Setting limits gives teens the opportunity to learn to respect family rules and values. We can set some limits and negotiate others. For example, we can decide to enforce the rule that everyone should pick up after themselves in shared spaces at home, but negotiate the number of family dinners during the week. We can decide to set up the computer in the family room, but negotiate the amount and time that your teen can use it. To negotiate these limits, we can talk to our teen and come to an agreement with them about the limits set, as well as consequences for breaking them. Setting rules together encourages your teen to be more responsible and helps them to develop their independence.
As our teens become more responsible, as they get older and understand the risks related to certain behaviours, we can start renegotiating some limits, although these should still be acceptable to the parents.
Clarifying What can be Negotiated
Making clear what is and isn’t negotiable helps avoid exhausting yourself by constantly negotiating and tempting teens with the idea that everything can be negotiated. It also avoids having to impose every rule without any discussion.
It’s important to set priorities in order to not give the impression that all rules have the same weight. For example, is putting clothes in the laundry hamper as important as respecting their curfew?
If in doubt, you can always give yourself time to think about things before setting rules or giving permission. Teens generally prefer when we answer something like, “let me think about it and I’ll answer you later”, rather than getting an unjustified negative response. As long as you do get back to them with an answer of course!
When Should Rules be Negotiated?
In general, rules are negotiable when the teen’s needs or opinions should be taken into account, and when decision-making about an issue is relevant to their age, as well as to their mental and physical development.
For example, depending on their age and maturity, you may choose to negotiate with your teen whether they can eat in front of the TV from time to time, depending on everybody else’s needs and the conditions for it to work out.
The Importance of Trust
Trust is good for:
- A teen’s self-esteem
- Your relationship with your teen
- Learning about life; showing them that trust is earned, lost, and hard to get back
- Developing your teen’s independence.
Trust is just as beneficial for teens as it is for their parents, because it creates a better atmosphere in the home and recognizes a teen’s values. Its effects can even be unexpectedly profound, like when a teen who has the trust of their parents grows in confidence and wants to show that they can be responsible for things we didn’t think they even thought about. Conversely, doubt and a lack of trust can often damage a relationship; it can taint every interaction and lead to a vicious cycle where the teen might try to prove that we’re right not to trust them!
When to Avoid Negotiating Rules
In contrast, we consider rules non-negotiable when they concern a behavior in conflict with family or societal values, or when they target behaviours that compromise a teen’s safety.
For example, you can refuse to allow your teen to go out to bars at 16 because it’s illegal. When you set a rule as non-negotiable, it’s important to clearly explain your values so that the reasons for establishing it are clear.
A ‘no’ based on clearly defined parental values is more easily accepted and understood than a ‘no’ without explanation.
If these values inform your decisions on what is and is not negotiable, keep in mind that each family sets its own limits according to their own values and history. In this way, nothing is truly set in stone, and a negotiable rule can become non-negotiable depending on a teen’s development, or depending on how family values change.