Michael Vladeck: The Art of Imposing Rules on Teens


By Michael Vladeck

We all want freedom, and children do need rules (some more than others).  When applied well, they act as guidelines that help them develop in healthy ways… lest they recreate a Lord Of The Flies reality that you have to parent to.  They have a place, yet eventually some of these rules you impose will add great stress to the relationship – so learning how to be wise with rules is critical and essential to maintain the health of your relationship.

Kids break rules for many reasons – think of yourself when you were their age:  You didn’t agree with the rule, you felt it was unfair, what you wanted was worth the consequence of breaking the rule, you wanted to upset your parents as revenge for feeling hurt, or maybe you simply forgot about the rule – and the list can go on. Ultimately, however, breaking rules is most often a symptom of the broken health of a relationship – because there is a either a lack of deep understanding of each other, there is a lack of connection between you, or there is a personal lack of connection within yourselves.  Tracing the reason for why rules are broken almost always leads directly to some deep need or feeling that is lurking around alone and unmet.  It leads to sacred places where true understanding, compassion and connection are born from.  Breaking a rule opens up an opportunity to explore what is really going on within you as a parent, in your relationship with your child, or  inside the heart and mind of your child.

Rules may be important, but without a strong relationship in place, they are mostly ineffective.  When you feel enforcing a rule is necessary, but your child does not, it’s important to try to help them understand why it is that you feel it wise for them to follow.  Certainly, especially in the teen years of asserting independence, many rules will get challenged and broken… but doing your best to create understanding is a critical first step.  And, it’s worth mentioning, saying to them “Because I said so” is setting them up to potentially break the rule, setting them up to most likely not respect you, and certainly setting them up to close you off with resentment and hurt.  You need to go deeper than that.  They deserve it, and eventually, they’ll fight you if you don’t.

Your reason for rules is never superficial, it goes deep – expose that.  Model transparency and vulnerability (especially if you wish for your children to do the same).  Before making a power play, connect with the heart – your needs and feelings as a parent that drive your parenting rules.  Hopefully it goes without saying that you need to be very responsible for the rules you create – that they are coming from a healthy place within you, and that you don’t exhibit double standards (unless you can explain why you are doing so in an honest and effective way).

Also, their reason for not wanting to follow a rule goes deep too – this needs to be respected.  Help them see the unseen forces within them that drive their behavior through exploring their choices with them – not giving them speeches.  Be curious and help them think more deeply and critically than their developing brains can do otherwise.  Children who lie to parents so they can get to a party to get drunk are doing that for a real reason; usually it’s not only about “fun” – as fears of missing out or fears of not being connected to or accepted are powerful, motivating forces – try to get to the root of that.

If the relationship you have with them is profoundly intact because you work on conscious parenting practices daily, you’ll have a better discussion about why the rule is being put in place and how they feel about that.  As importantly, when the time comes that they challenge or break a rule, you’ll also have a better chance of connecting to them from a more calm place to understand what their choice to break the rules was really about.

Lastly, don’t get blindsided.  Know that as your children develop and become more independent, they will need more explanation and understanding from you than you might normally give them at a younger age.  If this isn’t here for you already, it’s coming.  Definitely, absolutely and certainly.  So, begin now to create that more connected relationship and more intimate mutual understanding that is foundational to a strong relationship.

Rules without relationship equals rebellion.

About Michael Vladeck

Michael Vladeck has been a facilitator, educator, mentor, trainer and professional mediator working in the field of personal transformation, relationship dynamics and professional development for the past decade and a half. Currently, he works as coach and counselor, primarily with families with teenagers, helping them create deeper connections and healthier relationships within themselves and with each other. www.michaelvladeck.com

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