Of all the responsibilities that come with thankless parenting an adolescent – taking unpopular stands and making unpopular demands – supervision of teenage behavior is usually close to the top of the list.  “Sometimes we get so tired of keeping after our adolescent we wonder if it’s worth the aggravation!”

I believe it is.

In addition to teaching skills and guarding against dangers, another purpose of Supervision is a corrective one.  This is to combine parental oversight to monitor what the teenager is doing with parental pursuit to influence what she or he needs to get done. “You still haven’t finished what I asked so I am telling you again.”

The High Cost of Supervision

Supervision takes a lot of parental attention and a lot of parental effort, and it is generally disliked on both sides of the relationship. On the receiving side, the young person can find it invasive and oppressive; and on the providing side, the adult can find it aggravating and exhausting.

There can be this youthful complaint: “Stop checking on me; I hate it when you keep reminding and reminding me; I said I’d do it an hour ago!” And there can be the adult response: “I appreciate what you said, and I get tired of repeatedly asking. However, I won’t stop checking until you take care of what I requested.” So why did the teenager finally comply? “To stop their bugging me, I finally did what my parents wanted!”

Particularly to counter the seemingly endless adolescent capacity for delay, the byword for parents is: “If it’s important enough to ask for or require, then it’s important enough to follow through and see that it gets done or is complied with.” Supervision is a specific act that has a lot of symbolic value. It goes to show that:

  • Parents mean what they say
  • Will insist on what they want
  • And routinely follow through on rules they set and requests they make

The Importance of Consistency

What can undercut their influential power of supervision is when parents use it inconsistently, keeping after a rule on one occasion, but letting it go on another when their attention is elsewhere or their energy is lacking. In this case, the teenager can be encouraged to conclude: “Sometimes they mean what they say I have to do and sometimes they don’t.” So the next time the adolescent comes up against a selectively enforced requirement, she or he is likely to bet on “they don’t.”

Consistently applied, parental supervision can have shaping value, instilling important habits in both child and adolescent. For example, consider the weary parents who came in for coaching, in disrepair over having to deal with a very strong-willed 6-year-old. “She totally defiant!” they declared. “She automatically refuses everything we ask!”

“That must be very frustrating,” I said. “It sounds dangerous. You can’t even drive with her safely in the car, with her refusing to wear a seatbelt, I mean.” “What are you talking about?” they asked. “She knows to always buckle up in the car.” “Really,” I replied? “I thought she refused to comply with any of your rules.” “Well, not that one,” they admitted. “And how did you get her to use her seat buckle?” I wanted to know. “We didn’t give her a choice,” they explained. “It’s too important. We just kept after her and after her until she finally decided it wasn’t worth fighting us about it anymore.”

“Exactly,” I replied. “That’s your model for getting important compliance with your headstrong daughter. You must consistently supervise what you most want until she gives in and decides to routinely do it. And now she is free to fight you about something else. Since a willful child is likely to become a willful teenager, it’s best for you to have a well-practiced history of consistent supervision in place when a strong-willed adolescence begins.”

– Carl E Pickhardt Ph.D.

Read more: Adolescence and the Power of Parental Supervision

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