Rules and regulations for teens, part 1

I talk with parents all the time who are concerned about what kinds of rules, or punishments, or curfews, or whatever, they should be instituting at home. For the most part, it is parents of older teens who are asking these kinds of questions. I find this highly telling. Parents of younger teens generally feel pretty comfortable with their rule systems. But as teenagers age, the systems loose their relevancy.

I remind these parents that in a short time, perhaps a year or two, these same young people will often be completely on their own. They’ll be living in a dorm or an apartment somewhere, making entirely their own decisions about when they come home and when they wake up and what they eat and whether they study.

In response, parents often give me the eternal wail: “I know, but…!!!” And those “buts” can go on for some time.

Nevertheless, we’re talking 12, 18 months here for Juniors and Seniors in High School. That’s not much time.

So should you just remove all of her rules? Let him fall on his face? Surely that can’t be good parenting.

Ah, but it is. In fact, it’s the best possible kind of parenting an older adolescent can get. Your goal during all of the high school years is to be moving consciously and deliberately towards a senior year with no rules. That means no curfew, no enforced homework hour, no dictates about which parties or which friends. That even means no rules about your teenager not having sex. Your teenager must be allowed to make the kinds of mistakes he or she will inevitably make when you are still nearby to help pick up the pieces.

Can that be scary? Yes. Terrifying? Absolutely.

Does this mean that your house becomes the local party house, with no parental input about drugs, alcohol, or sex? No. Absolutely not.

Tomorrow: How to balance the scales, so the lack of rules for your teenager doesn’t become a lack of respect for you.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. Hooray! I am so glad to see this posting. This is how I tried to raise my child (and it was pretty successful), but I even argued with the father of my child (we were divorced). He wanted me to have a curfew. I felt that a curfew was an arbitrary rule that would negatively impact the flow of information between my child and I. I always knew (or at least I was told) where she was going, who she would be with, generally what was going on and when she planned to come home. If things changed while she was out and her plans changed, she called me. Because she knew the only reason I wanted to know was to ensure her safety as far as possible and reduce my worrying. I remember one time she was due to come home at 1 am, but called to say she was having a great time and wouldn’t be home until 2. I objected because that’s the time the bars close – I didn’t want her on the road at that especially dangerous time. I asked her to come home as planned or stay at her friends house for the entire night. She asked if she could come home as planned and bring the party with her. I said yes. So, a crowd of juniors and seniors in high school arrived at my house in the middle of the night and continued to have their party fun. There was no alcohol (that I know of) and no drug use (that I know of). Some of the kids went outside occasionally to smoke cigarettes. They were quiet enough to allow me to go to bed and go to sleep. They were good kids. Most kids are good kids. Rules are a necessary part of the structure of any home environment, but as the kids get older, more and more responsibility needs to be turned over to the youths themselves. Rules do not make good kids, but they might make good kids feel the need to rebell. It is unlikely that rules will make troubled kids good kids. It is possible that lots of connection and discussion will help troubled kids understand the consequences of their actions BEFORE they take the actions that can hurt them. I love this blog – Dr Rayne – you are doing a great job educating parents about helpful interactions with their kids.

  2. I don’t see the need for a curfew as long as you know where your kid is and who she’s with. My parents were like that, too–they generally expected me to be home by midnight but as long as I called and checked in, they were okay.

  3. […] the primary concern of the teenage years to be rule-free by the time senior year roles around.  On Thursday I wrote about the general outlines of what a no-rules policy means.  On Friday I wrote about […]

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