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Is it Okay to Track Your Teenager?

Many teens withdraw from their parents during adolescence. It’s a natural part of development. Teens want to search, learn, and experience the world all on their own. Privacy and independence become of paramount importance.

However, these values often clash with parents’ desires to protect their children. As a parent, you want to know what your kids are up to. At the same time, teens get annoyed at what seems to be your “intrusiveness.”

This brings up the contentious debate about tracking. What happens when you want to keep your teen safe, but you may need to invade their privacy to do so? Do you trust blindly, or monitor their activities?

Here’s the question wer’e getting at:

Should you track your teen?

Different Types of Tracking

First, it’s important to clarify that there are different types of tracking. If a parent is location-tracking, they are using some kind of GPS technology to see where their child is at any given time. Many smartphones have tracking applications that enable a parent to view their teen’s current location. Around 16% of parents use this method to track their teen, according to a Pew Research study.

But another kind of tracking is Internet-trackingmonitoring the websites your adolescent is visiting. This kind of monitoring seems to be more accepted than location-tracking. In fact, almost 40% of parents report monitoring their teen’s online activities.

Should I Track My Teen?

So, should you engage in location tracking or digital tracking?

When it comes to location-tracking, we’re not going to give a definite answer. Deciding to monitor your teen’s whereabouts is a sensitive decision that depends on your particular child’s circumstances and past history. For example, for a teen who has rarely demonstrated risky behavior or criminal activity, it may not be worth damaging the trust in the relationship by tracking their location. Your child can interpret your decision to location-track as “spying” or “snooping.” However, if your teen has a history of substance abuse, behavioral issues, or illegal activity, you may decide the benefits of tracking outweigh the risks.

It’s important to mention that location-tracking can sometimes backfire on the parent. If a teen wants to attend a party they know you don’t approve of, they can always leave their phone behind. Or the opposite: they can be at school, in a safe location, but still be engaging in risky behavior like using drugs. That’s why every parent needs to decide, for themselves, if location-tracking is necessary when it comes to their individual teen.

Yes, You Should Track Your Teen’s Online Activities

When it comes to digital tracking, however, we do in fact advise parents to monitor their teen. The web is full of dangers no matter where you turn. An adolescent can be watching an innocent video on YouTube and still stumble upon a graphic, X-rated clip that would make your insides turn.

And they can never unsee it.

The Internet gives your teen access to some of the worst things in the entire world—right in their bedroom. On the dark web or even the surface web, your teen can find explicit, graphic content inlcluding porn, cruelty, murder, aggression, abuse, suicide—you name it, it’s there.

For this reason, it is unadvisable to give a teen a smartphone or computer with unfiltered Internet access. Today, there are numerous parental control systems available which parents can use to block inappropriate or unsafe pages and ensure their teen isn’t engaging in dangerous interactions on social media.

Involve Yourself in Your Teen’s Life

Whether or not you decide to track your teen, and whether or not this involves tracking their location or their web activity, all mental health professionals and parenting experts agree that a parent should engage in a (much simpler) form of monitoring:

Talking to your teen about their life.

Ask your teen where they’re going on the weekend. Ask them how school is going. Finjd out what projects they’re working on, how their extracurriculars are working out, and who their friends are.

In parenting teens, or really any child for that matter, it’s vital to monitor what’s going on in their life. And you can do this just by being with them. Spend time with them regularly, know who they’re hanging out with, be aware of what they’re doing, and ask them questions regularly. Even if your child gets annoyed at how involved you are.

Not only will this strengthen the parent-child relationship, it is also the number-one predictor of good behavior later on. Research shows that regular parental monitoring and involvement is the best thing you can do to raise successful children. And the opposite is true at well: inadequate parental monitoring may be a risk factor for adolescents developing problems later on, such as mental health issues and substance abuse problems.

Real-Life Monitoring

In addition to talking to your teen, try another easy, unobtrusive way of monitoring:  encouraging get-togethers at the home. Parents should encourage their kids to invite friends over as much as possible, rather than having their teens go to other people’s houses. That way, you can keep an eye on your child and monitor what they’re doing. Friend wants to attend a party? Tell them to host a party here. While you’re home, of course.

In this simple way, trust and safety – values at the core of the parent-child relationship – will work in tandem, rather than clash.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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