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The Difference Between Rule-making and Ruling

Some parents mix the idea of rule-making with ruling their home. Reasonable rule-making and proper boundaries will help a teenager mature into a confident adult, while living under a “ruler” can lead to frustration, rebellion and eroded self-esteem. Which kind of home is yours? One that has rules or one that is ruled?

Rules for your home should fall into three main areas of concern, which are foundational to all other character and maturity issues. They are honesty, obedience, and respect. 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 is, “How much will this rule matter after I am gone or when the child is out on his own?” The second is, “Will this help build my child’s character and cause him to become more mature or responsible?” If the rules for your older teenagers are not centering on character, then you’re most likely ruling your home instead.

“Ruling” works and is necessary when kids are younger, but as your children reach the teenage years they naturally begin weighing decisions on their own. When they choose to break the household rules, they need to deal with the resulting consequences. Teenagers understand consequences. That’s how they learn, not from lecturing or parental anger.

When a teenager butts heads with a “ruler,” conflict and frustration will result. The only thing they’ll then learn is either how to better hide their improper actions or how to scream louder than the ruler does. Neither of these modes is productive and can also lead to a legacy of poor parenting.

Rule-making in Your Home

Rules 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).

Rules also should be relevant, attainable and beneficial, not a source of shame, frustration, or failure.

And rules need to be communicated in advance, right along with the consequences for breaking those rules. Think of it this way. If no one knows the rules, then your teenager will have to learn them by trial and error and will constantly get into trouble. Likewise, if consequences for breaking the rules aren’t known, then a teenager has no way to weigh those consequences against whatever pleasure they find in breaking the rule. This balancing of actions versus consequences is a critical skill for adolescents to learn and exercise.

Finally, rules need to evolve over time, as lessons are learned, kept in line with the growing maturity of your teenager. I’m not talking about “giving in.” I’m saying that out-of-date, irrelevant or demeaning rules will lead to animosity, loss of respect and rebellion by your teenager. They can also lead to consequence confusion, since outdated rules are often not enforced. So, regularly update your rules and restate them to your teenager (before they break the rule, not after), awarding them with freedom and added privileges for the progress they make.

Rules Are Enforced Through Reasonable Consequences

Consequences for teenagers should never hurt physically (other than aching muscles from work assignments). They should never be demeaning or undermine the child’s self-esteem. For teenagers, the loss of a privilege is the most reasonable and powerful consequence. Sometimes they don’t realize how many privileges they enjoy — at least not until they lose them for a time.

Think about some reasonable consequences for your home. And keep in mind how important it is that they are communicated well in advance so the teenager doesn’t attribute the consequences they receive to your poor mood or a bad day. When they break a rule they should know exactly what the consequence will be. And just like laws in our society, parents need to build in progressively stronger consequences for rules that are broken again and again (since the initial consequence was obviously not enough of a deterrent).

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.

Don’t Cut Off Relationship When They Do Wrong

When you line out the 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 or your home to be pristine. Above all, keep in mind that your relationship with your child is more important than their breaking any rule.

Don’t correlate your teen’s rule-keeping or rule-breaking to your love or acceptance of them. Regularly let them know that you will continue to love them, even when they mess up. Express your sorrow when your teen experiences consequences, but take care not to express your disappointment in them. There’s a big difference between those two sentiments. One is caring and the other is destructive of your relationship.

The Parent’s Admonition: “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.”

When your teenager breaks a rule (and they will!) show your deep love for them by refusing to let them off the hook. Teenagers mostly learn from consequences. So avoid taking the consequences away or lessening them. When consequences are known well in advance, it shouldn’t damage your relationship when they are handed out. Surely, your teenager weighed the consequences at the same time they chose to step over the line, and chose to do it anyway!

HOME ASSIGNMENT: If you have teenagers in your home, line out some rules for your home, and begin to think about what consequences to apply. 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. Call a family meeting and work on the rules and consequences together, so everyone is part of it. You’ll be surprised. Your teen will often suggest penalizing bad behavior with consequences more severe than you were thinking.

Remember, “ruling” your home is not a good measurement of the effectiveness of your rulemaking.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.


Building Responsibility in the Tween Years

The beginning of the school year can bring a new set of challenges for parents of kids just entering adolescence – the group of kids that marketers refer to as “tweens.” The ages vary, but for the purposes of this article, tweens are 9-12 years old.

Parents may be shocked by school reports that their young tween isn’t taking responsibility for completing his homework and may be failing in his classes as a result, especially if the child was previously studious. It can happen at this age because tweens are given more responsibility from their teachers to take the ball and run with it, but some have difficulty getting in the game. Work that was once organized and completed in the classroom is now required to be done solo and at home.

When you learn that your tween’s grades are failing, I have some thoughts for you to consider.

Some kids just need to know that their parents are concerned and that “steps will be taken” if they don’t get on track. That is often enough to get the tween back on track. But others simply refuse to take on their growing responsibilities, so their parents would be wise to solve the problem now, or it could continue for years to come.

Before you jump into action, however, you need to understand that your life shouldn’t revolve around chasing after your tween’s mistakes and finding ways to fix them. Fixing their problems for them is just giving them reason to continue being irresponsible.

Until your child feels truly responsible, they’ll not stop being irresponsible.

Tweens who are irresponsible — and happy to be so – often have parents who are just the opposite. What these parents don’t realize is that they can be part of the problem, since the more they’ve done historically to solve the child’s problems for them, the less likely the tween will feel the need to fix their own. It can become a vicious cycle of the parent rescuing the child and the child repeating irresponsible behavior throughout the tween and teen years and even into adulthood.

Has your tween or teen already figured out that he can ignore things because you will rescue him? Do you spend time trying to figure out how to solve his problems and holding his hand, while he remains oblivious of how his irresponsibility and immaturity is affecting you, himself and others? If so, you’ve got some rough days ahead if you don’t make some changes now.

One mother asked me, “How can my brilliant daughter behave so irresponsibly? School should be easy for her, and yet she just doesn’t seem to care!” Unless there is some hidden personal problem, drug use, or unusual emotional turmoil, the answer is simple. A “tween” behaves irresponsibly because children are irresponsible. She hasn’t yet made the transition out of childhood and may not like the idea of taking on responsibility – at least not yet.

Kids do not automatically become more responsible due to their age or physical attributes. Those qualities are learned by the example of others and through facing responsibility in their life, like doing chores or working in a part-time job. If they fail to follow through on the most basic responsibilities, like completing their schoolwork, the parent’s role is to help them face some consequences for continued immaturity, such as losing some of their privileges and freedoms. Such consequences can help train the tween to be more mature in their decisions and to follow through in the future. The key is to teach responsibility early, even if it doesn’t seem like there’s a need for the tween to “grow up” quite yet.

For instance, when your son is failing in math because he’s not doing his homework, and you know he is fully capable of passing the class, your first reaction needs to be to make it less comfortable for him to continue being irresponsible. Perhaps the time and recognition he would have enjoyed from being on the football team needs to be replaced by spending time after school sitting at a desk with a tutor (not you). Don’t rescue him by allowing him to still go to football practice (a privilege he enjoys) while fitting in the tutor at another time. Other consequences could be to take the cell phone or cut off online access until better results are seen on the next school report.

The point is, make it uncomfortable for him to remain irresponsible. And be sure to hand the problem back to your tween, making him responsible to solve his own problem. First, tell him that you welcome any questions he may have about his schoolwork, but you won’t do it for him, you won’t be his tutor, and you won’t check on his daily progress. Why not? Because by doing so you would be managing his problem for him, instead of allowing him to manage it himself. Again, if he needs help in organizing things, then give him suggestions, but only if he asks for it. Don’t become his personal secretary, calendar or alarm clock. And don’t nag him to get his schoolwork done.

Instead, tell him that on his next regularly scheduled progress report from school, every teacher must report grades he is fully capable of (state what those grades should be) and that he has completed all homework assignments — every single one – or whatever privilege you took from him will not be restored (no football, no cell phone, etc.). Moreover, if even one teacher tells you that there is a missing assignment, tell him you will immediately cancel his cell phone, or otherwise make more permanent whatever privilege it was that you took from him.

On a more positive note, also throw in a carrot for going above and beyond the call of duty; like, if he works extra hard and his grades exceed your minimum expectations, other privileges or freedoms will be granted to him on top of getting back the privileges he lost. It can help to throw in such added incentives, but be sure not to offer them to a child for doing what’s ordinarily expected; only reward what’s extraordinary.

Then, follow through!

If you don’t follow through with what you say you are going to do, you have issued an empty warning. Your tween will learn that you really do not mean what you say, and that he is ultimately not responsible to manage the problems he creates. His attitude and behavior will get worse throughout the teen years and you will dive a little deeper into the parenting misery pool with fewer tools to get out.

Keep in mind that whatever you threaten to do the first time it comes up, he will test you. In other words, it’s likely that he will not follow through, and you will need to take away that privilege just to teach him that you mean what you say. So make sure it is something you can live with but significant enough for the tween to learn from. Kids learn from the pain of their mistakes, not from your threats, browbeating or nagging. And they may need to learn the same lesson more than once, with even stronger consequences.

When a tween understands that a parent means what he says, life improves, trust grows, and a simple reminder about the “math” incident in the future will be enough to remind him that he is the one responsible to solve the problems his behavior creates.

To make the later teen years better, when emotions can run high, be sure to root out irresponsibility in the tween years. Help your tween realize that choices to be irresponsible have ugly consequences, and good choices bring positive consequences. It is up to him to choose the kind of consequences he would like to face. It’s not up to you to fix the problems he creates for himself, nor to lessen the consequences in any way. The sooner he learns, the fewer times you’ll have to go through the process and the happier everyone will be throughout the teen years and into adulthood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

            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.   Here you can download the Parenting Today’s Teens App, a great way to listen on your schedule.

 


Teens and Cell Phones: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Most of us would find it hard imagine going back to a life without cell phones. And as parents, it’s our job to teach teens how to use them responsibly. This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston shares helpful methods for teaching children discipline and discernment when using technology.

If you listen on a mobile phone or tablet, please download our Parenting Today’s Teens app available for Apple, Android and Window users. If you listen on a desktop or laptop computer, press the “play” button above to enjoy daily parenting advice.