Setting effective rules for teens

Dr Asha Pemberton, consultant paediatrician and adolescent health specialist.  -
Dr Asha Pemberton, consultant paediatrician and adolescent health specialist. -


FOR PARENTS, the following may differ from their lived experiences, but teens actually do want their parents to establish and enforce boundaries. Young people are aware that parents and carers are required to help them regulate themselves. Although there is a tension between their yearning for freedom and needing limits, teenagers will generally recognise that the latter is required.

The key to successful parenting of teens lies within the manner in which parents create the rules and how they manage young people’s reactions to them.

Through their transition to adulthood, teenagers will crave more and more control over their decisions and lives. When we consider that a functioning adult has total control over themselves and has the ability to manage this control in a healthy and productive way, it makes sense that this process begins in adolescence. To this end, rule-setting must involve the young person.

Teens should be engaged with their parents when rules are created and be allowed to voice their opinion. Even if they wildly differ from that of their parents, they need to be involved. Rules that young people do not understand often lead to rebellion. Listening to young people does not mean entirely following what they suggest, but instead encourages communication, compromise and consistent application of agreements.

In order to set effective rules, parents must be involved in their young people’s lives and be aware of their social environment. With the rapid changes in social media, gaming and communication platforms, it is difficult to keep apace. But parents are still required to do so.

When parents are unaware of who their teens are chatting with, the places they go and their interests, they remain too far removed to set any effective boundaries.

Young people also respect rules around safety. Although they generally believe that harm will never befall them, parents are more likely to get buy-in from youth when the emphasis is on safety and security and not withholding joy or experiences.

Young people in general are also very societally minded. Rules and boundaries which respect the diversity of other teenagers and support inclusion are generally well respected. Parents are critical to the value systems of young people and, as such, rules that revolve around honesty, respect, inclusion and empathy not only teach young people these domains, but help connect them to aspiring for even better for themselves.

The natural tendency of parents is to resist change while that of teens is to force it. The middle ground is achieved when parents adopt realistic expectations and expect that young people will see the world through a different lens. While young people need to also accept that their parents simply grew up in different times.

While all of these concepts may seem reasonable enough in writing, there need to be intention and consistency in application. Rule-setting for teens must begin with communication with teens.

For parents who feel as if they are at their wits’ end, start today by making active measures to communicate more freely and openly with your young people. For those who already have a good rapport, seek to engage more deeply this weekend and beyond to conceptualise ways in which rules can be set and enforced with a spirit of acceptance, growth and positivity.


"Setting effective rules for teens"

More in this section