraging your child’s positive choices when you aren’t there.

Being a careful monitor combines asking questions and paying attention, with making decisions and setting limitations.

When your child is young, monitoring seems easy because you are the one making most of the decisions. You decide who cares for your child; you decide what your child watches or listens to; you decide who your child plays with. If something or someone comes in contact with your child, you’re usually one of the first to know.

Things may change as your child gets older, especially after school begins and into the pre-teen and teen years. As kids begin to learn about their own personalities, they sometimes clash with their parents’ personalities. A parent’s ability to actively monitor is often one of the first things to suffer from this clash.

Parents need to monitor their children’s comings and goings through every age and stage of growth.

Being an active monitor can be as simple as answering some basic questions:

  • Who is your child with?
  • What do you know about the person(s) your child is with?
  • Where is your child?
  • What is your child doing?
  • When will your child be home/leaving?
  • How is your child getting there/home?

You won’t always have detailed answers to these questions, but it’s important to know most of the answers, most of the time.

You may also want to keep these things in mind when being an active monitor:

  • Open the lines of communication when your child is young and keep those lines open. It seems obvious, but honest communication is crucial. When your child is young, talk openly about things you do when you aren’t with your child; then ask your child what he or she does during those times. As your child gets older, keep up this type of communication. Both you and your child have to take part in open, two-way communication.
  • Tell your child what thoughts and ideals you value and why. For instance, if being respectful to adults is an ideal you want your child to have, tell him or her; even more importantly, tell him or her why you think it’s important. Don’t assume that your child knows your reasons for valuing one practice or way of behaving over another.
  • Know what your child is watching, reading, playing, or listening to. Because TV, movies, video games, the Internet, and music are such a large part of many of our lives, they can have a huge influence on kids. Be sure you know what your child’s influences are. You can’t help your child make positive choices if you don’t know what web sites he or she visits or what he or she reads, listens to, watches, or plays.
  • Know the people your child spends time with. Because you can’t be with your child all the time, you should know who is with your child when you’re not. Friends have a big influence on your child, from pre-school well into adulthood. Much of the time, this influence is positive, but not always. With a little effort from you, your child might surround him or herself with friends whose values, interests, and behaviors will be “pluses” in your child’s life. Your child also spends a lot of time with his or her teachers. Teachers play a vital role in your child’s development and overall well-being, so get to know your child’s teachers, too.
  • Give direction without being rigid. In some cases, not being allowed to do something only makes your child want to do it more. Is the answer just plain “no” or does it depend on the circumstances? “Yes, but only if...” is a useful option when making decisions.

With a little effort from you, your child might surround him or herself with friends whose values, interests, and behaviors will be "pluses" in your child's life.

To find out how some parents use monitoring in their daily parenting practices, turn to the section of this booklet that relates to your child’s age. Or you can read on to learn about mentoring.

A special note to those of you with pre-teens or teenagers

Keep in mind that even if you’re the most careful monitor, your child may have friends and interests that you don’t understand or don’t approve of. You may not like the music she listens to, or the clothes he wears, or the group she “hangs out” with. Some of these feelings are a regular part of the relationship between children and adults. Before you take away the music or forbid your child to see that friend, ask yourself this question:

Is this (person, music, TV show) a destructive influence?

In other words, is your child hurting anyone or being hurt by what he or she is doing, listening to, wearing, or who he or she is spending time with? If the answer is “no,” you may want to think before you act, perhaps giving your child some leeway. It’s likely that taking music away, not letting your child watch a certain show, or barring your child from spending time with a friend will create a conflict between you and your child. Make sure that the issue is important enough to insist upon. Think about whether your actions will help or hurt your relationship with your child, or whether your actions are necessary for your child to develop healthy attitudes and behaviors. You may decide that setting a volume limit for the radio is better than having a fight about your child’s choice of music.

Being your child’s mentor can keep your child from being hurt by encouraging him or her to act in reasonable ways. Now let’s think about mentoring.