In order to set rules for teenagers, you as a parent are faced with the challenge. How do you balance being both flexible and firm!

Teens face many new possibilities and challenges as they are changing and growing. Your teen will need to test their boundaries in order to mature. It reduces stress for you and your teen if boundaries are clear, yet open for improvement (as your teen grows)!

Different rules work for different families. Before you adopt specific rules suggested by others, use these fives tips to set rules for teenagers in a way that you can stand behind confidently. 

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How to Set Rules for Teenagers

1. Differentiate establishing a rule from offering advice.

There may be things that you want your teen to do that wouldn’t qualify as an official rule. For example, for some families being home by 10pm is a rule with clear consequences, where as for others the time is more of a request.

A rule is something that has clear consequences assigned to it. Advice is a suggestion that your teen may or may not take, such as whether to maintain a friendship with someone who has been untrustworthy.

In either case, be a supportive listener as your teen learns from natural consequences of either following or not following your rules or advice. Don’t create consequences for your teen for something that was not a clearly established rule and previously agreed upon.

2. Make rules to build trust, not to keep control.

Your teen doesn’t need to be controlled by another person – even you. Your teen needs to trust in their relationship with you. The intention of a rule is to give an opportunity for respect and trust, not to manipulate your teenager into a particular behavior.

To help keep perspective, when you consider establishing a rule consider also the skill that you want your teen to develop. This is more important than the specific choice that they make. For example, don’t get involved in social situations directly unless your teen feels unsafe, requests that you take action, and you believe that he or she is in fact not equipped to handle the situation alone at that time. Often your teen just needs you to listen so that they can sort out what to do, rather than needing you to make choices for them.

You can set rules for teenagers in ways that support their freedom to make choices and learn from mistakes. Allowing increasing amounts of freedom is the ideal way to keep a healthy level of influence on your teen as a parent, because they will feel safe to come to you for support when mistakes are made.

3. Keep the rules (and reasons) clearly defined.

Clear expectations help your teen learn responsibility and help you maintain a healthy, respectful relationship with your teen. Rules that are either unclear or unfitting become points of conflict, and will cause you teen to reject the rules and create trouble in your relationship!

Clarifying a rule ahead of time reduces defensiveness (because there aren’t surprises) and it also opens up an opportunity to collaborate with your teen. Ask your teen what they think a reasonable rule or consequence would be. You ultimately choose the rule, but you may be surprised by the helpful suggestions that your teen will give you.

Parents often feel the need to create a rule when what is required is a conversation.

For example, if your teenager is sending inappropriate text messages to peers, don’t go straight to a punishment like taking their phone away. This would be acting out of your own fear or anger. Instead, find a time to share with your teen actual reasons for why this can be risky behavior. Respectfully explain to them the reasons why texts are not truly private. Invite your teen to talk about their opinion. If they aren’t comfortable talking with you at this point, find a trusted adult or therapist for them to talk to.

4. Create rules that allow for making mistakes.

You don’t have to create situations for your teen to learn to be responsible. Allow your teen to problem-solve for natural issues that arise. If you want them to learn to think for themselves and be resourceful, you must commit to allowing them space to do so.

You may not always agree with your teen’s choices. When they make a mistake, you can be there – not to punish them or save them from a situation, but to remind them that they are capable of making better choices and moving forward.

Don’t deny your teen support that they need, but do not make a choice for your teen that they are currently capable of making for themselves. Discovering and developing personal values requires making some mistakes.

5. Stay a step ahead by embracing change.

Set rules for teenagers that set them up for success in new environments rather than trying to avoid change. Rules can’t prepare your teen for every situation; however, by setting your mind to being open for change you can help your teen develop the confidence and self-awareness necessary to handle new situations.

Rules must allow for the increasing amount of freedom that they will need. Talk often about the current rules in your family to invite open discussions about what needs updating. This will help you follow along side your teen supportively, rather than reacting in fear or confusion as your teen changes and grows.

Remind yourself of things that help you be confident that your teen can work through an issue.  If you are present throughout the ups and downs, you will start to see your teen growing into a capable adult.

Contact me for a free consultation to learn more about how to talk so your teen will listen and create rules that your teen will follow.

CLICK here to download this article as a .pdf – for free!

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