"Our 14 year old keeps sneaking out in the middle of the night. We've screwed the windows shut, called police. She says she sorry...but she can't be that sorry if she keeps doing it. What is the best way to handle this? We've told her it is a safety issue more than anything else."
You and your husband need to have a series of sit-down discussions with her. What needs to happen is that you end up with an agreement whereby she agrees she will not sneak out and you will allow some dating or other privilege. There are rules that are important to you; there are behaviors and freedoms important to her. You and she have to discuss these until you reach an agreement. You don't want her running away or sneaking out. At the same time, you want to keep a relationship with her. Things should be discussed until you can reach a compromise that as parents you can live with, and as a teenage girl she can live with the final agreement as well. Things may need to be written down. Maybe a written contract will result.
These kinds of situations are difficult -- and delicate. Parents feel they should be able to dictate rules. But teens have a lot of power -- and mobility -- so a compromise is necessary. The goal is to come up with a workable solution that allows everyone to continue living together without hostilities and threats.
In the meantime, here are some concrete tips:
1. Be sure to explain the dangers of what she is doing. If possible the best thing you can do is to have an alarm system on your home and to be sure before you go to bed that all windows and doors are closed and the alarm is set.
2. Hang bells on the door high enough to make it hard to quietly remove them. Also place screws in the screen to prevent the child from leaving through the window.
3. If you have a girl, keep her make-up in your bathroom. Chances are if she is sneaking out she will be going somewhere and will want to look her best. Most teenage girls won't be caught dead around friends without her face on!
4. If you have an alarm, install alarm codes. You can assign codes to different people in your house and it will record when they arm and disarm the alarm. It will also send you a text message or let you check online to see when the person is logging on or off of the alarm. You can use this data to prove that you know the exact times your daughter has been outside of the house at night!
5. Motion sensor lights can be a good way to catch her and potential friends sneaking around the house. The drawback here is that it might catch other night crawlers like possums. Couple the motion sensor lights with an alarm system for a sure-fire way to catch your teenager if she’s climbing out the windows or unlocking doors late at night. If the teenager does try to sneak out, the piercing sound of the security system will quickly alert everyone in the house (and neighborhood!) that the girl is trying to sneak out. Alarm systems protect the whole family and provide the additional safety of making sure your teenager is spending the whole night where she belongs – in bed!
6. Perhaps the most important step in preventing your child from sneaking out is to expect they will. So many parents think their child won't, but chances are they will. Next, leave your bedroom door open at night while you are sleeping.
7. Set an alarm to check on her at odd hours throughout the night. With any luck, you’ll catch her gone & be sitting calmly on her bed when she comes back. The shock of being caught will not only put the bad behavior out on the table, you’ll also be able to immediately tell if she’s high on drugs, alcohol or just seen the boyfriend.
8. Talk with her. Just acknowledging that you know she is sneaking out is a big step towards getting everything out in the open. Tell her why it’s not safe to sneak out and explain what can happen to her late at night. If she’s meeting up with friends or a boyfriend, expand your talk to explain the dangerous of drug use, late-night partying, having sex too young and more. After the talk, punish her. You need to show her that this behavior is not acceptable in your house.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents