What to do When Your Teenager Sneaks Out
As I begin this article, I can’t help but think of the times I used to sneak out as a teenager. One time in particular is vividly etched forever in my mind. I was sixteen at the time. I’d sneak out of my ground-floor window at night to go driving around with some boys (who were college freshman) and my best friend at the time, Jenny. We didn’t do anything too horrible, relatively speaking, but wine coolers, late nights, and lies to parents were involved.
Well, this particular evening, my grandma (who raised me) somehow got wise and came into my room just as I was opening my window to sneak out. She saw Jenny at the window, as well as the boys waiting by the side of the road in their convertible. Jenny ran to the car and hopped in, while my grandma chased after them, running down the road in her bathrobe and curlers, yelling “You come back here, you naughty kids!” It was simultaneously funny and horrifying at the same time.
What I also remember thinking, days later, was that it was odd she never formally punished me for this breach of curfew and trust. Sure, she yelled at me and voiced her displeasure at my irresponsible behavior, but I didn’t actually receive any consequences. Being grounded was something that didn’t exist in my world. I also didn’t have any sort of heart-to-heart talk with her about it. I can’t remember now if that was her fault or mine, but we didn’t talk about things in an open way back then, unlike the frank discussions my daughter and I often have.
So, did I learn not to sneak out? Nope. For some reason, she didn’t catch on to the fact that I continued this rebellious behavior over the next year. Could things have been different? I believe so. However, it’s important to mention that I in no way blame her for this. She did her absolute best at the time, especially being a grandmother and having already raised four kids of her own. I’ve since apologized to her, in fact. Disobeying her rules wasn’t very nice of me, and in retrospect I can see that. However, I do think she was too easy on me—and also perhaps too unwilling to openly engage in discussions on the subject.
So, what did I learn—and what have I learned since then? What can I pass along to you, dear parent, to deal with your own rebellious teenagers? Let’s start with these five tips:
- Create a safe space for discussion. Your teen needs to know that they can tell you anything—and that you won’t judge them. I recently had a friend give me some great parenting advice. When her (now twenty) daughter was a teen, she told her: “No matter what happens, I will never judge you. We’ve all done stupid stuff. Just be honest with me, and I will always try to help you”. When teens feel they can safely discuss anything (yes, anything) with you without fearing judgment, and that you’ll always try to help them, they’ll be much more likely to confide in you—and much less likely to rebel.
- Create rules you both agree on. This comes from having open discussions with your teenager, where you truly listen and offer a balance of respect and boundaries. It’s important to not be overly strict, as this invariably backfires. I’ll never forget learning from my brothers that the wildest kids they knew growing up were the ones with the strictest parents. There’s just something about being given rules that are too hard to follow—it pretty much sets the person up to fail. So, talk with your teens. Listen to them. Work together to come up with boundaries you can both live with.
- Give them consequences—and follow through. If they still break the rules, they need to receive consequences. When you say you’re going to do something, you have to be prepared to, well, do it. Don’t ever make empty promises or threats. Your teens must know that your words aren’t empty, because if they are, you’ll find their behavior will likely worsen. It’s like that saying—What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear your words. Mean what you say, say what you mean, and always follow through.
- Determine risk factors. What’s going on when your teen sneaks out? Is there a way to find out? There’s a big difference between sneaking out to play cards and have a wine cooler, and sneaking out to do drugs and maybe get pregnant. If your teen is involved in activities that are potentially dangerous, you’ll want to take the necessary steps to help them protect themselves and seek help.
- Have your own back. Remember—parenting is tough stuff, and the teen years are far from an exception. You may not always be able to control things (or your teen), so it’s very important that you practice self-care. Be kind and gentle with yourself, especially if things are rough right now with a rebellious teen. You’re doing your best, and this too shall pass.
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