by Mark Gregston
Rules—now there is a word that everyone loves to hate. And yet, we all know that rules are put in place for our own good and for the good of those around us. Rules, I think, are a lot like stop signs—I hate ‘em all, but they serve a purpose and we can’t live without them. So, how should families determine house rules? Is there a list to draw from, or should every household be governed by the same rules and regulations? Well, those are just a few of the questions we’ll answer in this article titled, “Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know about Rules.”
Rules Should be about your Teen—Not You
It seems obvious that your house rules should be about your teenager, and not you, but for too many parents, household rules are simply for mom and dad. But as your child grows, family rules should become more about helping them navigate the best path for their life’s journey—not maintaining your control. Armed with the following tips guiding your rule-making decisions, I think you’ll find that once you put appropriate rules in place, ones that are attainable and beneficial—not a source of frustration and shame, the atmosphere at home will change and so will your relationship with your teen.
So, with that said, the first rule of rule-making is develop family rules with your teen in mind. Every parent wants their child to do well in life and rules provide a great source of direction. So, you’ve gotta ask yourself, “What is my purpose for having this rule? Will it help my child build character and become more mature?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to reevaluate that rule.
Next, family rules—whatever they are for your unique situation, should be about guiding and directing your child into places that are best for them, and away from environments that won’t serve them well as they grow up. I like to say it this way, I don’t want my underage child to drink—not just because it bothers me, it does. But the more important reason that I don’t want my underage child drinking is because a DUI on their record won’t be in anyone’s best interest—especially theirs. It’s the same with sex before marriage. It’s not because I’m a killjoy, it’s because sex outside of marriage will confuse their future relationship with their spouse.
The Bible tells us to “train up our children in the way they should they go.” And to do that properly, we need to shift our mindset to being a helper for our children—not a jailer. That shift may not seem like a big deal, but it’s so important for cultivating and maintaining a healthy relationship with your teen. Don’t confuse rule-making with ruling your home. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you have a discipline problem with your child, you have a relationship problem. And if that’s where you are today, make sure you take some time to work on your relationship with your son or daughter, because relationships are where true change happens—with you, and with your child.
And last, but not least, family rules must be revised as your child grows and clearly communicated. Rules that worked in your house when your child was six probably no longer works when they are sixteen. Household rules, therefore, should be revisited every six months or so during the teen years, and they should be easily explained as to why the rule fits into your family’s belief and system of values. In doing that, your teen will have buy-in to the rules, and they’ll know and understand the consequences for maintaining them—or breaking them.
Consequences—Love ‘em or hate ‘em
We often think of consequences only in the negative, but consequences can be both bad and good. A peaceful home is a positive consequence of where the rules and the people living in the home are functioning properly. Everyone benefits from that—and that’s the ideal situation. But if that’s not yet where your family resides, keep these helpful tips in mind.
Consequences should never hurt your child physically.
Consequences shouldn’t demean or undermine your child’s self-esteem.
Never ever use your love as a consequence. “I don’t love you more because you keep the family rules,” and “I don’t love you less because you break them.” Your acceptance of your child should never depend on his or her rule keeping.
Consequences teach your teen how to think and act properly. And ultimately, consequences are meant to encourage or to provoke your child to change their thinking.
Moms and Dads … rules without relationships cause rebellion and relationships without rules cause chaos. Structure is needed if you want to create a home that stifles selfishness and entitlement and moves your teen along a path that is beneficial to them. In other words, they like rules because it helps them. Your teens desire structure. They want direction and guidance and rules provide that for them, and keep them on that path. Your goal should be to develop rules that can be embraced by all, easy to follow, easy to understand, and always in the best interest of your teen. So, come up with five rules that would change the direction of your family, and stick with them allowing consequences to have their full effect. Rules are needed, but relationships are required and the most important thing you can have in your family.