When to Approach a Parent About His or Her Teen’s Behavior
When is it OK to get involved in someone else’s business? If you’ve been privy to another parent’s teenager engaging in destructive or illicit behavior, is it appropriate to report the behavior to the parent? In such delicate situations, parents are understandably unsure about whether to play the role of informant.
Rebecca L. Hashim, an attending psychologist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in Bronx, N.Y., says parents often talk themselves out of reporting such information because they believe it’s not their problem or they convince themselves that maybe they’re just imagining it and don’t investigate further.
“If you become aware of a teen’s destructive behavior, it is important to communicate these concerns to that teen’s parent,” she says. “If what you have seen or have been told is actually happening, and you don’t share that information, you run the risk that the destructive behavior continues or even escalates, which can lead to serious consequences.”
Dr. Gilberto Velez-Domenech, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y., advises parents to consider possible threats to their own children first.
“When a parent personally believes that there is a credible and reasonable threat to the life, safety or well-being of her teen as a result of another teen’s behavior, the first and most important consideration should be the safety of her teen,” she says.
Some situations are not so clear cut, however, such as issues involving sexual behaviors. “I would advise parents to seriously think twice before ever discussing their own teen’s or someone else’s teen’s sexuality with another parent,” Velez-Domenech says. “The source of the information about a teen’s sexuality is almost always secondhand and intrinsically unreliable.”
He also cautions that perceptions and opinions about teen sexuality differ greatly among parents. “The potential for misperception and misunderstanding is very high,” he says.
“One parent should approach the other directly, in person, and with total privacy and discretion,” Velez-Domenech says. “The conversation should be straight to the point and nonjudgmental, making reference only to the actions of the teen involved and not to his/her person or values.”
However, he advises against being apologetic. “Protecting their own children is every parent’s right and duty,” he says. “Protecting other parents’ children is a very noble act.”
Be aware that reporting distressing information to another parent may result in a loss of a friendship, strained relations between families or the other parent not believing her teen would do such a thing.
“You do run the risk of the other parent not believing you or becoming upset that you would ‘accuse’ her child,” Hashim warns.
She reminds parents to weigh the possible consequences and seriousness of the behavior first. A parent who truly feels the well-being of another child is at risk should put this ahead of worrying about whether or not the teen’s parent will still like her.
“If the behavior is potentially serious, it’s better in the long run to make the parent aware of it and let him/her handle it as he/she sees fit,” she says.
Velez-Domenech says emotions may run high because someone’s privacy has been violated. “There is a good chance that relationships will be permanently damaged, but it’s the price to pay for the safety of the teens involved,” he says.
Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer, columnist and author of LIONS and TIGERS and TEENS: Expert Advice and Support for the Conscientious Parent Just Like You.
Make the Call or Disconnect?
Consider the following when deciding whether to inform another parent about her teenager’s destructive or dangerous behavior.
Separate hearsay from fact. Witnessing such behavior is not the same as hearing about it at a soccer game from a third party. Even if a parent trusts the source, he should gather solid evidence before approaching the teen’s parent with disturbing news about her child.
Evaluate the behavior. Is it endangering the teen’s — or someone else’s — well being, health or safety? Substance abuse, self harming, relationship violence and gang activities are behaviors that have potential life-threatening consequences and should be reported.