Setting Better Boundaries
Planning for Better Family Rules and Structure
SETTING BETTER LIMITS
Limits and rules are necessary to create order and productivity, the lack of which create chaos and confusion. Rules provide the basis for understanding what is expected, whether in the workplace, classroom, community or family. If a classroom had no rules, very little learning would occur. If a community operated without rules it would cease to be a safe place to live. Likewise, if harmony is to be maintained within the family, there must be a proper set of family rules, understandings or expectations that are based on your family values.
If your teen is usually compliant and responsible, you will probably only need a few rules. However, if you are dealing with a difficult or defiant teen, you may already recognize the need for more discipline and clearly defined structure.
When setting rules, you first establish the basic core rules which must be abided, then support these core rules by establishing several preventative rules. Here's an example:
If you have a core rule that states: "You may not use drugs" then you will want to set some preventative rules such as those concering:
It's foolish to think that your teen may hang out at bad places or associate with defiant and/or drug using peers, yet still remain drug-free.
If good grades are a family requirement, then proper attendance, daily homework completion, and obtaining weekly progress reports are good supportive(preventative) measures. You don't want to wait until the end of the semester to find out your teen has been doing poorly. Set rules and habits that support and maximize good grades along the way and this will greatly enhance your child's chances for success.
Preventative/supportive rules help your teen begin to moderate their own behavior and to better realize their successes with a step by step method. Conflict over these rules may be inevitable. However, the consistent addressing and resolution of conflict over these smaller preventive issues like homework, dress, grooming and curfew, will be your best measures to avoid conflict over large devastating issues like teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and failing grades.
REMEMBER, IF YOU CONTINUE TO DO WHAT YOU ALWAYS DID, YOU ARE ALWAYS GOING TO GET WHAT YOU ALWAYS GOT!
COMPLIANCE WITH RULES/LIMITS
Once you have established your set of rules, compliance with the rules will depend on four things:
If any of these four things are not in place, it will drastically affect success. In the next sections, we will address each of these in detail.
CLARIFYING THE RULES
If your rules are not clearly understood, it leaves a lot of room for misunderstandings, conflicts and even manipulations. Many times parents assume that their teen understands the rules the same way they are intended. For example, if you tell your teen to clean their room, their idea of a "clean room" and yours may be miles apart. If you tell them to go to bed when a T.V. program is over, they may think that means anytime after the program versus immediately after. For these reasons, rules need to be very specific. To avoid misunderstanding, it is a good policy to have your teen write down or repeat back their understanding of any rule or expectation.
MONITORING TO SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION
Monitoring is essential in the administration of any rules. Imagine for instance, if our highways were not monitored by law enforcement. What if a business did not monitor production and quality? As parents, we must provide a safety net for our children by monitoring their behavior and successful completion of chores. How much we have to monitor depends on the amount necessary for success. Some teens require little and some require extensive monitoring. Let your teen know that you will be monitoring their behavior. This will keep them from being offended when they notice it and give them added incentive to follow the rules.
Monitoring may occur in many ways. For instance, in regard to academics, most schools will assist you in providing daily or weekly reports, or you may choose to occasionally drop into your child's classroom which lets them know just how far you are willing to go to see them through successfully. Random drug tests can assure compliance and sobriety. Use of a vehicle may be monitored through odometer checks. You may also "cross-check" with other parents on compliance with curfews and confirmation of activities performed. You may even want to drive by a designated activity just to check.
The hardest, yet most important thing parents can do is to be consistent. A rule, or understanding, that is not enforced can be the same as having no rule at all and can undermine the well being of a family. In order for our teens to feel safe, they need to know they can count on us to be consistent and dependable. If a violation occurs, we need to consistently enforce the PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED consequence. A difficult teen will test the boundaries at every chance to see what their true limits will be. That makes consistency so essential.
Letting small things slide until they become large things will create chaos, confusion and resentment. While most of us do this from time to time, it is very ineffective parenting. Consistency is the key. Follow through on what you said you would do.
Sporadic enforcement does NOT work.Only those parents CONSISTENTLY ENFORCING their rules will have their rules followed.
CONSEQUENCES AND DETERRENTS
Consequences should vary depending on the violation as well as the teen's response to the consequence. Some teens may respond to the loss of a privilege to go out, while others may not be bothered at all. The key is: (1) to use consequences with significant meaning to your child. (2) the severity of the consequences should match the severity of the violation
Research has shown that immediate consequences are the most effective. However, some behaviors are so severe that an immediate consequence would not be strong enough by itself. That is why a combination of immediate consequences with some follow-up consequences is often needed. Immediate consequences might include such things as writing essays, time-out, room restriction, or a work project.
"Immediate consequences" are defined as those administered on the spot and instituted before the teen resumes any normal activity.
"Follow-up consequences" are those applied over a period of time such as loss of driving privileges, book reports, a major(long term) work project, being grounded, additional household chores, or loss of a planned upcoming activity. Again, a follow-up consequence is sometimes needed to provide an additional deterrent.
Consequences used must be strong enough to be an effective deterrent. Otherwise, not only will consequences be ineffective, they will most likely be ignored.
WARNING ! Some teens will not respond, no matter what consequences are used. Other teens defiantly refuse to comply with their consequences. In either of these cases, the family/house rules are inoperable. You will then have little recourse other than getting outside help.
If you feel like you are in this situation, please feel free to contact a Teen Help counselor, by Email or by calling 1-800-637-0701 and telling them you were referrred by the TeenPaths.org site.