Creating and enforcing house rules for teenagers doesn’t need to be a battle. Here are seven important rules to consider and strategies to ensure your rules are followed.
Teenagers may believe they’re mature enough to do just about anything on their own. Parents know that’s far from realistic.
In fact, it won’t be until the ripe old age of twenty-five or even thirty that our children will truly be adults, in terms of maturity.
But during the teenage years, kids start to experience more independence and are held more accountable for their actions.
And at the same time, teens are confronted with bigger challenges such as navigating peer pressure and social media, learning how to drive, drugs and alcohol, dating, and trying to keep up with academics.
Even if teens act as though they don’t need our help, guidance, rules, and boundaries, they very much do.
The challenge for most parents is not only how to make rules for their teens but also how to ensure their teens will actually abide by and follow those rules.
The following guidance can help.
Why teens need house rules
As their brains are still maturing, many teens struggle with executive functioning skills or rather, self-control, reasoning, and reacting to certain circumstances in an appropriate way.
And because of their limited life experience, teens also tend to be ignorant or naive about dangers in the world.
Because of this, our teens not only need our patience (however challenging that may be at times!) but also our help in learning appropriate behavior, boundaries, and ways to keep them safe and healthy.
These rules and boundaries also help teens develop important life skills such as self-discipline, morality, and taking on responsibility – skills that will help them thrive in adulthood.
How to make sure your house rules work
Just because teens need our rules and boundaries doesn’t mean it’s easy to set them.
We’ve all experienced the defiance that comes from laying down the law, so to speak, and telling our teens what they can or cannot do.
Because teens are entering a developmental stage where they’re striving for independence, the last thing they want is for an adult – and especially a parent – to challenge that independence by telling them what they can and cannot do.
That’s why in order to ensure house rules work – and not start World War III – you’ll want to collaborate with your teen on rules you can both agree to.
This collaboration doesn’t mean your teen will get to stay up all night on their phone and never check in with you when they’re with friends. It means coming to a consensus that works for both of you, such that both of your needs are taken into consideration.
It’s important to recognize, too, that teens will come to resent rules if they face arbitrary punishment for a misdeed. Rather than inflicting pain on your teen when they misbehave, which doesn’t teach them how to do better, agree in your collaborative discussion on related and respectful consequences for broken rules.
How to successfully develop rules your teen will follow
Coming up with rules and consequences with your teen on the fly could lead to confusion, misunderstanding, and ultimately not be very effective.
Instead, holding a more formal family meeting where rules and boundaries are the main focus will lead to greater success.
While many teens will resist the idea of a formal meeting (cue the eye roll), they’ll come to appreciate it if the meeting is approached in a truly collaborative manner. As long as you genuinely take the time to listen, acknowledge, and respect your teen’s opinions and needs, they’ll work with you in developing, and ultimately, following house rules.
Other tips for holding a successful family meeting include:
Discuss issues and consequences before they happen: ideally, you’ll want to discuss your expectations around certain circumstances and events before your teen encounters them.
Have faith in your teen: your teen wants to be successful and will appreciate it if you acknowledge this — so avoid dictating to your teen what you feel should happen and instead work in a truly collaborative manner.
Listen to your teen’s opinions: teens need to feel their concerns and opinions are heard and understood, so make sure they’re given ample time and respect to speak.
Explain your point of view: since you’re working collaboratively, your opinions, perspectives, and needs also matter and need to be shared — but watch your tone so as not to inadvertently come across as judgmental and dictatorial.
Write rules down: conversations can easily be forgotten so it’s important to write down all the rules you’ve agreed to and keep them in a prominent place.
Determine consequences together: in addition to rules, you’ll also want to determine the consequences your teen will face for breaking rules; but beware that not everything needs a consequence (natural consequences are excellent teachers) and consequences should be related and respectful to actually help your teen learn to do better.
For more about starting and holding a family meeting see: 6 Tips for Holding a Successful Family Meeting + Mistakes to Avoid
But what if my teen resists working with me to create rules?
Not every teen is going to eagerly jump at the thought of working with their parents to create rules. There are a number of reasons why this might be the case.
Maybe your teen is busy and doesn’t feel they have the time. Or maybe they don’t recognize the value of working with their parents to develop rules. In these cases, point out that if they don’t work with you, you’ll be forced to simply enforce rules – something you don’t want to do and a situation they’d like to avoid.
It’s also possible your teen is worried that you won’t listen to them or that their opinions will be disregarded. In this case, start by ensuring you have a strong, respectful connection with your teen ( see 5 Ways to Connect With Your Kids (That Actually Work) ). Once that connection and trust is built up, your teen will likely feel more at ease collaborating with you.
What should I do if my child disobeys a rule?
First, it’s good to have perspective on where your teen is, developmentally. This understanding can help put in context the reasons why teens misbehave or don’t follow rules.
The following are all very normal for teenagers:
- Questioning and exploring who they are and want to be
- Trying to find an identity separate from us
- Experiencing, and sometimes giving in to peer pressure
- Exhibiting impulsive or risky behavior (this is due to brain immaturity)
- Forgetting important events or actions (because their executive functioning skills are still weak)
- Being moody (because like all humans they have good days and bad days)
None of these traits are bad, they’re just normal. When we recognize this, it’s easier to be supportive of teens than condemn them when rules are disregarded or broken.
It’s also helpful to recognize that punishing teens with grounding, taking away prized objects or arbitrarily telling them they can’t spend time with friends won’t teach them how to do better, but will only make them want to rebel.
Instead, go back to the consequences (that are related, respectful and helpful) you and your teen created together during your meeting. Then, hold your teen accountable. Approach this interaction as a moment when you can teach your child to do better, not make them suffer for doing something they shouldn’t have.
The more our teens come to trust that we have their best interests at heart and want to help them grow in independence, confidence, and responsibility, the more they’ll be willing to work within the boundaries of the rules we create together.
Important house rules for teenagers:
It’s difficult to foresee every issue that may arise during the teen years. Below are a few topics you’ll want to cover in your meeting with your teen.
Note that some of these topics touch on complex issues — such as substance abuse, consent, safety, etc. — that need to be addressed more holistically with your teen than simply making them a matter of house rules But setting house rules can be a good starting point.
Screen time and social media: have a frank discussion with your teen about staying safe online and what to share or not to share with friends on social media. Discuss screen use boundaries and help your teen find more productive ways to spend their time or fill whatever gap they feel excessive screen use is filling.
Household and personal chores: by the time kids are preteens and teenagers, they should be contributing to household chores, whether it’s putting clean dishes away, taking out the trash or cleaning an entire room once a month. This expectation prepares kids for being a good partner when they’re living with roommates, friends or spouses. Teens will also benefit from doing their own laundry and maintaining clean bedrooms.
Alcohol and drugs: before and during the teenage years, it’s important to help kids understand the effects of underage drinking (including blacking out from overuse) and using illegal drugs (including prescription drugs). Teens need to know what your expectations are and what the consequences will be if you discover they are using substances. On the flip side, it’s also important to convey your willingness to rescue them, even without consequences, from the dangerous situation of getting into a car with a drunk driver.
Dating and relationships: the world of dating can be complex for teens and they need help navigating it. While you won’t be their only source of information, you can help them set boundaries such as when they can begin dating, what’s appropriate in a dating relationship, understanding consent, and where they’re allowed to go on a date.
Driving and road safety: just before your teen is ready to drive, set expectations around how they conduct themselves as a driver. Some examples include not exceeding the speed limit, no texting or talking on the phone while driving, and no getting into someone else’s car without parental consent.
Curfew and going out: once teens are able to drive, you’ll need to set expectations about curfews. Teens should always tell you where they’re going, how long they’ll be away, and if they’re running late. This is also a good opportunity to talk to your teen about the importance of sleep and how late nights on the weekend can impact their ability to function during the week.
House parties: teens need to know and understand your expectations about whether or not they can have a party at your house. If the answer is yes, make your party rules clear that no party can occur without adult supervision, that your teen needs to ask your permission before inviting people over and discuss your stance on what activities can and cannot take place.
Examples of expected family values:
While creating rules with your teen, it’s also helpful to discuss your family’s values. Whereas rules are something to be enforced, values are more general expectations that more subtly guide behavior.
Below are some common values that many families embrace:
Treat others with respect: teens need to know that they’re expected to treat other family members, friends, classmates, and strangers with respect. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that teens may also be unaware that they’re coming across as disrespectful and could use your guidance.
Be honest: teens should not take their parents’ or anyone else’s trust for granted. They should know that honesty is always expected and if trust is broken, the natural consequence will be hesitation when trusting them again in the future.
Take responsibility for actions: let your teen know that you’re always available to support and comfort them when something goes wrong but your role as a parent is not to save them from mistakes.
Use manners: in addition to teaching your teen manners, make clear your expectations of when they’re expected to use them. For example, saying “please” and “thank you” as well as using appropriate table manners could be among the expectations.
Respect property and privacy: teens should know that they always need to ask before borrowing something from another family member and that it’s important for everyone to respect each other’s privacy by knocking before entering.
Do your homework: if your teen isn’t getting their homework done in a timely fashion and gets distracted by other activities, it’s important to work together on expectations about when it should be done. Listen to your teen’s concerns and opinions during this discussion – they may reveal ways they’re struggling either academically or with executive function skills.
Proper self-care and hygiene: teens need to know the importance of proper hygiene, healthy eating and getting enough exercise and sleep. Enforcing rules around these issues could backfire, but talking to your teen about your expectations and working with them to find solutions will help them learn how to better take care of themselves.
Making and enforcing house rules with teens doesn’t have to be a battle
It’s natural to assume that enforcing rules with teenagers will ultimately be a battle of wills, especially if your teen has been defiant in the past.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
When teens are brought into the process of creating rules and consequences, they’ll be more apt to follow and abide by those rules. This is especially true when teens’ voices are heard, their needs are acknowledged and their opinions are shown respect.
Parents play a vital role in creating house rules, too, since they have life experience and awareness that teens don’t have. By working together, rather than apart, parents and teens can come to an understanding that works best for everyone.
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About Kerry Flatley
Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.