The Check-In Rule Helps Teens Avoid Risk

Help Teens Avoid Risk with a Simple Rule

Our tweens and teens are going to have to make certain decisions and choices in the face of peer pressure. And generally, they will want to do what’s right. But they may not know how to avoid risk while still saving face with their peers. They may benefit from an easy way out. Parents can give them that out with a simple rule: The Check-In Rule.

The Check-in Rule

The check-in rule is a simple strategy that allows parents to monitor their teens. No matter how late your teen may stay out, they must check in with you when they come home. Even if you are sleeping, they need to awaken you to say they’ve arrived. (And there’s a good chance you may not be sleeping too soundly until your teen is home anyway!)

Parents that effectively monitor and regularly check-in may find their tweens and teens are less likely to check-out.

The check-in rule does more than allow you to see your child is home safe. It also allows you to, well, check-in. You’ll be able to see that they are of clear mind, and not under the influence of substances. As importantly, it allows you to be emotionally present if needed. While it would be convenient if we could schedule times when our teens needed us most, it doesn’t work that way. Often, it is during their evenings out that social and emotional challenges arise. And that is why  you’ll want to be present and available when they get home.

These check-ins are not the time to ask them about details of their night. Don’t force it.  Just say something like, “Glad to see you’re home. I love you. Anything you want to talk about?” They may not want to start up a conversation just then. But they’ll appreciate your presence.

Monitoring and Establishing Expectations

The Check-in Rule is a simple monitoring strategy. Young people who are monitored actually gain a sense of security by knowing there are clear boundaries beyond which they cannot stray. In order for monitoring not to backfire, teens must understand that the rules exist to keep them safe, not to control them. For that reason, the rules can’t be random. They must be clearly related to issues that compromise safety or moral behavior. Make it clear that the Check-in Rule is about keeping your teen safe. Knowing that you will check-in on them regardless of the time of night, gives them the necessary excuse to avoid peer pressure to use drugs, alcohol and other substances. Something that can be challenging when peers are engaging in these activities.

Tell them that it’s just fine to let their friends know that this rule is in place. It allows them to say to their friends, “Sorry, but no matter how late I get home, my mother sits me down and starts talking to me. She’ll smell my breath. There’s no way I can smoke, she’ll know. I’ll never get out of the house again!” They’ve saved face and gotten themselves out of a potentially risky situation.

As much as we would hope our teens would stand up and say no confidently, this can be a tall order. Parents that effectively monitor and regularly check-in may find their tweens and teens are less likely to check-out.

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About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit

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