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As teens grow up, one of the ways they start asserting their independence is by testing boundaries and seeing how people react. Which means there need to be some boundaries (or rules) for them to test! The teen years bring so many changes – emotional and physical – that having a sense of what’s expected of them can actually help them feel more secure. They may not act like it, but your teen still needs you!

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Tips for setting rules with your teen

Tip #1: Talk things through with your partner first

If you share parenting, it’s a good idea to agree on some rules and boundaries between yourselves first. Depending on your partner’s upbringing and experiences, they may have different ideas to you about what’s okay and what’s not. So it’s a good idea to agree the basics with them first, so when you start negotiating with your teen, you can present a united front.

If you and your teen’s other parent are not together, this is something you might want to consider as part of your Parenting Plan, if you have one. Our page on shared parenting has more advice on this.

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Tip #2: Agree on rules and plans together with your teen

Teen talking to her mother

Try not to be over-protective and controlling when setting rules or agreeing on what your teen can do – they'll only resent it. Instead, work together to come up with rules and plans you can both agree on. If your teen feels more in control of the process, they won’t feel so resentful about having to stick to the rules. 

You might want to talk about things like:

  • screen time and internet usage
  • where they can go and what time they need to be back
  • family time
  • how family members behave towards each other (for example, no name-calling, respecting each other’s privacy, etc)
  • how you’d like them to keep in touch when they’re out
  • school work
  • chores.
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Tip #3: Explain your reasoning

If your teen understands why certain rules are in place, this will help them understand why they should stick to them. For example, you could ask them to text you when they’re on their way home because this will stop you worrying about them all evening.

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Tip #4: Talk about what really matters to you

Talking about what is most important to them and to you as parents will really help here. Be prepared to listen to what they have to say and to take it seriously. For example, if you know that the most important thing to your teen is spending time with their friends and not feeling left out, and they know the most important thing to you is that they’re safe, you can work out how they can see their friends and still stay safe. This will help your teen take more responsibility for their own safety.

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Tip #5: Be prepared to negotiate and compromise

Setting rules together will need a bit of give and take on both sides. For example, you might agree that they can go to a party if they promise not to drink, or can stay out later than usual as long as they call you. If you show that you can listen to them, respect their opinions and trust them, chances are they’ll be less likely to break that trust.

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Tip #6: Think about the consequences for breaking the rules

You might also want to think about what the consequences would be if they broke the rules, so your teen knows what to expect. And make sure you’re consistent in this.

Deciding on consequences is tricky and will of course vary from family to family. You may decide to stop them from doing something they want to do (like going out or online gaming), or refuse to do something for them (like give them a lift or give them money).

But it may help if you relate the consequence to the rule. For example, if they stay out too late one night, they’ll have to come home early the next.

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Tip #7: Don't overreact to bad behaviour

If your teen is breaking the rules and behaving angrily, aggressively or hurtfully, it can be so tempting to argue and shout back. But if they can see that they’re pushing your buttons, this makes them feel as if bad behaviour is a way to get your attention and get their own way. Instead, say something like ‘I can see you’re upset so let’s talk about this when you’ve calmed down’. Later on you can then discuss the consequences of their behaviour with them.

Our page on dealing with conflict with your teen has more tips for coping with aggressive behaviour.

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Tip #8: Don't forget to praise them

If your teen is sticking to the rules (more or less), let them know how pleased and proud you are.

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Tip #9: Keep reviewing the rules

Remember the rules need to adapt as your teen grows up. The more responsibly they behave, the more you could relax the rules, to show you trust them.

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Tip #10: Give them plenty of attention

Teen boy and dad chatting and laughing together

Teens sometimes act up and break the rules because they’re looking for attention. They want you to see that they’re changing and becoming more independent. By spending time with them regularly, showing an interest in the things they like and respecting their opinions (even if you don’t agree with them) you’ll help them feel more ‘seen’ and grown up.

Even if they shrug off your attempts to chat or to praise them, hang in there – even if they don’t show it, they’ll realise that you’re there for them and appreciate them.

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Tip #11: Be consistent

If your teen is refusing to stick to the family rules, it’s important to try to be firm and not let them get away with bad behaviour to avoid an argument. But it’s also important to be consistent in showing them the love, respect and support you’d like to see reflected back.

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My teen feels out of control - what can I do?

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, how many rules and consequences we put in place and however reasonable and supportive we are, it can feel as if our child’s behaviour has got out of control. Stroppiness, arguing, defiance and mood swings are pretty normal for teenagers. But things like habitually lying, stealing, getting into trouble with the police, problem alcohol or drug use and violence are not, and need to be addressed.

Our page on getting help and support raising a teen can guide you to organisations that can help, including your GP, helplines or a counsellor.

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