Best High Schools 2008: Parents’ Guide

Experts help parents navigate their kids’ teenage years with advice on social networking sites, time management, and sex.

Parents’ Guide: The ins and outs of social networking sites

More than half of teens who go online use social networking sites like MySpace. Take a tour: Jaana Juvonen, a professor of developmental psychology at UCLA, recently coauthored a study involving 1,454 kids ages 12 to 17 who are heavy Internet users. She recommends asking your child for a social networking tutorial. Beyond getting you up to speed, “you’re giving your kid a chance to tell you something you don’t know,” she says. Stay tuned: Fearful your child is posting too much information? Try to avoid snooping. Instead, Juvonen says to ask your child for full access to her Facebook page. Ask her why she wants to share personal details, whether it’s a diary entry or a racy photo, and try to listen. “You want to understand what they want to convey on their site,” says Juvonen. Provide perspective: More than 70 percent of kids Juvonen surveyed reported being bullied online, and many, fearing they’d loose their Internet privileges, don’t tell their parents. Her advice is to maintain a dialogue in which you talk about other kids (kids won’t want to talk about themselves), which will still help prep your child for the worst.

Parents’ Guide: Time Management for Busy Families

Bored teens get into trouble, and overscheduled teens burn out. Let them sleep: Teenagers’ internal clocks are different from adults’. They’re off by about two hours, says Michele Kipke, professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine, and  “they’re out of sync with the way we structure the day for kids.” They’re not sleepy until midnight, their changing bodies need nine hours of sleep, and school starts at 7:30 or so. Then there are extracurricular activities and heaps of homework to manage. “Help them decide what activities will be supportive of getting them into college, what activities are fun, and balance that with enough time to study to get good grades, rest, and if they have to, work,” says Dorian Traube, an assistant professor at USC’s School of Social Work. If they’re sleeping too little, cut an activity. Unite and conquer: Schedule time to eat together. Sharing dinner really is one of the best ways to keep the family unit united. “It’s about having the connection to family,” says Kipke. “The research is clear that the sense of connectedness and sense of belonging is going to build resilience and help children develop successfully.”

Parents’ Guide: Talking to your kids (again) about sex

Think it’s too late to stammer through a conversation with your teen about the birds and the bees? Prepare them: Sixty-three percent of high school students will have intercourse by their senior year, and many report their first encounter was unplanned. “One of the highest risk factors for teen pregnancy is kids initiating and not being prepared,” says Michele Kipke, a professor and researcher in adolescent health and development at USC. She says to “lay out the issues so there aren’t a lot of surprises for kids. Help them anticipate and think about them in advance.” Think broadly: “It’s talking about responsible sex and caring sex and how you choose when it’s the right time,” says USC social work professor Dorian Traube. One other thing: “You can’t assume your kid is straight,” she says. The less judgmental your kids find you, the more you can help them. Redefine: Talking about sex isn’t the same as sanctioning it. Your kids are growing up. Work with them. “When you see conflict in households between teenagers and parents,” says Kipke, “it often has to do with parents rigidly holding on to their concept of what parenting means and who their kids are.”

Illustration by Steven Burke