Privileges and Expectations for Teens

by Mark Gregston

If you’re too strict, or too controlling, you may have kids who behave … for now

But trust me, under their complementary and obedient exteriors, they’re feeling contemptuous and there will come a day when the tide will turn.  And if you don’t do something to change directions right now, I can guarantee the rebellion will come. 

I don’t say these things because I’m trying to scare you or wish ill-will on you and your family.  But having worked with over 2,500 kids and their families for the past forty-five years, I’m speaking from experience.  Our Heartlight ranch in Texas is a combination camp and intense, immersive relationships-based therapy center that currently houses 56 struggling teens who are looking for someone to help guide them through the turbulent times of their lives. 

It’s our desire that parents would be their guide, but sometimes for whatever reason, that’s not possible.  So, we’re happy to stand in the gap until the relationships are restored.  But if your life isn’t spinning that far out of control, or if you’re looking for ways to gain a sense of calm so that you can bring order back into your life, keep reading for some practical tips on what you should expect from your child through the teen years. 

Boundaries and Consequences 

The simple act of creating boundaries and consequences allows you, the parent, more time to invest in cultivating a relationship with your child.  But when those lines are blurred or not well defined, that’s when problems begin to creep in.  So, as your child grows from the pre-teen years through adulthood, it’s important that you both know what the rules are, and how those rules will change, morph, expand, and even go away as your teen gets older and becomes more responsible. 

It would seem like it’s common sense, but often times, we lay rules down with our kids when they are young and then we never change or redefine them as our kids grow.  But just as we grow and change, so must our rules.  So, if you’ve not done it before, take some time to sit down with your kids and create a house motto.  There are different stages and levels of both values and rules, so once you determine your house values and rules—the non-negotiables, then discuss the aspects that are negotiable according to or appropriate with each stage of development.  And then when you’ve got a good working family constitution, set up agreed-upon consequences for breaking the rules. 

With these boundaries and pre-determined consequences in place, you can step back and allow your kids the freedom to make decisions within the parameters you’ve both set up without having to nag them to follow the rules. 

Something to Consider 

As with you, your child doesn’t change because of your rules.  People change because of your relationship with them.  As I remind parents all across the country: rules without relationship will equal rebellion.  So, decide early on whether your rules are worth risking your relationship.  Psalm 139:14 reminds us that each man, woman, and child is uniquely and wonderfully made by God.  And that means, everyone is an individual person with separate and complex characteristics.  So, remember there doesn’t have to be a set time on when they move from one set of privileges to the next.  What works for your daughter at age sixteen, might not work for your son at the same age, or vice-versa.  That’s why it’s important to look at each child individually and work out what is best for you family based on the things that will maintain and even strengthen your relationships. 


Mom, Dad … the desire to control your kids’ lives comes easy.  It’s rooted in your attempt to protect them from the world’s influence and to keep them on the right path so that they can walk in a way that is worthy to the Lord.  And it works … when they are younger.  But once they reach that twelve to thirteen-year-old age, they want to start taking control and making decisions, and you should let them.  Give them the reigns in some areas, so that they can build responsibility while they’re still living under your roof.  Train them to make wise decisions in a foolish world.  Loosen your grip on their privileges so that they’ll appreciate your involvement in their life as you help them mature and grow into responsible and well-adjusted adults. 

Tough Guys and Drama QueensFree online course: Tough Guys and Drama Queens

This free two-week online course will help you to parent your teen in a counter-cultural way. You will  walk through topics like appearance, performance, authority and respect, setting boundaries, and many more.

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