Rules and regulations for teens, part 3

Happy Monday, folks!  I had a lovely weekend, and hope everyone else did too.  Last week, I wrote about 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 two-way respect, and how you’ve got to have it for a no-rules policy to work.  Today I want to talk about how parental guidance and influence happens in a no-rules situation.

First, realize that having a no-rules policy does not in any way imply a no-conversation policy.  You’re sharing a house, you need to talk – both about logistics and about your lives.  That’s what people who are in all kinds of relationships (friends, parent/child, family, etc.) do.

Second, realize that your children have already internalized and can speak very clearly to all of your values by the time they are teenagers.  So there’s very little need or usefulness in repeating or further reinforcing your values to your teenager.  It will only drive them away because they already know what your values are.  Now it’s your turn to listen and to hear your teenager’s process of finding his or her values (and sometimes there will be missteps in this process, but they will generally right themselves back onto a good path without you telling them to).

So you will listen to your teenager rather than telling your teenager what rules and regulations to follow.  You will ask him or her questions, encouraging critical thinking about social dynamics, life choices, and plans for the evening.  And then you’ll hear your teenager’s final decision.  This process actually works really, really well.  Often you have good points, and if you present them well within the context of a question, they will make an impact on your teenager.  Think a gentle version of the Socratic Method.  My Top Ten list for how to talk with teenagers about sex (or most other difficult issues) may also help.

But remember:  Your teenager will make mistakes.  Get used to the idea.  And then acknowledge that the teenage years are often a much easier time to make mistakes than young adulthood.  And remember that there are almost no missteps or mistakes that cannot be put right.  And you will be there, ready to support and help put right the mistakes your teenager makes – so she or he will not have to figure out how to put things right on their own, after they have already left home.  Showing your teenager how to make things right after a wrong is a major life lesson.  And it is a lesson that cannot be learned until mistakes and wrongs are made.

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. Love the post! I totally agree! I half-jokingly mock my more strict friends but you can’t know what they are going to do until they do something. Plus, you have spent your whole life with this kid, are you really that scared that if given an bit of freedom your kids will totally abandon everything you’ve taught them?

  2. […] One Question Rule Several weeks ago I wrote about using the Socratic method. And while I stand by what I said in that post, I realized through talking with several parents […]

  3. I read the wikipedia entry on the Socratic Method, and I think it is a terrible way to try to talk about important issues with a teenager. I mean, really:

    “The practice involves asking a series of questions surrounding a central issue, and answering questions of the others involved. Generally this involves the defense of one point of view against another and is oppositional. The best way to ‘win’ is to make the opponent contradict themselves in some way that proves the inquirer’s own point.”

    I have ‘fond’ memories of my own mother employing such a cop-out rhetorical device when I was a teenager. She’d ask an innocent sounding question, then follow up with more and more probing questions. Frankly, it would have been more fun to submit to half a dozen wedgies, so I would always terminate the conversation after question #2 in a mushroom cloud of profanities.

    Ahhh. Those were the days.

  4. Bob, You might be interested in reading my post from a few weeks after this where I qualify my point about using the Socratic Method. Here’s the link:

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