Parenting Teens: Setting Family Rules

Setting Family Rules for Teens

Parenting Teens: Setting Family Rules

We all know that clear rules and expectations are important for children of all ages. Teenagers are still learning how to make good decisions and control their impulses. So, how do you go about setting rules and expectations?

I suggest starting with 3-5 rules. Generally, older teens require fewer rules than younger teens. Too many rules are confusing to parents and children. It gets tougher to enforce them all. It leads to inconsistency and rules that don’t mean anything. Each rule should have a specified consequence for breaking it and/or a reward for following it.

It’s great to involve your teen in this process. It’s important to teens to feel they have a voice and some control over their own life. I find kids are also great at identifying meaningful consequences. Identifying your family values will help you know where to focus your parenting energy. Here are a handful of values. Your family may have different values.

  • education
  • respect
  • creativity
  • Taking care of others
  • faith
  • achievement
  • Family connection
  • independence
  • Doing your best
  • honesty
  • responsibility
  • Health and safety

Once you’ve identified your values, you’re going to craft rules that reflect them.

Example #1 (older teens) Value – safety, responsibility. Rule – comply with all driving laws, absolutely no driving under influence or with friends in the car. Consequence – loss of driving privileges.  Reward – continued driving privileges.

Example #2 Value – education.  Rule – earn all B’s or better, complete all homework on time. Consequence – loss of cell phone, attend tutoring until grades raised. Reward – parents continue to pay for cell phone.

Example #3 (older teens) Value- respect, safety. Rule – communicate where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Consequence – early curfew. Reward – continued use of car on weekends.

Example #4 (younger teens) Value – family connection. Rule – eat dinner with the family Mon-Fri and turn electronics off during dinner. Consequence -No electronics for 24 hr. Reward – TV/Video games after dinner and homework.

Some parents don’t think 5 rules are enough. These rules reflect what is most important to your family. You can make a secondary list of rules/expectations that are less important or negotiable. Perhaps curfew is negotiable based on other behaviors. A few other tips:

  • Be as specific as possible in both rules and consequences.
  • When possible, have the consequence be related to the rule.
  • I’m generally not in favor of taking away activities that promote learning, self-esteem, competency (such as sports or music lessons).
  • Periodically renegotiate rules and consequences.


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© 2014 Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in Northern California, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.