There are things teenagers do that tend to sum up the teen years. They need their freedom, but they also need our guidance. They want more opportunities to make their own choices; we want to feel more comfortable before we give them those chances. Teenagers often think they should have more freedom than they can actually handle and while there are no “bad teens,” there are kids who push boundaries and rebel more than others. But even if a teen is responsible and mature for his or her age, there is typical teenage behavior and things teenagers do that (no matter what argument they give), they just should not be doing.
Parents make the mistake of thinking that it’s not worth it to hold their teen to this standard. Teens will be teens! But if we pretend like we don’t care and that we have zero confidence in our kids to make healthy and responsible choices, we are setting them up for disaster. So here are 13 things teenagers do that they shouldn’t.
1. Sending Inappropriate Texts
According to a recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20% of teens are sending or posting nude or semi-nude photos of themselves, and 39% are sending/posting sexually suggestive messages. Make it clear to your teen that they can’t control who sees this content and that it never truly goes away. Ever. Many girls say that being asked for a nude photo is flattering. Remind your daughter that if a guy really likes and respects her he would never ask her to do that.
2. Drinking Alcohol
A 2019 youth risk behavior survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that 29% of high school students had consumed some amount of alcohol in the prior 30 days and 14% binge drank. Five percent of respondents drove after drinking and 17% rode with a driver who’d been drinking. Alcohol increases your teen’s risk of death or injury in a car crash or other accident and may permanently alter her still-developing brain. No amount is truly safe at this age. Drinking is one of the things teenagers do that parents pretend is 100 percent okay. But the legal drinking age is 21 for a reason.
3. Living Off of Fast Food
Your teen is busy—always on the go between classes, rehearsals, and practices. The temptation to eat unhealthy food on the go is great. But those bodies and minds that are still growing and changing need good nutrition just as much as when they were toddlers. Make family meal-times a regular occurrence for nutritional and relationship reasons. This one is a gut-check for parents (no pun intended). Eating too much junk is often one of the things teenagers do because it’s what they see their parents do.
4. Misusing Prescription Drugs
Teenage culture is built on a hunger for risk-taking and new experiences. Adolescents are notoriously creative in terms of finding substances to experiment with, and they usually don’t come from a shady dealer on the corner. They most likely come from your family medicine cabinet. Throw away unused prescriptions and keep tabs on other medications, especially opioids like Vicotin and OxyContin. Also, talk with your teen about using Adderall as a study drug. Some kids are under so much pressure to succeed in school that it feels like a necessary study aid.
5. Overdoing It On Caffeine
More teens today are fueling their bodies and minds with potent energy drinks and strong coffee. While these legal drinks may seem less concerning, high levels of caffeine can cause health problems and mask your child’s need for real food and sleep. Additionally, the teen trend of combining energy drinks with alcohol is extremely dangerous. While a daily cup of coffee probably won’t do any harm, keep up with how much your kids are drinking.
6. Keeping Social Media Hidden from You
Social media is a huge part of how teens connect in the 21st century, so we shouldn’t expect them to stay off of it altogether, but having accounts you don’t know about or not accepting your friend/follow request should be a deal-breaker for you. Once you’re on the platform they’re on, educate yourself on how it works and the slang they use.
7. Having Sex
The obvious risk of pregnancy is reason enough to help your child avoid sexual activity, but the lesser-discussed repercussions like contracting an STD, suffering depression, and an increased risk of suicide are just as real. There’s also a teen mindset that oral sex isn’t “really” sex—but it, too, comes with risks. Make sure your teen understands that birth control alone can’t protect them from the perils of sex, and that waiting can spare them undue stress and heartbreak.
Some parents think setting the bar at abstinence is outdated or unrealistic, but having that conversation with your teen will communicate that you believe that they are capable of waiting and that might just be the vote of confidence they need.
8. Coming and Going Without Checking In
It’s so simple, yet it takes real work on a parent’s part: always knowing where your teen is, who he’s with, and what he’s doing. Just staying aware of these basics at all times makes it harder for your teen to engage in activities or behaviors you want him to avoid. Do the hard work and don’t take anything for granted. Ask, then verify. And that phone you pay for? It needs to be on and answered every time you call.
Expect that your teen will push back on your keeping tabs. She won’t like it, but communicating that you care about their whereabouts is another way of saying, “I love you.”
Just staying aware of the who, where, and what at all times makes it harder for your teen to engage in activities or behaviors you want him to avoid. Do the hard work and don’t take anything for granted.
9. Texting While Driving
The risk of your teen being injured or killed in an auto accident rises dramatically when he or she is in the car with other teenagers or using a cell phone behind the wheel. Teen crash risks also skyrocket when alcohol is involved. Make sure your teen stays within safe driving boundaries by requiring them to abide by iMOM’s Teen Driving Contract, and have the backbone to revoke privileges when necessary.
Hold yourself to this same standard. You can’t ask them to not text while driving if they see you doing it.
10. Using Tanning Beds
Tanning beds aren’t as popular as they used to be but some teen girls still turn to the tanning salon when it’s time for a school dance or spring break to get bronze. Several states have imposed restrictions on teen tanning, and the FDA has called for labeling on beds that states that they should not be used by consumers under 18. How much more warning do you need, mom? Direct your teen toward the bronzing lotion or offer a spray tan before the big dance.
11. Keeping Secrets
It’s natural for teenagers to crave independence and privacy, but you can’t effectively parent them if you don’t know what’s going on in their lives. Make yourself available to just catch up with your teen. Hang out and ask open-ended questions. Keeping your relationship with your teenage open can be the difference between spotting a major problem before it’s too late, or missing it altogether. If you sense that your child is working hard to hide something from you—be concerned and get to work discerning what it is.
I’m ready for this trend to be over. Teens who smoke think vaping is a healthy alternative and teens who never smoked pick up a vaping habit because they think it’s harmless. The truth is, 30.7 percent of e-cig users start smoking within 6 months of vaping, and there are cancer-causing chemicals in the vapors.
13. Getting Plastic Surgery
Insider.com created a TikTok account, set the age at 14, and waited to see how long it would take for a video featuring plastic surgery to appear on the account’s “For You” page. 8 minutes. It took 480 seconds for the algorithm to decide a video of plastic surgery should be “relevant” to a 14-year old. There is so much pressure on teens to look filtered and perfect. Parents need to be the voice of reason that surgeries that alter our appearance can wait until kids have had a little bit more time to grow.
What would you add to the list?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith, and wellness. She is a mom of two and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.