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.” Continue reading “Five Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Rules”
Impulsive. Maddening. Why do teenagers act the way they do? While there’s
no lack of scientific research on why that might be—largely having to do with
the brain and how long it takes to be fully formed—nonetheless, teens are quite
capable of reigning in those impulses that often result in less-than-desirable
behavior. They just need a little help from you.
Sure, teens don’t always assess
their risks when embarking on a new activity or adventure. But look on the
bright side: Where would our world be without risk takers? You only have to
look at young risk takers like Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Amadeus Mozart, Marie
Curie, or Steve Jobs and his nemesis, Bill Gates. Each of these men and women achieved
great success in their teens, but a few of them could have used some rules,
rewards, and repercussions along the way. Just like your teen.
While you may not be expecting your
teen to conquer the world, discover a medical advancement, or develop the next
great technological innovation, you no doubt have high hopes for them. And if
you want your teens to experience some measure of success in their lives, then
they better have the character to sustain it. You want your teen to get ahead
in life, but you certainly don’t want them to become a tyrant, pushing,
prodding or running roughshod over anyone who gets in his way (including you). I’m
going to assume that you prefer to instruct your teen to become a respectful, conscientious
and compassionate adult with a working moral compass.
To accomplish that goal you need
the right combination of rules, rewards
and repercussions. It’s a beautiful system of interlocking circles that combined
will help your teen make good choices. And ultimately, good choices will equal
a good life.
The number one concern of nearly every parent I meet
is “How do I set up rules my teen will follow?” If your teen is pushing,
testing, or ignoring the rules of the home, take a few minutes to sit down and
explain why these specific boundaries are in place. Show your son or daughter
how these principles will help them get ahead in life—that before they can
“conquer the world” they need to conquer themselves! In Proverbs 25:28, we read: “A man without
self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
Now of course you don’t want to
establish rules just to show your teen who’s the boss. That’s a
counterproductive motive—one that will invariably lead to defiance. As Josh Mc
Dowell says, “Rules without relationship causes rebellion.” That’s why you need
to evaluate the rules of your house to see if they’re (1) Practical: Will your rules help your teen achieve his or her healthy
personal and academic goals? (2) Attainable: Are your rules appropriate for your
teen’s age, maturity and capability? and (3) Beneficial: Is there a positive outcome for your teen if he or she
follows your instruction?
Word to the wise: If your rules
don’t meet this criteria then scrap them!
Okay, so say you’ve set specific rules
in place and they’ve been clearly communicated. But what if your teen thinks he
or she doesn’t have to play by your rules? What then? That’s when the
consequences kick in. Your teenage son should know exactly what will happen if
he starts skipping classes: the car is taken away. And your daughter knows if
she cheats on a test, she will lose her cell phone for a couple of weeks. Those
are just examples, of course. The point
is that by assigning clear consequences, everyone in the house is aware of the
boundaries and punishments.
So, what is an appropriate consequence for a certain
behavior? Whatever rule has the greatest priority in your house should have
your child’s greatest motivator attached as a consequence. For example, what if you catch your teen in a big fat lie? After
having a serious conversation on the impact of lying, then make sure the
consequence matches the level of deceit. There’s a difference between a fairly typical
adolescent lie such as “I forgot” or “I didn’t think you’d mind” and a con job
perpetrated over a long period of time.
So establish consequences, but be aware: they will
only work if you stick to your guns! There are no benefits to letting your teen
off the hook. It may seem like the
loving thing to do, but it is actually causing them harm. Look at it this way:
It’s either consequences now, or hell to pay later when their pattern of bad
behavior causes them to get fired, end a marriage, or worse—land in jail!
The Rewards Card
Everyone wants a rewards card. That’s why so many credit card companies
offer one. Because people like the feeling of being rewarded. And God
Himself will be handing them out. In Revelation 22:12 we read, “Look, I am
coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to
what they have done.” So as parents, we should not hold back rewards, or as I often
call them—privileges—for good
The consequences that you mete out
for breaking the rules of the home should always be balanced with positive
reinforcement. Rewards for positive behavior include things like video games, new
tech toys, dinners out, vacations, clothes, parties, use of the car, and other
things that motivate your teen. Give out rewards when your child shows
responsibility, maturity, and positive changes.
And no, this is not bribery! While rewards and bribery
may seem like identical twins, there are at least two main factors that
separate them: (1) Rewards are earned for
good behavior, while bribes are offered to avoid or stop bad behavior. Who
hasn’t been in a supermarket or other public place and heard a desperate and
embarrassed young mom say to her tantrum-throwing youngster: “Now Suzie, if you
stop kicking that nice man in the shin, I’ll take you to get some ice cream!” (3)
Rewards are thought out … bribery occurs under duress. Usually an
act of bribery happens in the middle of a situation in which your teen has
seemingly sprouted horns and a tail. It’s an act of desperation, rather
Rewards can be set up in advance
(such as a shopping outing or a weekend adventure might be an established
reward for getting good grades) or bestowed on your teen as a surprise for
doing a great job at home, at school, in church service, or for a sports accomplishment.
Think of rewards the way you think of getting a paycheck or a bonus at work. You’re
not being bribed to do a good job by getting paid, but it certainly is a good
incentive to show up everyday!
Not Just a Matter of
Interestingly, even neuroscience
has proven that rewards can help alter behavior in teens. A recent study of
teen brains vs. adult brains revealed that compared with adults, teens tended
to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan,
and stay focused and—no surprise here—control impulses. Now here’s the silver
lining: Scientists learned that if
offered an extra reward, teens showed they could push those regions of the
brain to work harder, improving their scores. Conclusion: Teens don’t have to be victims of their slowly
developing grey matter, and you, as parents, can help them along with appropriate
rules, rewards and repercussions.
Blessed be the Tie That Binds
Finally, be aware that rules,
consequences, and privileges only work if you use them together. Think of them
as three separate but overlapping circles that bind together. The intersection
where these principles meet is the place your teen will thrive and mature the
most. Rules need consequences. Rules
also need privileges. Cover them all with unconditional love and grace, and you
will create an atmosphere in which your teen can flourish.
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 39 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 2,500 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
For more information and helpful
resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools
to help you become a more effective parent. There you will also find a station
near you where you can listen to the Parenting
Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent