What Do Guide Rails and Parenting Teens Have in Common?


When it comes to parenting teens, our role as parents can be challenging and a bit blurry. We move away from the safety zone of knowing our child is being supervised to respecting they are developing as independent individuals away from our watchful eyes.

You may have heard it said, parents provide the “guide/guard rails” for teens. I like to think of it this way. Every teen is driving independently. Each one has full control of the steering wheel that directs their path and the speed at which they reach their goals. Parents are on the sidelines directing them and cheering them on to success.

Using this analogy, our role as parents becomes a bit clearer. Conversations and rules serve as gentle reminders there is a cliff on the side of this road or if you cross over here you will run head-on into traffic. And, consequences are the not so gentle reminders that come from actually running into the rail and being set back on the correct course.

Applying this directly to underage use of alcohol, marijuana, and vaping, the gentle reminder is, here are some things I want you to know about the risks and here are our family’s rules. If you break the rules, you will get the not so gentle reminder there will be consequences.

To help us provide this guidance, as parents, we have to remember we don’t always know the road our child will be traveling. We don’t always know the conditions under which they will be driving. That is why it becomes important to talk to your teen about what is going on in their life and keep communication open.

If you know there is a party or an event coming up that might present some risks, talk to your teen about it. Let them know you recognize social circles can get pretty big. Some friends are safe to spend time with and others might come up with ideas that will get them in trouble. The key is for them to be aware of whom they are going to be with and have a plan in place that includes contacting you or another adult if something should go wrong.

We all know parenting is not always easy. The best we can do is put the rails up and hope they work.