Setting Rules for Teenagers: 7 Vital Tips to Keep Teens Safe and Parents Sane

It’s a fact that just like children, teens are wired biochemically to seek out new rewarding experiences. This is necessary as they enter a new phase of exploration, learning and development.

The big difference however between children and teens is that teens have a massively increased sensitivity to reward and massively diminished ability to assess risk and control their impulses.

A 30- year old adult would have a level of reward sensitivity and impulse control sufficient to stop them from driving a car at 90 miles an hour in a suburban street.

At the age of 30 it would also be sufficient to prevent them from posing nude in a selfie.

In both cases, a 30- year old would think through the consequences, weigh up the risk versus reward and decide that it wasn’t worth it.

A teen however, doesn’t have the same ability to consider the consequences associated with the risk and come to a sensible conclusion.

To a teen, the reward associated with driving a car fast or received from the approval of their hot body, far outweighs any potential negatives, so they do it.

This is why teens need adults to help protect them from themselves.

The role of the adult here is to be the risk-control module that temporarily provides the impulse control until the adolescent’s brain is developed enough to do it on its own.

This risk- control module is called setting (and enforcing) boundaries.

As parents, we cannot change the chemical wiring that’s causing our teens to test those boundaries but we can hold firm when those boundaries are being tested, or stretch them only when our teen shows a capacity to manage the increased freedom.

This report is designed to help parents set and reinforce boundaries by providing 7 valuable insights into parenting rules for teens including the 7 key areas of a teenager’s life that require rule setting and enforcement, vital for both the wellbeing of teens and the sanity of parents.


1. Establishing rules for teenagers

Rules, boundaries, laws, call them what you like, they all have elements in common in order to be effective.

They’re clear, they state what’s not allowed, they outline any exceptions and they indicate the consequences of not observing them.

For example, a rule about speed limits tells us that if our speed is greater than the limit set then we may be fined.

The only exception to this rule might include emergency vehicles with a siren.

The enforcement of road rules is critical, otherwise if it was generally known that speed limits were not enforced, people would ignore them.

Another important thing about a rule is that the person it affects must know about it before they do something that involves the rule.

Rules that are made up on the fly or that are applied retrospectively are unfair and unreasonable.

Rules that are considered unreasonable are more likely to be broken, even if they are known in advance.

This is why it’s important to explain the rules, even giving reasons for their existence. This may not lead to a rule being liked but if the reasoning is understood, there is a greater chance of it being respected.


2. There is no one size fits all when it comes to rules

A teenager is a moving target. The things they will want to do will change over time and the rules will need to take into account how well previous versions of the rules have been complied with.

A 17-year-old will expect different rules from a 12-year-old and if you’ve done your job right, then they should get them.

There is no definitive set of rules for all teenagers. But it’s important to remember that the teenage brain is an adult brain under construction.

This means that the rules you set will have a significant part to play not only in keeping them safe but how she/ he will interact with the world as an adult.

There is a wide spectrum of rules you can apply during the teenage years.

For example, you could insist that your teenager work 12 hours a day cleaning your house then, like Cinderella go to bed without supper if they missed a spot.

Or you could let them do whatever they liked while you give them free food and board.

Each rule system will provide a very specific type of adult, and you may not like either of them.

Every family will have different ideas about where to set their limits in each of 7 key categories (to be highlighted later) and what the consequences will be for breaching those limits.

3. The importance of consequences

An absolutely vital aspect of any set of rules is that there must be consequences. No consequences, no rules.

The consequences may vary according to the nature of the breach. If it’s too harsh, then the child may believe that you are irrational and increase their incentive to be more devious in an attempt to not get caught next time.