How to Respond When Your Teen Thinks Rules Are Dumb


why rules are necessary for teens

“You don’t trust me! What have I done to deserve that?” My teenage daughter demanded an answer when we reminded her of a house rule: No laptops or screens in the bedroom. She thought the rule was dumb because she had never proven to be untrustworthy on her laptop before. She doesn’t understand why rules are necessary for teens. She is practically a grownup!

When we explain or enforce rules for our teens, why do they always get defensive? Well, for one, they are teenagers. That’s their job. But also, they think you’re saying you can’t trust them. But I have a simple, objective way to help a child of any age understand where you’re coming from when you make rules. So repeat after me…

“Rules are like safeguards and I have to keep you safe.”

You can find safeguards in many things we love to do. We use a harness, ropes, helmet, and a safe anchor in rock climbing. In football, we use pads, a mouthguard, and a helmet. We use a seatbelt, airbags, and rules of the road in driving. You could be the best rock climber, football player, or driver and you’d still need safeguards.

Be prepared. Your teen will probably respond with:

“But Mom, I AM safe.”

In each one of these examples, there is no level of maturity or expertise that would exempt a person from using the safeguards. But how does that relate to a family rule like not having a laptop in a bedroom? Can you hear the teenage attitude inserted into that question? Add a little eye roll at the end for effect.

Safeguards in the form of house rules keep teens from different kinds of outside danger; it could be physical, but it could also be emotional or developmental. We choose not to allow laptops in the bedrooms because we are preventing our teen from staying up too late at night (physical danger), not being supervised, and stumbling onto tempting or disturbing content (emotional/developmental dangers).

And this part will drive the point home:

“And it’s not just about you.”

To continue with the driving analogy, not having rules is like seeing 2 miles down the road your child is on and knowing they are about to drive through rush hour traffic with no traffic lights and no seatbelt. And even if they handle it well, the other drivers might not! There are dangers coming at you from every direction, many of which you cannot see coming.

Take one or more of these examples—one that will make an impression on your teen—and go with it. Even take your teen to go rock climbing, play football, or driving to make a more memorable point.

How can we help our kids understand why rules are necessary for teens?

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