Go on YouTube and do a search for “hidden camera bad dog.” It will take several days to watch all the hidden camera videos people have made to capture what their dogs do once the people leave.

Apparently, dog lovers around the world share a common problem: When they are home, their pets behave themselves; when they leave, their dogs get into all sorts of trouble.

They get into the trash, chew on expensive shoes, and climb onto furniture they know they are not supposed to. The pattern among our canine friends is that when nobody is looking, they get into trouble. When left alone, the worst comes out of them.

I hate to make a comparison of dogs to our teenage kids, but at a fundamental level, the illustration holds up. When our kids enter a boy/girl relationship and there is no parental oversight, there is the real potential for bad things to happen.

My experience is that every generation of young people holds to the default position that their parents were born yesterday. They feel that their parents are generally clueless and that they (the teens) can get away with just about anything because their parents are so easily deceived.

Perhaps kids come to believe this so readily because their parents are naïve or entirely disengaged from the activities of the typical teenager. This is not good. As parents, we need to be clued in to what our kids are up to. I am not suggesting that we sneak around and spy on our kids. On the contrary, our kids should clearly know of our desire to be “in the know.”

My 17-year-old once told me it is hard being my daughter. She describes her friends’ parents as being entirely oblivious as to what their kids are involved in. They get into all sorts of trouble and their parents don’t have a clue. She went on to say that while she doesn’t always like my awareness and oversight into her life, she appreciates and values it. It makes her feel safe and loved. Isn’t that what we all want to aim for as parents?

What does accountability of our kids’ dating relationships look like? We will explore that a bit here, but it might be easier to explain up front what it doesn’t look like.

While I always laugh at the humorous posts that are emailed to me about the “rules for dating my daughter,” they have the real potential to cause us to miss the point. We end up with nothing more than a few funny comments about “cleaning our guns” when the boy comes to pick up our daughter.

If all we do is make jokes but do not offer any substantive protection and accountability for our kids, we are failing our children. Instead, our kids need a measure of accountability and oversight in at least three areas of their dating lives:

1. Parents should give input about who our kids date.

Parents have permission and even a solemn responsibility to give input into who our kids connect with in a romantic way.

I’m not suggesting that we return to a time of arranged marriages, only that parents are involved in the discussion. With all the avenues of digital communication, it is relatively easy for a teenager to be in a relationship with someone without his or her parents’ knowledge. This is extremely hazardous and bypasses the very reason that God wants parents to be involved: to offer accountability and oversight.

From the earliest age possible, our kids should be taught that their mom and dad have a vote (and even veto power) on any and all romantic relationships.

2. Parents need to interact with our kids as they date.

Parents should strive to spend as much time with our dating teens as possible. I am not suggesting that we be an ever-present chaperone as they date, though we could make a pretty good argument for that.

Instead, my goal is to get to spend time with the couple, coming to better know this young person who has expressed an interest in my teenager. Making my home available for them to spend time there is the most practical means to make this happen. Family meals or movie nights give us opportunities to get to know the person my teenager is interested in. In addition, having them around allows me to see how they interact with one another and enables me to know how to coach them.

3. Parents should influence both of them as they date.

Overly romantic relationships between immature teenagers have a huge downside and should be entered into very cautiously.

Nonetheless, within some clearly-defined boundaries, they can serve as opportunities to train our older teenagers on how to interact with the opposite sex. Our sons can learn to be gentlemen and our daughters to be ladies. This typically happens in the context of our homes and with some firm parameters regarding emotional and physical intimacy.

Our hope is that it will give our older teens a safe environment to get to know someone better. (In the case of our oldest daughter, it led to a marriage.) This will not happen automatically. These lessons need to be carefully steered by parents who are exerting influence and giving parameters for the relationship as it evolves.

Get involved

I used to work for a pastor who loved to integrate pop-culture phrases into his conversations. For example, when he had some insight or insider information on something I was involved in, he would always say, “I know what you did last summer.” Quoting the title of a goofy horror movie, his point was to say, “I know what you did. I know what you are up to. I know what you are capable of.”

Our kids should always have the sense that we know what they are doing and what they are capable of. This sense should not come from the fact that we are secretly spying on them, but on the fact that we are openly talking with them about their friends and potential relationships. We are giving input into who they date, interacting with them as they date, and exerting influence as they date. The goal is to be a loving and ever-present source of accountability that can confidently say, “I know what you did last summer.”

Excerpted from The Talks, copyright © 2014 and 2017 by Barrett and Jenifer Johnson. Used with permission of INFO for Families.

Listen to Barrett and Jenifer Johnson explain why it’s important for parents to share God’s perspective on sex with their children on FamilyLife Today®. The Johnsons encourage parents to recognize their responsibility in helping to protect their children’s hearts and communicating their family’s values about dating long before their children are old enough to date.