How To Set Rules For Teenagers

Q: I have a 14 year old son and we argue a lot about chores and house rules. Do you have any tips on how I can improve our communication?

A: Adolescents are moving towards independence, more interested in peer relationships and going through many physical, cognitive and hormonal changes. As your child transitions into adulthood, how you two communicate is going to change and this transition can be frustrating for both of you. Your teen may be more defiant and complain of you interfering with their independence. This is difficult for parents who just want their teen to be safe and responsible.

When discussing rules there are two main types non-negotiable rules and negotiable rules. Non-negotiable rules have to do with safety and health, for example never drive drunk. Negotiable rules on the other hand may be about chores, curfew and clothes.

Here are some tips on improving communication with your teen. Listen actively and paraphrase what your teen has said. This let’s them know you understand their position and care about their opinion. It’s ok to disagree. It doesn’t mean someone is necessarily wrong and it’s healthy for your teen to assert their independence. If it’s a non-negotiable, like going on an unsupervised camping trip, then express respect for the teens thoughts and feeling, but stand firm on your position. When discussing negotiable rules, explore alternatives and what the outcomes of each would be. If your teen doesn’t want to do their laundry, then who is going to do it and if it’s not you, how will they have clean clothes?

Once an agreement has been made, make sure the expectations are clear: who, what, when, where, and how. Say you agree with your teen they need to do their own laundry, decide specifically how and when it’s going to happen. When your teen gets more responsibility, it should coincide with more freedom and vice versa. Maybe your teen gets an increase in allowance or extension on curfew. It’s part of your teen’s development to balance responsibility with independence.

Here are some roadblocks to effective communication:

  • Wanting your teen to have the same priorities as you
  • Criticizing, teasing, judging or belittling your teen
  • Preaching or using clichés
  • Long lectures
  • Telling your teen their feelings are wrong and they shouldn’t feel that way

Remember to pick your battles (there will be plenty to choose from), if it’s not a big deal, try to let it go. Whenever you’re having a conversation with your teen, the most important message to get across is that you care for and respect their ideas, even if you don’t agree.


So-Mai Brown, M.A.

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