Rules and regulations for teens, part 2

Yesterday I wrote that a main premise of the High School years should be to remove all parental rules by senior year.

Now, no one confronted me on this, as I rather expected them to, telling me it was a horrible idea. But it may have been the promise of today’s post that staved off the tirade!

There are two things about a no-rule situation for older teenagers:

  1. It is combined with a two-way respect policy. You replace rules with mutual respect. (And remember, you do this slowly over the course of high school – it’s not a sudden thing the summer before senior year.)
  2. Parent-teen conversations do not stop happening. You role has become that of adviser and supporter rather than organizer.

Today I will talk about the first of these two, and on Monday I’ll talk about the second.

Dorian mentioned in her comment yesterday about her daughter calling home (so her mother wouldn’t worry) and saying she wanted to stay out an hour longer than she had originally said – until 2am rather than 1am. Dorian mentioned the fact that the bars close at 2am, and there are many dangerous drivers on the road at that point, and asked that her daughter find a place to be for the night and just stay there – where ever there might be. So Dorian’s daughter brought her friends that she was hanging out with home. Everyone was off the roads by 2am, when the bar closed.

What happened here is that everyone felt safe and respected and like they made good choices. The daughter respected her mother’s time and worry, and so called when plans changed. The mother respected her daughter’s choice to be with friends, but acted as an adviser, and presented a good, safety-related reason for the daughter to make a different choice in her plans for the evening.

Now, remember, this kind of relationship can’t happen over night. Responsibility and mutual respect must be built over years of slowly removing parental regulation. Here are some areas where parental control can be removed over the first three years of high school:

  • bed time
  • homework
  • dating
  • who their friends are
  • extra-curricular activities

Now, it will probably take you some biting your tongue and sitting on your hands when you first start giving over control to your teenager. They’ll go to bed too late and be tired the next day. They’ll miss some homework assignments and get a lower grade in a class. They’ll date someone you don’t like. They’ll be friends with someone who will take advantage of their friendship. They’ll stop taking piano or playing basketball, when you thought that was an important part of their lives.

But these are all mistakes that we all have to make ourselves in order to understand them. It’s no good your mother telling you that you’ll be tired the next day if you aren’t asleep by 10pm. You actually have to experience it. And most of us have days when we decide that it’s worth being tired the next day in order to do whatever it is we’re doing the night before. Learning that balance of enough sleep in high school is far better than learning it when most people do: in college.

And here is what so much of this comes down to: these mistakes are easier to correct and actions have lesser repercussions when a young person is in high school. And you, their parent, are still there to listen and to watch, and then to advise. We’ll talk more about that part of this crazy no-rules theory on Monday in part 3.

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. Maybe nobody was outraged at your post because your method makes sense! I think 95% of the outrageously stupid behavior that goes on at college campuses, especially among freshmen, would be ameliorated if they learned how to act like adults before leaving home. And yes, some people have to learn some things the hard way. That’s just how it goes.

  2. I am totally in agreement with your perspective. If teenagers know the buck stops with them, they will think a lot harder about their choice of behavior. I think parents who are still controlling everything might become their excuse for doing risky things; they know there’s a safety net. Plus it’s so fun to rebel. Granted, my adolescence was a long, long time ago, but my mother never knew what I was doing my senior year. I was essentially an adult. I had a car, had no curfew, and made all my own decisions. I made some mistakes, but I was pretty careful too. The following year I moved 3 hours away, rented my own apartment and got a job. I didn’t need to “go crazy” with my freedom.

  3. I agree that parents shouldn’t “baby” their kids untill they suddenly drop them off, all on their own, at some colleges campus and then leave when they’re 17 or 18 years old. I agree that older teens will rebel more against parents who don’t allow them some freedom. And I REALLY agree that letting them experience the consequences of their own good and bad choices is not only appropriate, but a God-send, at this age. But I don’t personally agree with talking to my teenager about sex and telling them it might be less stressful for them if they just go ahead and do it… I am a Christian and so I will teach my teens abstinance. Now whether they choose to obey God’s commandments about not awakening love before it’s time is up to them, just like it was my own choice too. I of course wish I could spare my teens the pains I had from making the same wrong choices I did over certain things, but of course I know that I cannot. I cover them in prayer and support them without babying them. I think this is the best way. My few rules I do have for my teens are, the doors lock at 12pm so if your out later you will need to find someplace to stay, and tell me where your gonna be at if you can at least by morning if not night, so I won’t worry, buy your own stuff that you need and want, buy your own snacks foods beyond basics and if they are on my insurance they will have to pay the increase on it or get taken off of it if they get a speeding ticket or into an accident and that increases our rates. Of course, if they could not afford their own insurance then, then I would certainly not allow them to drive a car uninsured. If it comes to them breaking the law, and they will not be resonable, they know I will call our pastor to talk to them, and then the police if necessary.

    They are older teens but they are not full-on adults yet, much of them is still very childish, especially their tendancies to take risks. You know Dr., the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome….

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