It feels like there are millions of books, websites, and articles about making our homes safe for babies. But what about making them safe for teens? This summer the majority of teens will be left home alone for at least some amount of time, and there are plenty of ways for them to get in trouble, or get hurt. So, how to keep them safe?
"You can't keep all dangers out of reach of teens like you can babies," said Zainab Kagen, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with University of Utah Health at Heber Valley Pediatrics. "Instead you need to mitigate the risks you can and then help your teens understand other risks, and how them to navigate them."
Let's start with the risks you can mitigate. Just like with babies you want to lock up the things you don't want your teens getting into. Lock up all alcoholic beverages, including those kept in the refrigerator. Same goes for prescription medications. In addition, if you have firearms in the house make sure they are securely stored and unloaded, and that ammunition is securely stored in a separate location.
"These are the most basic steps you can take to keep your teens safe," said Kagen. "You should also ask the parents of your child's friends if they have taken similar precautions if your child will be spending unsupervised time in their homes."
If your teen is like most, they probably have a phone. If you haven't yet now is the time to talk about responsible phone use. That means no use while driving. No texts. No Snapchat posts. No calls. They need to know that if they are behind the wheel, the phone is not in use. "iPhones have a feature where notifications are automatically turned off when motion is detected," said Kagen. "With other phones you can download apps that do the same thing."
The summer break is a great time for teens to get a part time job to make a little money - and occupy their spare time. Help your teen find a job that interests them. If they aren't old enough to work encourage them to find volunteer opportunities to contribute to their community - plus side is that they can fill out a resume later on when they are able to get a job. "A the very least give your teen a list of chores that need to be completed daily or weekly," said Kagen. "Or 'hire' them to do projects around the house to keep them occupied and put a little bit of cash in their pocket."
During the school year you likely make sure your teen eats a healthy diet, and the summer is no time to stop that trend. Stock the house with grab and go snacks and drinks like fruit, yogurt, nuts, and sugar-free beverages. Do menu planning with your kids to get their input and teach them how to build a healthy diet on their own. And don't let eating be a solitary experience for them in front of the TV or phone. "Have at least one meal together as a family," said Kagen. "It not only ensures your child is having a healthy meal, but it fosters communication and builds your relationship."
Kids need to stay active in the summer as well. They may not have their after school sports or physical education class, but there is still a lot to do. Sign them up for camps or clinics for activities they don't normally do. Or encourage them to spend time at nearby parks or community pools. "With any outdoor activity make sure your kid knows to wear sunscreen and appropriate sun protective clothing," said Kagen. "You may also want to encourage them to go later in the day or in the evening to avoid the heat of the day and the sun's most damaging rays."
You have good kids. You know that. But even good kids can get into trouble with too much time on their hands and not enough guidance. So, give them some guidelines and help them not only get through the summer, but also learn behaviors that will serve them into adulthood. "I recommend building step by step boundaries," said Kagen. "This will allow teens to exhibit their responsibility and gain the trust of their parents."