A neighborhood full of strangers, a new home you don’t know the ins and outs of, and a child who may have an emotional reaction to the sudden changes in their life — it’s enough to make any parent worry their child may slip into a pattern of risky behavior.
This will be your guide to buying the best home to keep your teenager as safe as possible and away from the temptation of experimenting with drugs and alcohol. It will help you shop for a safe neighborhood and learn to recognize which ones to avoid. It will also help you identify the right home — one that will give your teen the least opportunity to fall into dangerous patterns.
You may not be able to stop him or her from ever doing anything rebellious, but you can certainly reduce the risk that he or she will engage in dangerous behavior that could lead to addiction issues down the road.
Finding the right neighborhood
We’ve heard it a thousand times: the key to real estate is location, location, location. Indeed, even the most wholesome family living in the safest house would be at risk in the wrong neighborhood. If you’re working with a real estate agent, especially from afar, don’t forget to mention your children and safety concerns from the very beginning. They’ll know which neighborhoods to start in and can help you evaluate any you aren’t sure about.
If you’re not working with an agent and are close to where you’ll be moving, go for a drive in the area. Visit during the day and in the evening so you can get a well-rounded picture. Chat with local store owners and let them know you’re thinking of moving to the area and wonder what the neighborhood and people are like. Not only have they likely met most of your potential new neighbors, they may also be aware of situations relevant to your concerns.
As you drive, pay attention to your surroundings and look for these classic red flags:
- Is there a lot of graffiti?
- Are there a lot of school-aged children around when they should be in class?
- Are there large groups of people loitering?
- Does it look like there may be illegal activity going on — prostitution, weapon sales, or drug sales?
You should also be on the lookout for a high number of abandoned buildings. Empty, boarded-up homes and businesses tend to attract quite a bit of crime since they provide an easy hideout, and potentially provide a place for kids to congregate for unsafe practices. If you only see one or two in the area, you probably don’t have much to worry about; you may even be able to look into public records to see if there are any abandoned buildings in the process of being sold or demolished. You can also check with the local police department about crime in the area.
If there’s a particular home you’re interested in and you want to check out the neighborhood where it’s located, pay attention to the homes themselves:
- Are there bars on the windows?
- Are the yards mostly maintained, or are they unkempt and littered with garbage?
- Do you see any dogs walking around unleashed or multiple yards with large guard dogs?
- Is the neighborhood mostly quiet during the day as if everyone is at work, or are there quite a few people hanging around?
Don’t forget to scope out the neighborhood in the evening hours as well; you’ll be more likely to catch neighbors getting home from work, see if neighborhood kids are out playing, and find out how the neighborhood winds down at night.
Finding the right home
Once you’ve found a few high-quality neighborhoods, it’s time to focus on the house itself. The truth is, you aren’t going to find a home that completely eradicates your teen’s chances of ever experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Kids are crafty — especially if they’re bored — and depending on your teen’s reaction to the move, he or she may start to pursue some unsavory situations. But if you’re somewhat strategic with your home buying, you can reduce the opportunity for trouble!
As you view a home, take a look around the exterior:
- Are there any dark corners in the yard or around the building?
- Are there any somewhat hidden side or back doors?
- Is there a lockable gate around the backyard?
- Is the front/back porch well-lit?
- Are the houses very close to each other, making it easy to sneak through them at night?
There are a few considerations to be made inside the home, as well. Pay special attention to recreational areas and the bedrooms:
- Where are living/recreational rooms located? Would you be able to monitor the situation while your teen has friends over?
- Does her potential bedroom have any exterior doors or easy access to any exterior doors?
- Where are the windows in her bedroom? Would they make an easy getaway for your teen to sneak out?
- Where is her room located in relation to the master bedroom? Will he or she have to walk past your room to get to the front door?
Keep these parameters in mind as you shop, but don’t fret if you see a few security issues in your dream home. There are plenty of simple, low-cost modifications and habits you can make once you’ve moved in that will not only help keep your teen out of trouble but help keep him or her safe, as well:
- Install alarms on exterior doors and windows. You can buy electric ones, or simply hang bells high enough to make it difficult to remove them quietly.
- If you have an alarm system, see if you can adjust the settings. Some systems let you assign each person their own code and will alert you when a code has been used.
- If your teen has his or her own car keys, hang a key rack by the door and make it a rule for everyone to use it. They won’t be able to sneak off, but also won’t feel humiliated at being the only one subjected to the rule (plus, it will reduce the occurrence of lost keys!).
- Install motion-sensor lights around all exterior doors.
Perhaps most importantly, be sure you have an honest conversation with your teen. Talk to him or her about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and explain that your curfew and security rules are in place for no other reason than to keep them safe. If they’re having a difficult time with the move (or even just the idea of the move), ask how you can help.
With the right home and alterations, an open dialogue, and a little time, your teen can be happy and well-adjusted in your new home, and you can have peace of mind that they’re safe.