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A few posts ago I shared some Heidvice for parents of young children. I’ve been asked by many parents for some suggestions for older kids and teenagers. Or, for the child that loves writing so much that she was asking her mum what she had to do to get the writing task (thanks for sharing that one Julie!)

According to Morris Massey, when kids are 8-13 they are in the modelling phase of growth and 14-21 the socialisation phase. In both of these development stages kids are learning responsibility and personal boundaries. The following parenting technique is great for kids who have the ability to know right from wrong and think about their consequences – with their parents help of course. We know from brain research that the pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until the age of 19-21 and this part of the brain is responsible for judgement and decisions. Off the cuff a teenager or tween is making a decision based on right here and right now. However, with guidance (and after all, guidance is what a parent gives) they can and will be more conscious in their thinking abilities.

This task is very useful in teaching a few things:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Accountability
  3. Trust – your trust of your child and probably more importantly, their trust in themselves.

The word I will again emphasize is Consistency. No matter how young or old a person is, if there is no consistency, then there are no rules. If you choose something, stick to it. This is a consequence and punishment task for kids 10-18 years old that they have a direct voice in. In fact, this is a contract that the parents and the teen make together – with the responsibilities and consequences/punishments.

 Stephen Glenn, the author of How to Raise Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World suggests three criteria for any consequence or punishment: related, respectful and reasonable.

Related –  Related simply means related to the behaviour. If a child violates curfew, making him stay late at school or mow the lawn is not related. The temporary loss of the privilege of going out is related.

Respectful – We need to avoid two things here: The first is humiliating the teen-ager; the second is inconveniencing the adult. Whatever the punishment, it needs to be easy to administer, otherwise it will never be followed-thru.

Reasonable – “You are grounded for life and will never see the light of day again” is unreasonable. `”Your behaviour and choices have caused you to lose the privilege of going out tomorrow night” is reasonable.

In addition to the 3 R’s, another author has added 3 S’s: swift, strong and short-term

Swift –  Adults and teen-agers differ in their perception of time. As adults, if we are told a project is due in two months, we know we need to get moving yesterday. For many teens, two months equals eternity, which equals no motivation. If the punishment is that the teen can’t go to a school event in two months time, it won’t be very effective.

Strong – “Honey, I really wish you wouldn’t come in so many hours after your curfew” is not strong. Losing the privilege of going out on the very next opportunity is strong.

Short-Term – For most teen-agers, anything lasting longer than a few days or weeks (as long as the consequence is strong and swift) becomes ineffective. Anything longer breeds resentment, contempt and revenge, and negates any lessons about life that might have been taught.

OK – let’s look at contracts. From an NLP Perspective, we are looking at what the Desired State is from both the parent and teen’s perspective, and then working together to work out what happens if the contract is not upheld by the teen. We could also look at rewards, but rewards are not always a part of real life. In the real world if I have a job, to keep my job I have to do what is expected of me. If I don’t do what is expected of me I don’t keep my job. This isn’t a pro-quid-quo exercise.

What is a parent-teen contract?

Simply put, it is a contract of expected responsibilities and behaviours that have consequences if the expectations are not met. A contract like this takes some of the emotion out of raising a teenager, and it holds the teen accountable for their actions. This is a written contract that is signed by all parents and the teen. Coming back to the job comparison, you can think of a parent-teen contract kind of like a job description. Now everyone knows what is expected and what the consequence is for not meeting those expectations.

Some things within a contract might include:

  • Curfew
  • School grades
  • Doing homework
  • Helping without attitude
  • Chores
  • Computer use
  • Car use
  • Showing respect to others

If there is a specific area you want to help your child learn, you can include it in the contract: reading for a certain amount of time, controlling anger, speaking in a quiet voice.

Each area should identify the expected behaviour (desired state) and potential outcome. For example:

  • John will complete his daily homework before using the computer or socializing with friend, without being asked. He will show his parents his completed homework before socializing.  

Consequence: John will not be allowed any computer, ipod, mobile phone, TV or socializing privileges for two consecutive nights.

  • John will maintain a “B” average in school.

Consequence: Computer game privilege will be revoked until grades reach the agreed B average.

  • John will help the family with reasonable tasks when asked, without complaint or negative attitude.

Consequence: John will lose socializing privileges for the weekend.

Post It

After the contract is written, approved by all parents and teenagers together, and signed by everyone,  it should be posted in a prominent place, such as a bulletin board in the kitchen or on the teenager’s bedroom door. If everyone has agreed to the terms, it’s a great idea to keep the document handy for reference.

Every 3-4 months, have a quick parent-teen meeting to see if the things on the contract are still relevant – expectations and consequences. Kids change their mind, a computer game that used to be important to them might not be as important or as motivation to keep as it once was. As your kids grow, so does the contract. New rules, new contract, new signature.

One word of caution: kids will push to see how far you’ll go. If they know that you try different parenting techniques for a few weeks and then forget about them, then they will forget about it too. Consistency. Keep it up. If you are strong with it, then they will be growing wiser as they grow up.  Actually, you’ll also grow wiser too…