Teens & Rules - Why You Need Principles to Have Effective Rules
Kids not following the rules? You'll never make a mistake establishing and enforcing rules when they are backed up by your principles and values.
There are days that parenting a teenager seems like an endless series of confrontations over enforcing the rules. Our focus is often on maintaining some control. When we feel as if we are losing control, we may add another rule, and then another. We end up with a list of rules, but not necessarily with cooperation. Knowing what your principles are can make it easier to parent and decide on more effective rules. So what are rules and principles, and how are they different?
Rules are all about how we want things done, or not done, in the course of our day. They help establish order, and make things predictable. For example, you may have a rule that says “Don’t leave dishes in the family room or bedroom,” or “Homework must be finished before you go on Facebook.”
Principles are your values. They guide how you live your life. What is on your list of values to live by: respect, cleanliness, positive attitude, honesty, compassion, persistence?
The biggest difference between rules and principles is this: rules change, principles don’t. If we are having a bad day, or our kids are having a bad day, we may change a rule or two. Our principles, our values, do not change. They are the underpinning of our life.
So, the first step is to determine what your values are. What are the guiding principles of your life? This is a great opportunity to have a discussion with your children about what is important to you and to them. You can make separate lists and then see where your principles match up, or brainstorm the list together. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out how much you have in common, and to see that they really do understand some of the things you’ve tried to teach them. As teens, they are often in a state of confusion; however, underneath all that angst, they have taken in more than you realize… you just may not see it for a while!
The next step (not necessarily in the same sitting) is to make a list of the rules you believe are necessary to keep your family and home running smoothly. Why have you chosen these particular rules? Now here is the part that will take some thought – What are the principles or values behind those rules? If it’s about not leaving dishes around the house, that may be because you value cleanliness and don’t want bugs feasting in your living room. If it is about doing homework first, it might be that education is a priority, or that we act responsibly by completing required work first.
Once you are clear about your rules-principles equation, your foundation is set. No, your children will not necessarily buy into it. They are kids, after all, and still may lack the ability to make these higher-thinking connections and to delay gratification; however, it will make parenting and decision-making easier on you.
When you are clear about your principles, you can opt out of the discussions that teens are so good at drawing us into, discussions that go nowhere and leave you frustrated. Or maybe you find yourself giving in, because kids are so good at outlasting us when they really want something. Keep coming back to your principles and end the discussion.
When you are clear about your principles, decision-making is clear, too. You don’t have to wonder if your decision or rule is right for the occasion. If it is aligned with your principles, you’re set!
This is the consistency that both parents and teens need in order to navigate through the days, and through life.