Summer Rules: 6 Tips for Negotiating the Teen Years

When kids reach their teens, making and enforcing rules becomes more difficult for parents.


Techniques that worked for years—like timeouts, banning video games, or yelling “because I said so!” —are as irrelevant as training wheels and Teletubbies.

Teens have complicated issues. They’re trying to figure out who they are while preparing for life on their own. And though they won’t admit it, teens still want and need limits.

According to Parent Coach Beth Miller, who has two teenage sons, “Parents who provide boundaries make teens feel safe.”

Here are 6 tips to make setting rules more rewarding for everybody.

1. Communication is the Goal
Teens often balk at being told what to do because they don’t feel respected.

“Saying ‘you will do what I say’ sets up a power struggle that undermines the relationship,” Miller says. “It’s really important to listen to our kids.”

Involving teens in the rules discussion provides a great opportunity to open important communication lines. It doesn’t mean your 14-year-old son gets to call the shots; but if he feels he’s been heard, he’ll be more likely to respect your limits.

2. Link Privilege to Responsibility
As teens demand more privileges, parents should assign more responsibilities. In his book, “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind,” Michael Bradley writes, “the two must always grow together in the face of mature behavior or shrink together in the face of irresponsible behavior.”

Your daughter wants the car Saturday night? Fine, but first she needs to wash it or take her brother to hockey practice—whatever works for your family. The added responsibilities have multiple benefits.

“Contributing at home is important for a teen’s development and builds self-esteem by helping them feel competent,” Miller says.

3. Offer Options
Rules shouldn’t be so rigid that they prevent teens from making decisions on their own. Giving kids choices can create win-win situations. If you want your son to help around the house, give him a list of jobs and ask him to pick two. By choosing to walk the dog or clean the bathroom, he feels in control and you get help with the chores.

“Giving choices reduces the power struggle,” says Miller.

4. Don’t Budge on the Biggies
Some rules simply aren’t negotiable. According to Bradley, “Non-lethal things like curfew are always open to modification. Things that might kill your kid must always be out of bounds, even if they are open for discussion. ALWAYS.”

Teens need to know that dangerous behaviors such as drinking or drugs are never okay with their parents.

5. Consider the Consequences
Teens will break rules; it’s practically in their job descriptions. For first-time offenses, Miller advises not being too quick to punish. “Talking about the situation can have more of an impact.”

Miller warns that a punishment that’s too harsh or doesn’t relate to the offense can be detrimental because it causes the teen to focus on the unfairness of the punishment rather than learning from the mistake.

“We want to encourage the teen to choose the appropriate behavior next time,” she says.

She recommends parents connect consequences to the infraction. If your daughter stayed up until 3 a.m. texting her friends, you might take away her texting privileges for a week. The punishment fits the crime.

6. Recognize What’s Right
Parents often forget to acknowledge the things their teens do right. Whether it’s placing a chocolate kiss on your son’s made bed or thanking your daughter for staying in touch during the day, positive reinforcement is a powerful tool. Even for big kids.

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