Help Parents Know What You Can Handle

This article was co-written by Youth Advisory Board members Maria Marungo and Ilana Ginsburg.

Life is Full of Rules

One of the greatest challenges teenagers face is the tension between the level of independence we desire, and the rules and restrictions placed upon us. Rules exist everywhere, and will follow us through our lives. But as teens, many come from inside our own homes.

Some of the hardest conversations we have with our parents or guardians surround the idea of rules, boundaries and restrictions. What we “can” and “can’t” do. These discussions may escalate into heated debate or even true conflict. But they are also opportunities for us to learn about what we “can” and “can’t” handle. And to get adult support as we figure that out.

Think This Through with Your Parents

If you’re reading this, you’re in luck because your parents or guardians are exploring how to appropriately “discipline” their teenagers. One thing you may not know is that the word “discipline” actually means “to teach.” It does not mean “to punish.” It shouldn’t mean “to control.” These points are emphasized at the Center for Parent Teen Communication. So, your parents are learning how to best teach you to prepare for your future and adulthood. This has probably always been their goal, but, until now, you may not have seen eye to eye. Understanding that they want you to learn and grow means you share a common goal.

We want to grow into successful adults and be able to handle ourselves in society. That’s what they want for us too. We may just sometimes disagree on how to get there. Now’s the chance to partner with your parents to get the guidance you deserve, the protection they offer, and the opportunity to gain the privileges you crave.

Your parents are exploring discipline styles that are designed to keep you safe and ensure that you grow into the best person you can be. Of course, one of the ways you can grow is to gain more independence. The challenge is finding the right pace to increase your independence.

Have Productive Conversations

This piece is meant to prepare you to have productive conversations with your parents about how you will best learn and grow. This “prep-sheet” prepares you to be a self-advocate — someone who speaks up for what they want and need — as you work together developing a plan to get you there.

Read on to learn what it will be like when you sit down with your parents. Get ready to make the most of this opportunity.

Build a Teen Behavior Contract

Here’s what to expect as you build a Teen Behavior Contract. Maintaining it successfully involves sitting down with your parents every 3 or 4 months.

  • Your parents will clearly state the rules that they’ll never bend on. These should be the rules that ensure your safety.
  • Then, you will start a discussion about what privileges you think you can handle.
  • Your parents will respond to your requests and share what they need to know to be sure you are succeeding.
  • You’ll sign an agreement that basically says, “In order to demonstrate I can handle _______, I will agree to ___________.”
  • If you do well, the next time you sit down for a meeting you’ll have proven you can handle even more.
  • If you don’t succeed, you’ll lose the privileges only back to the point that you’ve proven you were able to handle.

A contract helps create trust between you and your parents. It clearly outlines everyone’s expectations, but also holds everyone accountable to the commitments they agreed on.


Sample Teen Behavior Contract

A sample agreement allowing for effective discipline and teen growth.

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Make this Work for You

Put simply, your parents/guardians will be shaping their disciplinary choices as they collaborate with you. They’ll learn to grant freedoms at the level from which you are able to display responsibility, and to move them back to where you were last able to succeed. For example, if you were able to complete all of your homework with a 9:30 pm school night curfew, they might grant a 10:00 pm curfew. If your homework suffers, they will bring you back to 9:30 pm rather than eliminating your ability to go out at all.

This means that you have a lot of power! Although, remember that there still has to be a healthy dose of communication between you and your parents.The key is to think wisely and talk with them about the responsibilities that you feel you can handle. Understand that this collaboration will be limited to areas that make sense for your growth and that don’t compromise your safety. So, let’s think through what this means.

Influence Your Level of Freedom

This power means that you will be able to influence your own levels of freedom. You will have the ability to speak up for yourself and monitor your own growth and potential responsibilities. Expect that your parents and guardians will always provide baseline rules that apply to your safety and well-being. Those rules will never be changed. In other areas there will be flexibility to increase your privileges as you mature. But by having this honest conversation in which both you and your parents can clearly your voice opinions together, you can work to ensure both perspectives are taken into consideration as part of an open dialogue.

Let’s run with the idea of a curfew. The best way to gain your parents’ trust is to think critically and honestly about what you can handle. This will allow you to gain more freedoms and set you up for long-term success. Don’t exaggerate your capabilities or your parents may question your judgement or self-awareness. More importantly, it might become even more challenging to show them that you can be responsible afterwards.

Think about what is important for you to get this right. How much sleep do you need? Are you still able to concentrate on homework after certain hours? These are the types of questions each person answers differently. Make sure you know yourself and what you can handle before approaching your parents.

For example, let’s say you are on a sports team and don’t get home until 7:00 pm during the season. But you can still successfully complete homework and get enough sleep. So you know that 7:00 pm is a reasonable time for you to arrive home. Maybe you feel you can handle a later curfew — that’s great! Think this through really carefully and be prepared to negotiate with your parents. Maybe you ask to add only half-an-hour to an hour to begin with and agree to be home by 8:00 pm. Then, show them that you are capable of succeeding.

When you prove successful at coming home at 8:00 pm, you can look forward to the next ARC meeting where you can reasonably ask for increasing privileges (perhaps to stay out until 8:30 pm).

A contract helps create trust between you and your parents. It clearly outlines everyone’s expectations, but also holds everyone accountable to the commitments they agreed on.

Words Matter, Calm Counts

When you do speak with  your parents, “I statements” may be useful. For example, “I feel that I can handle…because…” Avoid using words like “deserve” or “want,” because privileges are something to be earned. They are not guaranteed. Additionally, using accusatory words like “you” can spark defensiveness and conflict. This is about you and your potential to succeed. Keep the focus of the conversation on your success. Don’t approach it from the “You are trying to control me” angle because that defeats the purpose. To learn more about how to use “I statements,” check out Avoid Conflict With Parents: Try “I Statements”.

Life is a Journey, This is a Great Step

Think about how lucky you are that your parents or guardians are providing you with this opportunity to grow. Should you mess up and have your privileges moved a step or two back, don’t let it start a conflict. Accept the lesson and remember it’s only temporary. With clear communication, you will have the ability to earn back your privileges and gain more within a matter of time.

Set yourself up for success. Don’t be afraid to request future conversations about gaining new privileges. Consider doing this after a three-month period, once you’ve shown how well you handled your prior privileges. And even if you do make mistakes, remember that you learn and continue growing through the consequences of your actions.

If your parents are asking to create an ARC, it likely means that they respect you and your perspective and that they want you to grow. They want to clearly outline their expectations for you and give you a chance to earn more privileges. That may keep you from acting on your own desires and potentially jeopardizing the trust your parents have in you. But it also allows you to grow into your own person, with your parents’ help and not against it. They care about your learning, and understand that good discipline is about teaching. They are proving this by inviting you to partner with them. Don’t let this chance go to waste! Make it work for both of you.

Understand Where Your Parents are Coming From

You may want to read the articles that are guiding your parents. This can help you gain a better understanding of their perspective.

About Center for Parent and Teen Communication

CPTC is fortunate to receive editorial contributions from a range of multi-disciplinary experts, journalists, youth, and more.

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