Guiding Your Teen

Saturday, 07 February 2009 12:35

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Expectations and rules provide support and structure for young people dealing with new situations and challenges. Expectations help to define the broad standards of behavior you expect from your teen. For example, parents expect their teens to make responsible decisions. Rules bring these expectations to life, such as requiring your teenager to be home by a certain hour.  Rules and their consequences provide a concrete way to help children understand your expectations and learn self-control.


Expectations and rules are different, but both are essential and work hand-in-hand. Communicating your expectations is an important first step. Your teen may have a good understanding of your attitude towards alcohol, illicit drugs and risk-taking, but if you haven’t clearly spelled out your expectations, you are missing an opportunity. You may feel like you’re stating the obvious, but teenagers don’t deal so well with “gray” areas. They need to know exactly where you stand.  A discussion about expectations also gives you an opportunity to hear from your teenager. Many teens have a sense of “it can’t happen to me” and need help fully understanding how a risky decision could affect them. You can use the conversation to probe their thinking about risky choices and to encourage them to think more realistically about the likely consequences of their actions.

While expectations are important, they may leave some room for interpretation. This is why rules about specific behaviors, actions and responsibilities help to ensure that there is no gray area or confusion.  What kind of rules do you need? In addition to rules on substance use and other risk-taking behaviour, you may want to consider rules on curfew, homework, chores, driving, cell phone, Internet use, television, etc. Although your teen may resist your attempts to establish rules, they actually expect their parents to set some limits. If your teen protests, be respectful, listen and explain your reasoning. Here are some other ideas to make rule-setting as painless as possible:

  • Focus on setting rules for safety with an emphasis on providing guidance rather than using power and/or issuing punishment.
  • Provide opportunities for “give-and take.” Encourage your teen to have some input on some of the rules, but maintain the final say.
  • Be firm, but not overly restrictive or intrusive.
  • Be flexible and willing to renegotiate rules as your teen shows more maturity and responsibility.  Be specific when it comes to rules about substance use. Tell your teens they are not permitted to use tobacco, alcohol or illicit drugs. Remember to address the misuse of prescription and over-the-counter medications as well.


Don’t forget to set clear consequences when you’re talking about rules. Consequences aren’t only about punishment. They keep teenagers alert and mindful about breaking rules and assist in making sensible decisions when faces with risky choices.  Consequences also have a more practical purpose. They provide teens with a believable excuse to give their peers when resisting drugs or other risky behaviors.  Below is some advice for setting consequences:

  • Consequences should be about teaching and not about retaliation.
  • Follow through. Many parents have trouble upholding consequences consistently, and their teens are often aware of it.
  • Use the power of praise to reinforce positive behavior. Look for opportunities to catch your teen being good. Praise your teen today as much as you did when he or she was a preschooler.
  • Set some rewards and special privileges for your teen for following the rules.