Putting Your Foot Down: Setting the Rules for Your Teen

Does your home feel like a militarized zone, where all the parties are shooting at each other? Is there chaos caused by a teen’s disregard for rules and for the feelings of others? Are there problems with regards to discipline and keeping the rules? Or is there a problem stemming from the lack of rules?

If so, take a deep breath… You will need to put your foot down and establish the rules your teen needs to follow while he is in your home. Surprisingly, teens also do not appreciate chaos. Rather, although they will not willingly say this and will try to push against the boundaries you set, rules provide reassuring structure. The rules let your teen knows where he stands. The standards and guidelines set by house rules can give teens more solid ground by which they can take the first steps towards independence and maturity.

When setting rules, parents should be firm, reasonable and clear. The consequences should be agreed to by you and your teen beforehand, applied consistently and should be commensurate to the disobedience. Never make threats you really do not plan to follow through. The rules should cover areas where a teen is most likely to test his boundaries and exert his feelings of invulnerability.

These areas include:
– Nights out. What time can your teen stay out? What are your guidelines with respect who they go out with and with communications in case you need to contact him or vice versa? If your daughter is getting out on a date, it is best to insist that you get to know her date. With regards to the curfew, you can extend the time he is allowed out, depending on the circumstances. There may also be times when you can allow your teen to spend the night at a friend’s house, as long as you know the parents and have talked to them about the arrangements. Double-check that your teen is indeed where he said he would be.
– Car use. Teens are more prone to get involved in car accidents. They have very little experience with the road and can be tempted to try dangerous stunts “just for fun”. Agree on when they can use the car, who they drive with and who is responsibility for gas used, car maintenance and insurance. There should be rules on the level of proficiency the teen gains before he is allowed more independence with his driving. It is also very important to have very strict guidelines about having a designated driver – the teen should absolutely not drive under the influence. Be clear about the consequences – such as canceling his driving privileges. However, if he commits a serious offense, he can have his license revoked.
– Chores. Having responsibilities is a great way to train your teen in areas of discipline. With chores, you are also training your child with basic domestic skills for their “survival” when they leave your nest. Chores can encompass handling the laundry, cleaning up his bedroom and other areas in the house, eating and food preparation and house maintenance work. Make your expectations for the quality of work clear. If need be, provide a demonstration. At first, have him watch you. Then, have him do the chore with your supervision. Once he gets the hang of it, you can leave him to do the chores independently, with spot checks for the quality of work.
– School performance. Have rules about his homework and school attendance, as well as maintaining decent grades. Make sure that you get to see his report card for each grading period.
– Use of media, the Internet and gadgets. Even as you respect your child’s privacy, you should also monitor his access to media. Teens can be vulnerable to sexual predators and other inappropriate influences. There are filtering apps that will even send you an e-mail when your child tries to access an inappropriate website.
– Use of substances. Teenagers may be more tempted to succumb to peer pressure to use drugs, tobacco or alcohol if there are no clear rules about these. Make them know how serious the consequences will be when they use these substances.

When rules don’t work

Often, the simple setting of rules will work if your teenager is one that will comply with the rules. There may be complaints and even attempts to ease out of the rules. There will even be some level of defiance. This is where your patience and firmness will help.

However, there will be instances where a teen does not only deliberately disobey the rules, but also does so repeatedly. The usual consequences (loss of privileges, loss of access to the Internet or to gadgets, grounding) do not work. When your child indulges in risky behavior that will put him and others in danger and when he is getting in serious trouble with the law, it is time for more stringent measures, such as enrolling your child in a troubled teen program.

A program such as a teen wilderness program can help your teen get back in track with activities and counseling that are aimed to develop your teen into a mature, responsible adult.

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