THE BLOG
10/24/2013 12:02 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

An Open Letter to Parents About Teen Safety

Dear Parents,

Once again in light of the Nevada school shootings, http://http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57608450/2-dead-2-wounded-in-nevada-middle-school-shooting/?tag=nl.e875&s_cid=e875&ttag=e875&ftag=TRE497675byou are faced with thinking about two disparate concepts together. These aretwo2 concepts that should be completely separate and distinct but, of course, they are not. I am referring to your teens and safety. As a clinical psychologist and a mother, I am painfully aware of how perplexed and unprepared you are when it comes to talking to your kids about "safety issues." In my own home, my daughter would frequently asked me the following: "Mom, are we finished talking about safety issues?" It was somewhat of a joke, but one springing from a place of serious concern.

In the United States, you talk to your kids about safety issues such as "stranger danger" and the risks associated with promiscuity and substance abuse. And, yes, when your kids get their drivers' licenses, you talk to them about driving safely and these days about the dangers of texting and driving. Nonetheless, I am more than a little concerned that there is a collective failure to teach your kids a number of other lessons about how to protect themselves. Today, I am going to begin the conversation with you about what else you must teach your teens. This is an initial conversation. I will be back soon with more but for now, please listen up!

Consider the following safety lessons:

1. Teach your teens to assess their surroundings. This may include a mall, a party, a situation at school etc. They should be taught to look around and be aware of what is going on in their environment. They may pick up on a number of cues that help them determine if the environment is safe in the moment or has the potential to become unsafe.

2. You must teach your children to trust their gut reactions. If their sixth sense -- perhaps we can refer to this as their intuition or impression for the purpose of this discussion -- is telling them that something feels wrong, then something probably is. Over time and with careful attention to their reactions, they should learn to understand and interpret what their reactions mean. Consider that "butterflies" in one child's stomach may indicate that the situation is concerning whereas "sweating" may be a sign for another child that something is amiss.

3. Teach your children to pick their peer groups carefully. Who they spend time with certainly affects their decisions. If they are, for example, hanging around with a group of kids who are oblivious to social cues and expectations, then they may never learn to read social situations carefully. You want your teens to be able to turn to a friend and ask the friend about their take on a situation, right? The idea of two teens jointly deciding to leave a party together after comparing notes and deciding that things are getting out of control is very comforting.

4. Your teens must be taught to check in on one another. It is not enough to tell your teen to look out for him or herself. The expectation should be for teens to be accountable to one another. They should be looking out for themselves and each other.

AND

5. Remind your teens to think about consequences before taking action. I know. I know. I can almost hear you. You have tried and are not always successful. I get it. Remember, I'm a parent too. Nonetheless, the connection between behavior and consequences must be reinforced even if your teens roll their eyeballs or look at you like the broken record that you have become... Remember, it's better to teach then to be negligent.

I wish you and your teens a journey that is safe and healthy and not full of too much anxiety. No one ever promised you emotional ease during your child's teen years. Now, you have some teaching tools. I hope they help.

Good luck!