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Family Meetings: Spelling Out House Rules and Obligations

Family meetings are a great way to spell out household rules and the obligations of each family member.

Family Meetings: Spelling Out House Rules and Obligations

Household rules—and the consequences of breaking them—should be spelled out clearly. ( Family meetings may be the ideal time to do this.) Writing them out and posting them will avoid confusion. Some of the topics that usually come up involve shut-down times for the telephone; curfews; car rules; use of loud music after a certain hour or during homework time; and so on.

Consequences for breaking these types of rules are generally best matched to the offense. Breaking a telephone rule might result in no telephone use the following night, for example.

Ask for your teenager's input on all issues discussed at the family meeting—including rules. Your teen may have a perfectly valid reason why he can't fulfill one of your expectations, and working out a solution now will save you both irritation later on.

Taking a Stand

One difficulty about taking a stand is that there is no “teen rule book” you can buy that will tell you how to judge issues of permissions, independence, and control. You'll find lots of advice that suggests a certain level of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, but you'll have to take responsibility for wrestling with yourself regarding what your family rules will be. You'll also have to work out any differences you have with your spouse if you're part of a two-parent household. Who deals with school-related problems? Whose curfew rule holds? Who determines social guidelines? It isn't easy. (But then again, whoever said it would be? If only babies came with notes!)

Parents who are consistent with their rules have an easier time than parents who aren't specific or who are too flexible. (If you've been consistent since your teen was a toddler you'll probably have an easier time now; if you weren't so consistent, it's never too late too start.) If a parent says “no” to a particular sleep-over with questionable circumstances, the teen who is used to consistency will understand it as “no.” The teen whose parents are inconsistent will simply wheedle, assuming that she will eventually get her way.

To further complicate this, the parents who have spent years saying unreasonable no's to reasonable requests may well find that they raise a teenager who sneaks out of the window at night. Kids know when you're saying no just to say no, and when you're saying no to keep them safe.

One of the most challenging and interesting aspects of parenting today is the fact that our generation has not taken an authoritative approach to parenting, and we're raising a generation who is not afraid to ask questions. We have to be prepared to respond to them.

If your teen has a complaint about something, listen to her. You don't have to give in every time, but give her a hearing, and then make a reasonable decision about what to do.

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