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Tightening Up
Family Rules

Limits and rules are necessary to create order and productivity, the lack of which create chaos and confusion. Rules provide the basis of understanding for what is expected, whether in the workplace, classroom, community or family. If a classroom had no rules, very little learning would occur. If a community operated without rules, it would cease to be a safe place to live. Likewise, if harmony is to be maintained within the family, there must be a proper set of family rules, understandings or expectations that are based on your family values.

If your teen is usually compliant and responsible, you will probably only need to have a few rules. However, if you are dealing with a difficult or defiant teen, you are already familiar with the need for a more defined structure.

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When setting rules, you want to identify some basic core rules and then support the core rules by establishing several small preventive rules. For example:

If you have a core rule of "Don't use drugs," then you will want to set some preventive rules such as WHO your teen may associate with, WHAT types of activities are allowed, WHERE your teen is allowed to go, and WHEN your teen may go as well as when he or she is expected to return. It would be foolish to think your teen could hang out at the wrong places or associate with drug-using friends and remain drug free. (see Is My Child A Substance Abuser?

When you create preventive rules along with your main core rules, it provides your teen with the greatest amount of protection. It also allows you to be involved so that you can be aware of problems early and resolve them before they become overwhelming. 

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One way to keep tabs on your teen is to take the time to verify all of your teen's plans. If your teen says she is going to spend the night at her friend's house, then get the phone number and call the friend's parents to make sure that the friend's parents know about these arrangements and have okayed this plan. It is amazing how many kids walk out the door and say, "Bye, I'm spending the night at Mary's; see you in the morning," and then head off to a drug or alcohol party or a rave because their parents never bothered to double-check their arrangements.

In my experience, most parents who receive these types of calls from another parent are actually very happy to see that you are concerned enough about your child's welfare to verify his or her arrangements. This also gets the parents working together on their teens' behalf. Groups of parents who are united in maintaining the safety and welfare of their children can be a powerful force for a teen to reckon with.

One thing I should point out is that if you have any suspicions about whether or not you are really talking to a parent when you make your phone call (I have had situations where my teen's friends got on the line and pretended to be a parent), then either visit the house and talk to the parent directly or veto your teen's plans and make him/her stay home. If your teen knows that you will check every plan she makes, she will be a lot less likely to make plans you don't approve of or to end up in a place she should not be.

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If you want your teen to maintain good grades, you may need to have some clear preventive rules in areas such as: school attendance, completing daily homework, and obtaining weekly progress reports. The key is that rather than waiting until the end of the semester to see if your teen receives good grades, you set rules and create a structure that will help your teen along the way and maximize their chances for success.

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In order to clarify your rules and make sure that there is no misunderstanding or excuses regarding rules you set, consider writing up a
Home Rules Contract with a teen which clearly states each rule the teen is to follow. Many times, having the teen do the rough draft of a home contract for himself can provide structure for your teen that he will agree with since he helped to set it up.

Rules in a home contract should be clearly written, not too overbearing, and should be discussed thoroughly so that there is no question as to the meaning of the rule. If the contract is too punitive and restrictive, your teen may be overwhelmed by this new contract rather than helped by it.

Sometimes, a teen will want to put responsibility on you in a home contract. For example, a younger teen might ask for a stipulation in the contract that states that if he does all his chores for the week without a lot of fuss, in exchange you will drive him to the movies or roller skating on Friday night. As long as you are okay with your teen going to the movies and roller skating and also approve of the friends he might see at these places, this is generally a fair arrangement for a teen and parent to enter into.

Conflict is inevitable with difficult or defiant teens. Consistently addressing and resolving conflicts over small issues, such as homework, dress, grooming and curfew, is your best preventive measure to avoid the large, devastating issues such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse and failing grades. "Take care of the small things, and the big things will take care of themselves," really applies when it comes to administering rules.

NOTICE:  Portions of the above article were excerpted from "Difficult Teens"
property of Teen Help (©Teen Help 2000)
and may not be reproduced for any reason except with permission of Teen Help

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(©Teen Help 2000
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Updated January 2004