Five Basics of Parenting Adolescents: Monitor and Observe

Key Message for Parents:
Monitor your teen’s activities. You still can, and it still counts.

A number of studies link the seemingly simple act of monitoring the whereabouts and activities of teens to a lower risk of drug and alcohol use, depression, early sexual activity, victimization, and delinquency. As teens move into a larger and larger world, there is more to monitor than ever before—yet parents of adolescents must balance supervision with respect for their teens’ need for privacy. As a result, monitoring teens increasingly involves less direct supervision and more communication, observation, and networking with other adults.

Monitoring a few specific areas has been shown to be particularly effective:

  • School progress and environment—paying attention to grades and behavior is associated with better academic achievement and fewer disciplinary problems.
  • Physical and mental health—watching for signs of depression and other problems in teens is important since rates of suicide and mental illness rise to adult levels during these years.
  • After-school whereabouts, friendships, and peer activities—keeping tabs on what adolescents are doing and when is related to lower rates of drug and alcohol use, early pregnancy, and delinquency.


  • Keep track of your teen’s whereabouts and activities, directly or indirectly. Listen, observe, and network with others who come into contact with your teen.
  • Keep in touch with other adults who are willing to let you know of trends in your adolescent’s behavior. This includes neighbors, family, teachers, and other parents.
  • Involve yourself in school events, such as parent-teacher conferences and special needs planning meetings.
  • Stay informed about your teen’s progress in school and employment. Be aware of the nature of outside activities, and get to know your teen’s friends and acquaintances.
  • Learn and watch for warning signs of poor physical or mental health, as well as signs of abuse or neglect. These include problems eating or sleeping, a drop in school performance, drug use, withdrawal from activities, promiscuity, unexplained injury, or high levels of anxiety or guilt.
  • Seek guidance if you have concerns about these warning signs or any other aspect of your teen’s health or behavior. Consult with teachers, counselors, religious leaders, physicians, parenting educators, family and tribal elders, and others.
  • Monitor your teen’s experiences in settings and relationships inside and outside the home that hold the potential for abuse—including relationships with parental figures, siblings, extended family, caregivers, peers, romantic partners, employers, and teachers.
  • Evaluate the challenge level of proposed teen activities, such as social events, media exposure, and jobs. Match these challenges to your adolescent’s ability to handle them.