How to Keep Tabs on an Unruly Teenager

By Morgan Rush
Setting firm boundaries will help your teen understand your expectations.
Setting firm boundaries will help your teen understand your expectations.

The teenage years can be fraught with conflict. Your teen could be pressuring you into dispensing privileges that you don’t think she’s ready for, or she could be participating in activities for which you haven’t offered permission. Unruly teenagers might feel that you haven't clearly established boundaries or you might not be consistently setting expectations and following through with consequences. Keeping tabs on your teen will let her know that you’re involved in her life and help keep her safe.

Start with clear communication. Keeping tabs on your teen can feel like spying if you haven’t clearly stated your intentions to remain involved in parenting her social life. Let your teenager know that peer pressure is alive and well, and while you might trust her sense of responsibility, you’re not sure that all of her friends meet the same standard of trustworthiness. By communicating your concerns, expectations and consequences, your teen will have a clearer sense of boundaries. If unruliness has been a problem in the past, you can set targets that will help move her toward better behavior. For example, she might have permission to have friends over but not visit a friend’s house until she’s earned back this privilege.

Drop in unexpectedly to demonstrate that you are serious about honest communication, recommends First Things First. If your teen said he’s planning to watch a movie with friends in the afternoon, you can purchase a ticket as well in order to stand at the theater door exit to make sure he walks out. Some teens arrange for pick-up and drop-off at “safe” places, like theaters, libraries or school events, but then leave during the middle to attend parties. Your teen might be embarrassed or angry that you are checking in, but, if he has lost your trust in the past, you can indicate that this is a negative consequence directly related to his actions.

Check arrival times at home in person, by phone or through a neighbor. If your teen says that she will be home at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, try to be home at or before 10 p.m. to make sure she arrives on time. If you can’t be there personally, tell her she must call or text upon arrival. You can check to see if she’s really there by asking her a question. For example, “I want you to look in the fridge and tell me what I left you for dinner in there.” If she correctly identifies what you’ve left for dinner, you’ll know she’s actually at home. You can also ask a neighbor, older sibling or other trusted friend to verify she has arrived.

Track your teen online by monitoring his usage. If he’s had problems with inappropriate behavior online in the past, you might demand his username and password as a condition for future usage. You can add parent-monitoring apps or settings to your computer or smartphone to make it easier to keep tabs. If he is unable to meet your expectations for behavior -- online or in the real world -- don’t be afraid to pull the plug and deny him access to social media.

About the Author

Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.