My teen is not respecting our family rules

Communication and Discipline   ›   My teen is not respecting our family rules

If you are struggling to enforce family rules with your teen, they might be enjoying too much freedom. It’s important to make sure that they understand your limits, but also that there are consequences for their actions. Here are some things you can do to help.

A child learns boundaries through trial and error. By observing their parents’ reactions, they figure out the limits of what is allowed.


This continues into adolescence; when a young person wants more independence, they will test the limits (again). The developing brain of a teenager makes them want to differentiate themselves from their parents. This is so that they can begin the process of detachment and, so that one day they can become independent. That being said, if they know exactly where the line is, they’ll know when they're crossing it!


If a teenager has too much freedom, they might need to push over the line to feel independent. In this way, it is important as a parent to set strict boundaries and stick to them. That way they know exactly where their parent’s line is, and which limits they can test.


For example, if you tell your teen that they can stay out until 11 p.m., when you really want them to be home by 9 p.m., you risk the time being pushed to midnight.


If you tell your teen that you want them home by 9 p.m., and they want to test the limits, then they will probably only push it to 10 p.m.; instead of midnight. One way or another, teenagers will test some of the limits we set for them in their own, individual, way.


Even though teens need to test the limits, parents can still give consequences so that they realize that crossing boundaries has unpleasant consequences, and through this they will learn to respect the rules.


It's also a good idea to help your teens to reflect and rise above their anger and disrespect: “I understand that you're angry but what you're telling me by insulting me is…” 


If some rules are negotiable and others are not, it needs to be clear.

Choosing a Consequence

An effective consequence is one from which a child learns.


What do you want your child to learn? Does the consequence send a message that is in line with what I want my child to achieve?


The consequence for a behaviour that is unacceptable needs to make sense to your teen, and they need to be able to carry it out. If they stole $10 from you, then cutting their allowance (if applicable), or requiring them to pay you back, makes more sense than grounding them for two weeks.


You need to give yourself time to implement a consequence. Sometimes it will need to be repeated multiple times and it may take a while before a behaviour is modified. It's in your best interest to try the same strategy several times before giving up on it. A consequence rarely causes the desired modification the first time around, especially if the unacceptable behaviour has been present over an extended period.


Parents often want to know EXACTLY what to do, or what consequence to impose for a given behaviour of their child. The truth is, a consequence is good if the parent can implement it and it works, meaning it seems to help the teen learn to respect the rule. A natural consequence (one that is related to the original behaviour) will have a much greater impact on learning. For example: if a teen refuses to respect the time limits put on using the internet at home, we can choose to unplug for a length of time.


This is all to say that parents have every reason to keep a set of rules that they think are the most effective and educational for their children.