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Fall Rules - Developing Rules With Your Teen

As the mornings get cooler and the days shorter, we reluctantly admit that summer is over and fall is upon us. For parents of children over six, this means that school is about to begin again.

Preparations for this annual event routinely include buying school supplies and replenishing wardrobes, but rarely involve a review of family rules and guidelines. This is unfortunate, because the start of a new school year is a time of renewal for all children, and especially for teenagers. They look forward to a fresh start with new teachers, new friends, and a clean mark sheet. It is the equivalent of New Year’s Day for teens, and thus a perfect time to review the rules.

A clear set of rules is vital for all children, but even more important for teenagers. The teen years are a time of tremendous insecurity. In attempting to establish their own identity, separate from that of their parents, they experience tremendous anxiety about their looks, size, intelligence and athletic ability. They need the security provided by a clear set of rules, and consequences for breaking these rules, to help alleviate these anxieties.

They also need signs of affection and approval from their parents, and all teens realize that by setting rules and enforcing them, parents are displaying their concern for them. They know that only caring parents try to protect their children by restricting their freedom to a level that they are capable of handling.

Realizing the importance of rules and consequences is just part of the process of helping your teen through these often difficult times. It is also important to recognize that with each passing year, most teens are capable of handling more freedom and responsibility. Thus the need to review the rules once a year. If this does not happen, teens will begin to rebel and test the limits in order to send a message that the restrictions are too tight.

To avoid this conflict and to give your teens the message that they are trusted (which they also need) the yearly rule review is a must. The actual review process need not be overly formal or complex, but it should be done individually if you have more than one teen. Simply sit down with the teen at a quiet moment. Don’t try to do this when the teen is involved in an activity or just going out for the evening, as you may not get the response you are looking for. Instead catch him or her when they are reading or just before going to bed.

One effective technique is to set the meeting time a few days ahead so that the teen has time to consider what should be reviewed. This advance warning also heads off the potential conflict mentioned above.

Once the meeting begins it is vital to consider this a negotiation, rather than a monologue on your part, as teens buy into their rules far more when they have some input into the process. Thus the most effective approach is to ask what rule changes the teen would like. It is amazing how realistic the kids are when you approach them on an (almost) equal basis. If the change request seems unreasonable, you as the parent should have no hesitation in turning it down. It is up to you to judge how much freedom your teen is capable of handling.

However, in the spirit of negotiation, don’t just turn the suggestion down flat but instead make a counter-offer that you can live with. This shows respect for the teen’s ideas, but ensures that your teen has rules that you are comfortable with. Make sure all areas are covered, including curfews, homework times, as well as where they are allowed to go and when. Use conflicts from the past year as a guideline to what needs to be discussed. For example if there have been several battles over homework being done, make sure to review this thoroughly. On the other hand don’t try to legislate everything. Keep the rules structure as simple as possible.

The annual rules review is a simple but vital process. It ensures that both sides are clear on the guidelines and that both sides have been heard and it prevents misunderstandings and arguments. It also lets the teens know that you are aware that they are growing up. These are powerful reasons to include a review into your family’s fall routine.


Dr. Scott Wooding is a psychologist in private practice in Okotoks, specializing in teenage problems. He is the author of the best-selling ‘Parenting Today’s Teenager Effectively, Hear Me, Hug Me, Trust Me’ as well as the recently released ‘Rage, Rebellion and Rudeness: Parenting Teenagers in the New Millennium’. He also appears weekly on Global TV’s ‘Morning Edition’ and every other week on CBC’s ‘Calgary Eye Opener’ as a commentator on teenage issues.

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