Parents face many new challenges as their children enter the teenage years. One of these challenges is setting rules for teenagers. Rules and discipline that work for children are often inadequate for teens. Teenagers are at a point in their life when they are beginning to mature and take on more responsibilities, such as driving, dating, and working, but still need, and want, boundaries and guidelines, especially because many teens have a sense of invulnerability.
Parents should make rules that are clear and sensible. Sit down with your teen and discuss rules and consequences together. Explain to your teen that you are concerned about his or her well being, and how the rules will protect him or her.
Some areas in which parents may want to set rules include:
- Driving. Car accidents are the number one killer of teens. Some rules that keep teens safer in the car include spending more time driving with parents, limiting passengers, eliminating distractions such as music, food, and cell phones, and being required to pay for gas, insurance, and any tickets received. If a teen ever drives under the influence a parent can, and should consider, having the teen's license revoked.
- Use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Teens are less likely to use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco if their parents set clear rules about what will happen if they do and explain why they shouldn't.
- Dating. Discuss when they can start, what kinds of activities are allowed, your rules about meeting the people they date, and how the teen can contact you if he or she needs to be picked up from a date.
- Use of media such as computers, television, books, magazines, and music. Decide what sites, shows, or songs are allowed to your teen, and the time that your teen can spend on these activities. Consider keeping your computer in a public place and restricting access to times when everyone is awake to avoid the increasing danger to teens of online sexual predators and inappropriate web sites.
- Friends and what they do with them. Friends are a strong influence on teens, which is why it's important for parents to know who their teen is with and what they are doing.
- Where they spend their free time. Have kids check in at regular intervals when they are away from home or school, using a phone card or cell phone if necessary, and consider having a signal if the teen needs to be picked up from a bad situation.
- Curfews. Set a curfew, but be willing to negotiate for special circumstances.
Some guidelines for disciplining teens are:
- Set rules in advance and be clear about the consequences of breaking rules.
- Don't make empty threats.
- Be consistent - if rules are broken, then punishment must be applied.
- Do not make up arbitrary punishments - stick to the ones the teen is aware of, and change them in advance of the next instance if necessary.
- Consequences should not be overly severe.
Punishments should generally not be longer than three weeks or teens may not remember why they are being punished. Some types of punishments can include:
- Restricted use of the computer or television
- Loss of phone privileges
- No activities outside of home or school, such as going to parties or movies with friends
- Do not allow the teen to go to friends' houses, or to have friends come over
- Have the teen write a paper about why what they did was wrong
- Require the teen to do community service
When enforcing a punishment, be very clear about why the punishment is taking place, for instance saying "Because you did/didn't ______, you will have to suffer the consequence, which are ______ as we discussed."
Setting Rules for Teens Source:
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Family Guide, "Set Rules" [online]
- Parents: The Anti-Drug [online]
- U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: "Adolescent Development" [online]