Are You Wondering How To Set Rules And Consequences For Your Teenager?
Setting boundaries for a teen is rarely fun. Most parents aren’t sure what rules they should set or what the consequences should be for breaking them. They also worry about the impact it will have on their relationship with their children. Nevertheless, boundaries must be made to keep teens safe.
Are you feeling the need for more order and predictability in your household? Follow the process I’ve outlined below to minimize conflict while you create more security and structure.
10 Steps To Setting Effective Teenage Rules And Consequences
Step 1: Consider your goals
As you work with your spouse or partner to create a new boundary, consider why you are setting up this rule in the first place. Teens are impossible to control (as you have surely already noticed), so the goal of new boundaries shouldn’t be to control your teen. The goal should be to protect them from harm until they are responsible enough to protect themselves.
You will also need to keep your goals in mind as you brainstorm a list of possible consequences for your teenager. Consider what you would like your teen to learn. Perhaps you would like to teach them how to save money, how to resolve conflict, or how to plan ahead? Whenever possible, select punishments that mimic real-life consequences they might encounter in life if they continue to make unwise choices.
Step 2. Don’t overreach
Your teen will be much more likely to push back against new boundaries if they are overly restrictive. As you establish rules for your teen, keep in mind that your job is to keep them safe, not to eliminate all possible sources of discomfort from their lives.
Use boundaries to create a framework within which your teen can exercise some autonomy. When they make mistakes, don’t shield them from the consequences. For example, if your teen runs over the mailbox on their way into the driveway, ask them to come up with a plan for fixing it. Allowing them to encounter and problem-solve everyday challenges will help them develop the skills and emotional resiliency they will need as adults.
Step 3. Create a plan for implementing the new boundary
Perhaps one of your rules is that your child must not go anywhere after school unless they run it by you first. However, if you’re not at home when they get back from school, how will you know if your child crosses this boundary? You may need to brainstorm a new rule or new way of monitoring it.
You must also be in a position to enforce the planned consequences. Are you really willing to send your teen to bed without dinner, or is that just a bluff? Establish consequences for your teenager that you will be willing and able to follow through on.
Step 4. Find the right time and place to communicate new rules
Don’t lay down new rules in the heat of the moment. If you and your teen are in the middle of an argument, postpone the conversation. Wait until both you and your teen are relatively calm before sitting down to discuss boundaries.
Ideally, the whole family should be present when the new boundary is set. All authority figures must be present. This will keep everyone on the same page and set the stage for consistent enforcement. It also gives your teen and other family members the opportunity to ask for clarification.
Step 5. Be clear
When the time is right to have a discussion, make sure your teen understands exactly what the new rule is and what will happen if they break it. Cover all possible contingencies you can think of and how they ought to be handled.
For example, it isn’t enough to just tell your teen that they need to spend less time looking at their phone. They will need to know exactly when they can or cannot use it. Homework time, dinner time, and/or after bedtime are examples of potential “no cell phone zones” you might establish. Being specific eliminates confusion and makes it harder for your teen to push back.
Step 6. Involve your teen in the initial discussion
Your teen may have good reasons for objecting to new boundaries. For example, they may be worried that the new boundary about limited cell phone usage will prevent them from joining their best friend’s weekly online meetups. To address this concern, you may decide to grant access to their phone for these weekly meetups in return for adherence to the policy during the rest of the week.
Ultimately, it is up to you as a caregiver whether to alter a rule to accommodate your teen’s request. It’s okay to deny their requests. That said, it’s important to make sure you first listen to, understand, and validate their concerns. By treating your teen with respect and giving them a voice, they will be more likely to show you the same respect in the future.
Step 7: Offer something in return
The most important thing to provide when setting a new boundary is empathy. Teens today face many unique challenges and pressures, and you may not fully understand what they’re giving up by adhering to the new rule. You can, however, recognize and thank them for their efforts.
You should also consider occasionally bending a rule or offering some other reward after a period of good behavior. You might even offer your teen the chance to set a new boundary for you, such as a rule that you must knock on their door before entering. By modeling this behavior for your teen, they can more quickly come to understand and appreciate the benefits of having boundaries.
Step 8: Don’t take it personally when boundaries are crossed
Eventually, your teen will cross the boundary you have set. In our experience, adolescence is a time of growth and experimentation, so it will likely happen sooner rather than later. Your teen may start coming home later and later every night, or they might blatantly ignore their curfew, for example.
While this may feel like a personal attack, in most cases, that will not be the case. Emotionally healthy kids test limits as they mature, even when they love and respect their parents. Rule-breaking can also result from many external factors. Your teen may have had a bad day and was simply acting impulsively. Maybe they lost track of time, or their peers pressured them into something. By depersonalizing your reaction, you can avoid losing your temper.
Step 9: Be flexible but consistent
You will need to identify consequences for your teenager that are equal to their offense. The consequences for lying will likely be different than for not doing their chores, for example. You should also take into account any natural consequences your teen may already be facing as a result of their behavior, such as being put into detention at school. If so, your punishment may simply be refusing to shield your teen from certain consequences.
Regardless of what punishment you ultimately choose, a consequence must follow your child’s action without exception. It may be hard to hold your ground through the whining, arguments, and tears. You may also worry that your relationship with your child will suffer, but you must hold your ground if you want your teen to respect the boundaries you have set.
Step 10: Let love guide your responses
Your child may not agree with you, and they may resent the rules you place upon them. However, it is still possible to maintain a strong relationship with your teen if you implement boundaries calmly and lovingly. Should there come a time when you feel too upset to speak with your teen calmly, walk away and wait until your temper cools off before returning to the conversation.
Speak to your child in a neutral tone of voice and with a kind facial expression to avoid hurting their feelings. Remind them how much you care about them and why you have put the boundary in place. When you respond calmly in difficult situations, you will earn their trust and help them feel secure. This will make your teen much more likely to come to you for help when they are in a tough spot instead of hiding things from you.
Teenage rules and consequences should be adjusted as your child matures (or when they exhibit untrustworthy behavior). It will take time for them to adjust to new boundaries, but you can set them up for success by planning ahead, communicating openly, and being both kind and consistent. For more information on setting boundaries for your teen and helping them to thrive, visit our teenage counseling page, or book a free 20 minute phone call with Dr. Jenifer Goldman, our adolescent specialist.