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Keeping Tabs on Teens

Latter-day Saint Perspective

Raising teens in today's world can be a daunting challenge. They're vulnerable to dangers that lurk around many corners, whether the corner is at home or miles away.

Dangers to younger children are mostly centered near home. As children get older, the dangers multiply and become harder to anticipate. Parents often feel helpless because they can't keep up the same level of vigilance as they could when their children were smaller. Teen children cannot be in sight at all moments.

With teens, a different kind of vigilance is needed. Call it "monitoring" or "keeping tabs," but don't think it requires any less effort. Parents can -- and must - watch over their teens with continuing vigilance. The older the child, the more your monitoring will become oversight rather than direct sight, but it is just as important.

Monitoring means supervising your teens. It means knowing your teens' whereabouts at all times, who they spend time with, and all their social plans. It also includes being aware of your teenager's behavior when he or she is not in your sight, such as during school hours.

Monitoring children has become more difficult. The higher number of single parents and mothers in the workforce mean fewer parents are at home before and after school, leaving more children unsupervised. Fewer adult neighbors are at home to lend a watchful eye. Even when neighbors are home, neighborliness has declined, resulting in less looking out for one another's children.

Despite the increasing challenges, monitoring is one of the most important things a parent can do to prevent adolescent problem behavior. Research shows that better parental monitoring is related to lower rates of sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, truancy, thoughts about suicide and suicide attempts, running away and delinquency. One study showed that only 8 percent of ninth graders whose parents monitored their activities closely were likely to have had five alcoholic drinks in a row during the past month, compared with 68 percent of ninth graders whose parents didn't keep close tabs on them. A similar trend was noted for sexual activity.

To be an effective monitor, you don't need to be present at every moment. You also don't have to become overly intrusive or violate the privacy that teens typically crave. You do need to show consistent and active interest in your child's life. And you do need to be willing to enforce family rules and raise issues that concern you.

In one family a dispute came up when the 14-year-old daughter told her parents she wanted to go to a high school dance. Her parents thought she was too young, and they proposed that instead she give a party at their house. She thought that was a dumb idea, but she couldn't come up with an alternative that both she and her parents felt good about. Since they couldn't agree, family rules dictated that she go by her parents' wishes. She gave the party. To her surprise, she and her friends had a great time.

We have three teens in our family. We monitor our children using the "Where? Who? What? When?" rule. The rule, simply stated, is this: "When you wish to leave the house, we insist on knowing where you are going, who you are going to be with, what you will be doing, and when you will be home." Violation of the rule invokes the agreed-upon consequence: losing the privilege of leaving the Duncan home for fun with friends for a specified time.

When you monitor your young teens this closely they might put up a fuss. Older teens might accuse you of being overly suspicious or of distrusting them. Don't pay any attention. Stay positive, smile, and insist on keeping tabs on them. It takes courage and strength to stick to your monitoring guns and enforce your rules, but the rewards are immense.

For Further Reading...

Steinberg, L. D., & Levine, A. (1997). You and your adolescent: A parent's guide for ages 10-20. New York: Harper Information.

Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.


  1. Jacobson, K. C., & Crockett, L. J. (2000). Parental monitoring and adolescent adjustment: An ecological perspective. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10, 65-97.
  2. Small, S. A., & Bogenschneider, K. (1995). Teen assessment project. University of Wisconsin-Extension Service.

Many faithful parents seek to monitor their teens behavior to help them stay on the gospel path. Generally, parents see this monitoring as fulfilling their responsibility in The Family: A Proclamation to the World to “rear their children in love and righteousness.”1 Interestingly, to rear in this context means to lift up. Simply put, parents are responsible for “lifting up [their teen’s] hands [when they] hang down” (D&C 81:5).

Lifting up teens, however, does not mean holding hands and trying to drag them along the gospel path. Instead, rearing involves encouraging teens to act in productive ways, allowing them to exercise agency, and helping them up when they fall. President Marion G. Romney taught that respecting agency along the path is crucial because “agency. . . . next to life itself, is man’s most precious inheritance.”2

While teens will do many good things of their own accord, parents understand that they will inevitably make some mistakes. Growth is a process and can include difficulties and challenges. When teens make mistakes or struggle, parents can be there to lift them up and lovingly invite them to try again to “come unto Christ and be perfected in Him.” (Moroni 10:32). Parents might consider not only understanding that a teen has fallen down, but also learning why the teen made the mistake. Seeking this knowledge can help them teach true principles and prevent future falls.

To gain this knowledge, parents might need to counsel with a teen in the way President Russell M. Nelson counsels with the apostles: “one-on-one.”3 When a parent is one on one with their teen, they can express the “pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). When a teen feels “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47) a parent has for them, teens likely will be more open to counseling together.

Through this periodic one-on-one counseling, parents are able to take a side-by-side approach to guiding their teen along the covenant path. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught an important principle in a story about a friend training a colt: “He attached the lead rope to the halter, got in front of the colt, and pulled. The colt resisted. My friend pulled harder, and the colt planted his legs more firmly. So he really pulled, and the colt fell over. The process was repeated several times until my friend made this assessment: in just four or five minutes he had successfully taught the colt to fall over. All he had to do was get in front of the colt, pick up the rope, and over it would go. His wife, watching this process, finally suggested that instead of getting in front of the colt and pulling, he might try wrapping the rope around the colt and simply walking alongside. To my friend’s chagrin, it worked.”4

Walking side-by-side with a teen can help them learn more than pulling. This approach can also help them feel comfortable sharing information with parents. In this way, parents can make better decisions as they more fully understand their teen’s needs and concerns. President Russell M. Nelson taught that “good inspiration is based upon good information.”3 When parents have good information or knowledge about their teen, they are in a unique position to receive inspiration from heaven. They can then “teach [teens] correct principles and let them govern themselves”5 as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught. Through careful, watchful care, they can spend the time to better know their teen, receive inspiration based on good information,3 and partner with God to lift up their teen in love and righteousness.1

Written by Matthew Saxey, edited by professors Julie H. Haupt and Stephen F. Duncan, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University. February 2020.


1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Family: A Proclamation to the World, paragraph 6.

2. Romney, M. G. (1976, April). Church welfare services’ basic principles. General Conference.

3. Nelson, R. M. (2018, April). Revelation for the church, revelation for our lives. General Conference.

4. Ballard, M. R. (2005, May). One more. Ensign.

5. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1965-1975). Messages of the First Presidency: James R. Clark, p. 54.