As kids get older and start to become teenagers, they naturally want more freedom. They want to go places on their own, meet up with friends and begin to have a separate life from you. As a parent, this may make you nervous as you have been used to keeping tabs on them 24/7. You may create a rule and your teen pushes the boundary or breaks it. Then an argument ensues. A punishment is given, tension is felt throughout the house and no one is talking. Sound familiar? As the parent, you want to provide them guidelines because they are still learning how to make good decisions. But they always seem to be rejecting what you are asking them to abide by. So how do you find a balance between allowing your teenagers freedom while still meeting your expectations as parents? Here are 3 ideas to get you started on creating house rules for your teenager.
Decide what is important as a family
You will hear most kids say that their friends parents let their friends “do whatever they want and don’t care”. And you may feel like saying (or have said) “I’m not So-and-So’s parent, I’m your parent”. While this is true but since they are teenagers, they may be actually looking for more of an explanation. Be able to describe to your teen what values that you consider to be the most important to you and why you don’t want/let them do X. Also share that these are the values in which you are now going to be creating house rules (respect, responsibility, health/safety, education, responsibility, working hard etc.) But try only focusing on a limited number of your values (4-6) though because otherwise your teen will forget the meaning behind it especially in a time of a heated discussion (a.k.a. testing of a rule). Also being able to describe your values is communicating expectations to your kids that you may be have assumed that they already know but don’t. By stating your values explicitly, you may also get more of a buy-in when creating house rules. And if your teenager understands what your decision-making is based upon, this will be a good model for them for when they are older making their own decisions. As adults, we don’t like to be told what to do without any explanation so why would your teenager?
Get your teenager’s input.
Once you have discussed what you think are the important values, ask your son or daughter what they think are important values for them and/or the family. It’s a great conversation starter. (And yes, your teenager does want to talk to you –it’s finding the right time and place to get them to share their thoughts-another blog post!) You might be surprised what your son/daughter says is significant for them. Their ideas may be aligned with your values or they may offer a value you never even considered. After that, ask them they think would be some fair house rules. But also ask what they think the consequence should be if they break a rule. You’d be surprised how many teenagers have told me after given a punishment by a parent if they thought it was fair, they say, “I thought I’d get worse!”. So their consequences for house rules may be more severe than yours! And any opportunity to treat your teenager as someone who has a valuable opinion, it can buy you loads of good will. You are still helping to teach your child independence while having the structure that you are looking to provide.
Once your teenager has given their opinions about house rules, create ones based on their input and your most important values. Again, I would only have a handful (6-8) so your teenager is able to remember them. I would be clear about not only the rule but also the consequence. As much as teenagers protest the rules, they really are craving the structure or the safety it provides for them (and sometimes the “out” when their friends are doing things your teenager knows they shouldn’t be doing). Also, making them aware of a reward may also help reinforce abiding by the house rules as well as demonstrate they have certain privileges that are not guaranteed. If one of your values is based on health/safety, creating a rule stating that they must check-in regularly when out and communicate when they will be back. Be clear what you mean exactly (e.g. answer phone/text within reasonable time, text/call if they change locations etc.) The reward might be that your teenager is able to have a later curfew for a special occasion (e.g. concert). The consequence of not doing this is they have an early curfew. Another example would be if one of your primary family values is education, the rule might be a B average. The consequence of not maintaining this average is that they cannot have use of their cell phone in the evening. The reward would be allowing them to use the family car on the weekend. Another example is if one of your important family values is responsibility, your teenager must have chores done (specify daily, weekly or day of the week). The consequence is that they can’t hang out with friends after school and the reward is that they can hang out with their friends after school.
After creating these house rules, consequences and rewards, the most important part is being consistent. Even though this is the most difficult to do when we are stretched thin, exhausted etc. it communicates stability to our teenagers. This is a work in progress and can be modified as needed. And we all know that teenagers will make mistakes, push limits and intentionally break rules. It is our job to give them the discipline, guidance and love to help them make better decisions to prepare them to be the best-functioning adults they can be.
Julie Safranski is a Chicago psychotherapist. She thoroughly enjoys working with teenagers and loves the perspective that they bring. She also looks forward to helping them and their families navigate the challenges as they reach adulthood. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.