I don’t know which is worse: being a teenager or having one.
Teenagers are at a point in their lives where they are only beginning to mature. They want more responsibility, but still need boundaries and guidelines, especially because many teens feel invulnerable.
The number one rule when it comes to teenagers is to never argue. The minute you argue, you lose because you put yourself on their level and they know it.
In addition, parents should set clear and sensible rules in advance. Sit down with your teen and discuss the rules and consequences together. Don’t make empty threats, and be consistent. If you are enforcing a consequence, be very clear about why it is taking place. For example, “Because you didn’t ___, you will have to___, which we previously discussed.”
Here are some areas in which parents absolutely need to establish rules with their teens:
- Driving. Car accidents are the number one killer of teens. Some rules that keep teens safer in the car include spending more time driving with parents, limiting passengers, eliminating distractions such as music, food, and cell phones, and being required to pay for gas, insurance, and any tickets received. If your teenager breaches the rules, the car is gone. It’s a one-strike policy because this is a matter of life and death.
- Use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Teens are less likely to use drugs, alcohol, or tobacco if their parents set clear rules about what will happen if they do and explain why they shouldn’t. They may not agree with you, but it doesn’t matter. They will eventually be teaching their kids the same thing.
- Dating. Discuss when they can start dating and under what conditions. Teenagers should only go on group dates until they are 17, especially because of how sexualized things have become these days. I remember the first time I was allowed to be alone in a car with a guy. He had to convince my dad, and then my dad went outside and looked at his car. He had a very small sports car with a stick shift, bucket seats, and no backseat. Unless we were contortionists, there was no possible way for us to fool around in that car. So my dad came back in, laughed, and said, “OK.”
- Computers, TV, books, magazines, and music. Decide on what is allowed and when. Keep the computer in a public place and restrict access to times when everyone is there to avoid the dangers of inappropriate websites and online predators.
- Friends. Peer acceptance is a very strong influence on teens. You have to know what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. If I wanted to go to a party when I was a teenager, my parents always called my friend’s parents first.
- Where they spend their free time. Have kids check in when they are away from home or school, and have a signal if your teen needs to be picked up from a bad situation.
- Curfews. Set a curfew, but be willing to negotiate for special circumstances.
Consequences for breaking the rules should generally not be longer than three weeks. And if you punish your teen, don’t just take away their cell phone (that punishment always makes me laugh because they know they’re just going to get it back). Have them do community service or something else concrete so that they are out of the house actively participating in something. Canceling activities or not allowing friends to come over are also good consequences.