Why must we set rules?

Rules to live together

Parents help their teenager to build his/her autonomy and identity. Parents must also ensure the safety of their teenager. Each has rights and obligations. It is so in society, and so it is in families.

Setting boundaries and rules is key for living together. It fosters everyone’s safety. In life, we all have responsibilities AND we know what happens if we don’t follow the rules. In the family, this is decided between parents and teenagers.


Who sets the rules?

It’s the law, or the town regulation.

The law sets the rules on violence, drugs, respect. We need to tell the children about the law. Laws protect young people. For their health, their safety, the law sets the minimal age for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, and curfew.

Parents and children can also set rules together.

How to set rules

Parents and children discuss it together

Negotiating means defining rules together. It’s just like at work. The boss negotiates with the employee, but is still the boss. At home, parents negotiate with their teenager but remain parents: they decide.

One negotiates in order to set the rule or rules, AND to establish how the rule is going to be applied.

How to negotiate:

  • Dialogue: respecting the person who is speaking, speaking one at the time, each speak the same amount of time, using the pronoun I instead of YOU, and not saying words such as ALWAYS or NEVER.


  • Needs: what are each other’s needs? and obligations?
  • Creativity: establish a list of everything that could be done to manage these needs (even the craziest ideas), it can lead to a good solution.
  • Contract: parents and teenager agree on what they want – this is the objective. And agree on how they are going to apply the rule, how they are going to verify – these are the means, the measures.
  • Evaluation: was it good to do things this way? was it useful? Can we congratulate ourselves? Must we change anything?

Be very clear on the sanction 

Parents talk with their teenager regarding the sanctions. Sanction is what happens if the teenager doesn’t follow the rule. The sanction is negotiated, based on the following questions: Is the offence serious or very serious? How old is the teenager? Can the parent carry out the sanction? For example, saying that the sanction is to kick your child out is pointless, unless you really agree on letting the authorities place your child in an institution or in another family. It is possible.

The sanction cannot be decided when the parent is angry. If it happens, parents may apologize, and talk to their teenager.

Write down the decisions. Establish a written contract.

In the contract, one must state that parents must protect their child. It is their responsibility.

In the contract, one must state that the teenager must become independent. It is a need.

Once everyone agrees, the contract must be respected.

The rules are not followed

Talking about what happened

  • Your teenager came home late. You can say “I was worried about you”, or “You could have told us that you wouldn’t manage to be here on time”.
  • You can try to understand why the rule wasn’t followed: you’ll have to sanction, but not without discussing things first.
  • Young people want to discuss and negotiate everything. It’s good, but the “outing contract” was signed. And the contract can’t be reviewed every week.

Trying to manage one’s emotions

  • No exaggerated reactions. One has the right to be angry, but not the right to use physical violence such as slaps or blows… Did you as parent yell at your teenager? Then leave the room, calm down, then talk about things and apologize. Recognise the tone wasn’t adequate. Explain that you reacted emotionally, because you were worried.
  • Your words can hurt. For example, “I’m ashamed of you…”, “You will never become anything”, “It’s bad to disrespect a rule”. But your teenager is not bad.

What sanctions?

For example, your 14-year-old child must go to school tomorrow, but spends part of the night playing on the screen.

  • Sanction based on the rule. The punishment is: less time playing videogames on Saturday or Sunday.
  • Sanction based on the seriousness and on the age. Is it serious or very serious? At 14 or at 16, the punishment is different.
  • Talk about the rule. Your child doesn’t have the right to play videogames during the night. Decide together if the time to close the computer should be changed.

That way, teenagers:

  • will not think it is unfair
  • will understand that they are responsible: THEY didn’t follow the rule
  • will learn that they have a choice: they either follow the rule or they don’t. It impacts their life. For example, the rule states: “If you don’t get home in time, no outing next weekend”. Your son or daughter comes home too late AND already knows he or she won’t be able to go out next weekend.

Don’t punish if the school already did. For example, teenagers can be punished for not doing their homework. Talk with your child about it: why didn’t you do it? How can you better organize your time?