Enforcing the Rules Leads to Better Behavior (There’s more to it than that!)

This morning I came across a brief report of research done by psychologists on helping parents set limits with their adolescent children.  The headline was that kids whose parents enforce rules are less likely to get in trouble or use alcohol outside the home.  My initial response was, “Duh, of course parents who can enforce rules have kids who get into less trouble.”  All parents know that it’s a good thing to have rules and limits for their kids, but for some the issue is very difficult. What about the parents who have great difficulty enforcing rules?

The Talking Makes the Difference

A closer look at the abstract showed me that the researchers know that good parenting is more than having rules and telling teenagers to follow them.  In the study one group of parents was taught to talk to their children about drugs, alcohol and sex.  They were also told to enforce a curfew.  The results showed that the group with this training had less family conflict, their kids used drugs and alcohol less, and they got into less trouble.

I think that the critical piece of the training was helping parents talk to their teens about difficult topics.  In my experience when families come to me with kids who don’t pay attention to basic rules like curfew, no one is listening to anyone else at home.  There might be a lot of lecturing or yelling and slamming of doors, but very little listening.

Listen, Show Respect and Expect Respect

The first step is always to help parents lower the emotional temperature enough that they can listen and speak respectfully to their kids and ask their kids to do the same.  This is not easy.  It takes commitment and a belief that good things will come of a process that takes time.

Listening to teens is not the same as giving in.  It means hearing the teens and answering their questions.  However, the answer might still be, “I want you to be in by 9 on school nights.”

Now You Can Talk About the Hard Stuff

Once people are treating each other with respect and listening, they can begin to address the very scary topics that come up in adolescence:  drugs, alcohol and sex.  Kids don’t want parents to know this, but they do value what their parents say.  It is always a good idea to take the time to have a talk about these issues.  Talk facts and values, not hysteria.

Good luck improving your relationship with your teen so that you can help him or her deal with the scary stuff.  Believe it or not, but they are scared too.  You can help.


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Photo credit:  Chloe Chaplin on Flickr

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