Rules for Your Kids
Contrary to some
parents' fears, strict rules don't alienate kids. Although they may
grumble and act cranky when you lay down the law, in the back of their
minds (and hearts), they know your rules show you care. Rules about
what's acceptable — from obeying curfews to insisting that they call in
to tell you where they are — make children feel loved and secure.
Setting up and
enforcing rules is not easy. Parents tend to avoid setting rules because
they fear confrontation and unpleasantness. But the uncomfortable stuff
isn't necessarily a reflection on your relationship with your child,
it's just the nature of adolescence — breaking rules and pushing limits
is a part of growing up.
When kids break rules,
parents often overreact with harsh, disproportionate and unenforceable
punishment, which undermines the effectiveness of setting rules.
Instead, when you first tell your child about a new rule, discuss the
consequences of breaking that rule — what the punishment will be and how
it will be carried out. Consequences must go hand in hand with limits so
that your child knows what the cost of breaking the rules will be. The
punishments you set should be reasonable and related to the violation.
For example, if you catch your son and his friends smoking, you might
"ground" him by restricting his social activities for two weeks.
Punishments should only
involve penalties you discussed before the rule was broken. Also, never
issue empty threats. It's understandable that you'll be angry when house
rules are broken, and sharing your feelings of anger, disappointment, or
sadness can have a powerfully motivating effect on your child. Since
we're all more inclined to say things we don't mean when we're upset,
it's best to cool off before discussing consequences.
One of the most
effective rules you can make is to insist that your child be in
adult-supervised situations after school. Encourage her to get involved
with youth groups, arts, music, sports, community service and academic
clubs. Research shows that adolescents who are unsupervised after school
are significantly more likely to use drugs. An example of an appropriate
consequence for violating the after-school adult-supervision rule is
loss of an evening's TV time.
Many parents are
surprised to learn that they have an enormous influence on whether their
teens will abuse drugs. Make it clear that you do not ever want your
child to use Marijuana. By emphasizing your no use expectation and
policy, you reduce the likelihood that she will use drugs now or later
in life. Also, it will give her an excuse to fall back on when tempted
to make bad decisions.