How to set reasonable expectations and rules with your teen
Q&A with Melissa Davis, clinician with Child and Family Services of New Hampshire in Manchester
This article is part of a Series that explores parenting issues related to bringing up healthy and well-adjusted teens and tweens. The series attempts to unravel the mystery of how to raise middle- and high-schoolers without losing your sanity.
Question: As a child becomes a teenager, what are some reasonable responsibilities teens should be expected to take on?
Answer: Teenagers may have more responsibilities around the house than school-age kids such as vacuuming, doing the dishes, emptying the dishwasher, laundry and yard work. Bear in mind that they need to learn these things before doing them successfully on their own. Encouraging their help at a young age will promote responsibility later on.
Teens also have more homework and potentially more outside activities such as sports or clubs. Teenagers have a strong sense of responsibility and allegiance to their peers, which could cause less time spent at home or with parents and siblings. Helping them to find a balance in spending time with family and friends is a challenge and should be done carefully and in a way that does not make them feel as though you are discounting people or activities that are important to them.
Q: What are some examples of house rules that may change for the teen?
A: It is at the parent’s discretion what chores need to be done, however, keep in mind asking a teenager to clean their room every single day is a tall order for someone overwhelmed with friends, sports, school and uncontrollable hormones. A weekly schedule may be more effective for parents to get what they need done around the house while still fostering independent living skills. A variety of examples of weekly and daily chore schedules can be found online.
Screen time is hard to avoid but can be the best tool to use as a consequence when the teen is not meeting household or school expectations. Screen time should be avoided until all schoolwork and household chores have been completed. It also only be used as a tool to learn and not as something to keep the child occupied. This is an expectation that can be made during the school-age years and carried into the teen years.
Q: What are some tips for talking to teens about what parents expect of them?
A: Examples of poor decision-making can be good learning tools for teens. Teenagers often believe that their parents don’t know what they are talking about and feel the need to experiment to know for sure, especially if their friends are encouraging it. It is good to know the people your teen is spending time with so that you can better assess who is and is not going to be a positive influence. Strategizing (with your teen) ways to leave an uncomfortable situation without making it seem awkward and are always a good way to help them avoid being trapped into a peer pressure situation.
Unfortunately, your teen may be in a situation involving something illegal or uncomfortable, whether they plan to or not. It is better to have an exit strategy rather than pretend this is not a possibility. Encouraging them to be honest with you is more powerful and memorable than shaming them for the situation. Beginning conversations about peer pressure early on can assist in this once the teenage years arrive.
Setting the tone at home that schoolwork is important can also start when kids are young. Some kids may struggle with one subject more than another. Offering them support to advance in the areas they don’t excel at will help them to feel more confident about getting the work done. Schoolwork can be compared to employment. If we do well in school, we are awarded good grades. Similarly, if we do well in our job, we are awarded with a steady paycheck, a promotion and positive recognition.
When creating household rules and expectations, it is important to keep consistent boundaries and limits on curfews and sleepovers. Knowing where your teen is and who they are with is not just realistic, but extremely important. If they are not willing to give up the information easily, simply explain that in the case of an emergency (illness, death, fire, etc.) you need to know how to get them back or plan for them to be cared for. Framing it in a way that makes it about their needs is more productive and successful than “Because I said so.”
Q: What are appropriate disciplinary actions for a teen?
A: Limits should to be set by parents regarding the time spent with family vs. time spent with friends. For example, it is important to try to have one night each week that is a dedicated family night. If parents do not commit to this, teenagers won’t either. Parents should also set limits regarding all screen time coming second to school work and household responsibilities. For example, if homework is not completed, no screen time. If your room is not clean, no cell phone use for the night.
It may be beneficial to determine what consequences are used for what behaviors. A teen refusing to clean their room may result in no cell phone for one night, two days, or until the room is clean, whereas, a night out long past curfew may result in a grounding for two weeks.
Q: How can a parent help give their teen the independence they need while still keeping them safe and following the rules?
A: If the teen learns early on the expectations of the parents and the consequences that occur when expectations are not met, they are more likely to be motivated to meet those expectations. It is up to the parents to decide what works most effectively for the family because ultimately the parents have to live with the consequences. Consistent follow-through on the part of the parent will not only increase the teen's ability to follow rules at home and in the community, but will also foster their ability to be a responsible person once they are living on their own.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR OF THE RAISING TWEENS & TEENS SERIES:
Melanie Plenda, a longtime contributor to Parenting New Hampshire and other publications statewide, is a full-time freelance journalist and mother living in Keene.