Ending Family Chaos – Rules

Most of us work for companies that have a policy manual. We follow the policies, since they are a requirement of enjoying the financial benefits and privileges of employment. From that we know what to expect, how to act, and how not to act if we want to keep our jobs. Likewise, the rules within your family Belief System will help each family member know what is expected of them, how to act, where the lines are drawn between right and wrong behavior, and the consequences for stepping over the line.

Rules are expectations and guidelines placed around our behavior, in order to support our family boundaries and beliefs.

So, how do we go about creating and implementing rules that will effectively guide our teen for their own good, and for the good of our entire family?

Rules Are For Your Child’s Own Benefit

Rules for your home will most likely fall into three main areas of concern, which are foundational to all other character issues. They are honesty, obedience, and respect.

Rules should be relevant, attainable and beneficial, not a source of shame, frustration, or failure. After all, isn’t the ultimate intent of creating and enforcing rules in your home that of keeping a child’s poor choices from consuming him, and destroying his relationships with others?

So, when you think about the rules that govern your home, you might want to ask yourself two questions. The first question is, “How much will this rule matter after I am gone?” The second question is, “Will this help build my child’s character, and cause him to become more mature or responsible?”

If not, then you probably need to rethink the rule and your motivation for wanting to make it a rule.

Rules also need to make sense. We can all think about rules set down by our own parents that made no sense at all and others that were beneficial to us (even though we may not have liked them).

Finally, rules often need to evolve over time, as lessons are learned, and kept in line with the growing maturity of your teenager. Out of date, irrelevant or demeaning rules will lead to animosity, loss of respect and rebellion in your teenager. They can also lead to consequence confusion, since outdated rules are often not enforced.  Regularly update your rules and restate them to your teenager, awarding them with freedom and added privileges for the progress they make.

Rules Are Enforced Through Reasonable Consequences

For teenagers, the loss of a privilege can be a powerful consequence. Sometimes they don’t realize how many privileges they enjoy — at least, not until they lose them for a time.

It brings to mind when we had several teenage boys living with us in our own home years ago. Based on the worsening condition of their bathroom, I could see that they needed help with exercising more self-control. So, I told them, “Guys, from now on you need to clean your own toilet and keep your bathroom clean. If not, you could lose it.”

Unfortunately, they ignored the rule and the mess got even worse. The once pearly white toilet bowl turned shades of brown.

So, one day I just took the entire toilet out! I literally removed it from the house. By that time, the toilet needed to be replaced anyway, so I thought not having it for a while would be a good learning opportunity for them.

When they got home from school there was nothing but a little hole in the floor where the brown toilet used to stand, they said, “Where are we supposed to go?”

I said, “aim well – I’m sorry, the rule is that you need to clean your toilet and keep your bathroom clean. If you won’t clean it, you can’t have it.”

After a few days of not aiming all that well and the stench becoming unbearable, they came to me asking, “What do we need to do to get our toilet back?”

I said, “Well, I appreciate you coming back and asking. The thing is… you can have your toilet back, but to make sure you have learned this lesson you also have to clean the toilets in the whole house for the next couple of months.”

They readily agreed, and I installed a new toilet. They cleaned all the bathrooms for a few months, and learned the importance of taking better care of things. The most important lesson for them was that when you break a rule, you pay the consequences.

The consequence in my example may sound crude, but it got the point across. After that, they kept the bathroom clean and they listened more carefully when I announced other important rules.

Setting up rules and enforcing consequences — more than any other thing you manage as a parent — is the best way to help your child learn right from wrong and to change from selfish to unselfish thinking.

Keep Rules Within the Context of Relationship

When you line out rules make it clear that they are developed in the context of longing for your child to do well in life, more than a selfish need for you to be in control. Rules are not just about having your house operate well and the chores done. In the “toilet” example I gave, I saw it as a major opportunity to teach these boys an important life principle, not just make that side of our house smell better. It is a lesson they still recall today.

Above all, keep in mind that your relationship with your child is more important than any rule. Don’t tie rule keeping or rule breaking to your love or acceptance of them. Let them know that you will continue to love them, even when they mess up.

Continually say, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.”

When they break a rule (and they will!) show your deep love for them by refusing to let them off the hook. Teenagers mostly learn from consequences. When they are known in advance, it shouldn’t damage your relationship when they are handed out, since the teenager accepted the consequences at the same time that they chose to step over the line.

ASSIGNMENT: This week, line out some rules for your home, and begin to think about consequences. Decide things like: who pays for what, what time frame is expected for certain things like curfew and chores, what you expect from them for school and grades, work, their spiritual life, their friends. Address issues like respect, honesty and obedience with clear rules – no lying, no cheating, everyone gets respect. Examine how your rules support your boundaries and beliefs for the way your home should run. Call a family meeting and work on the rules together, so everyone is part of the decision-making.

The next article I’ll tie it all together – Beliefs, Boundaries Rules, and Consequences, and hopefully, if you have done your homework, you will have the beginning of a wonderful new tool for preventing chaos in your home.


Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.


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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