Negotiating Rules and Making Contracts with Teens

Is your teen breaking all the rules? Then you may want to consider writing a contract with your teen.

Setting limits for teens can be a tricky business. After all, a teenager is on the verge of adulthood and preparing for life on his own, and that means a teen may not be too interested in pleasing his parents. Still studies tell us, time and time again, that teens need and want limits because they aren’t yet fully capable of making good decisions in every aspect of their lives.

If you and your teen are having difficulty with a few ground rules, then it may be time to sit down together to negotiate limits and expectations. You may even want to lay these rules out on paper in the form of a contract. Pediatrician Dr. Kathryn Leonard says “many families with teenagers find it useful to sit down and draw up a contract with their teenagers. The contract should include really basic and important rules to provide for the safety of the teenager and the well being of the family and it should state clear consequences for any broken rules.”

Pat Roberto with Covenant House elaborates on how to draw up a contract between a parent and teen. “If I’m negotiating or contracting with a teen in a parenting role, we’re going look at what’s involved with our relationship, with our living situation. It’s, ‘Yes, I as a parent have to provide for you, and I want to do that, however, you have to have certain responsibilities as well. Your responsibility may be just cleaning your room every day, and making your bed, and that’s a fair balance, because that’s all I’m asking of you.’ And so, it’s the parents, and the kid sitting down together, and saying, ‘What do we need from each other.’”

If the contract you and your teen have produced falls apart, then Roberto suggest having a heart to heart with your teen. “The first step to take as a parent is to sit down with the kid, and say, ‘I have a feeling here that you don’t seem to be happy, that things don’t seem to be working out. I’m here sitting with you because I love you, and I know that you’re not happy, so trust me, I’m your mother, I’m your father, work with me on this.’ And not just, ‘Smarten up.’”

Rules help keep our children safe. Negotiating those rules shows respect for our teens and helps them learn about making decisions on their own. The discussions we have with them can teach our teens a lot about looking ahead at the consequences of their actions and how to make good decisions. And it tells them not only that we value their opinions, but that we’re still their parents and we love them enough to have rules and expectations that help keep them safe.


Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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