Why Adolescents Should Be Able To Help Build Rules In The Home

So for the last week I’ve been trying to narrow my focus for the “Ten Rules For Your Home” material. I received a few questions from people asking how to get started in coming up with rules. The main concerns were, “How do you keep the leadership role of the father in the home when the teenager is coming up with the rules?” Another question was, “Why do you do time out when it does not seem like it is working?”

These are great questions. When I enter the picture as a counselor, things have usually gotten to the point where the family needs immediate help. They can’t wait three months to see improved behaviors in their child. Usually the school is giving ultimatums to the family about their child’s behavior too. A comforting word from an overly optimistic counselor will not get the school to stop sending home letters about their kid’s bad behavior. There needs to be some sort of plan to get everyone in the child’s life on the same page. This is why I needed something adaptable to the most difficult family situations. Families with less intense issues can always scale back the plan if it is too much.

Working with teenagers can be very frustrating at times. Having the ability to manipulate concepts is a new skill for them. They are sometimes overwhelmed by the new information that they are now capable of understanding, but they do not have all the right places in their mind to store the information from new processing abilities.

I came up with the “Ten Rules” after my two years as a counselor in a Specialized Therapeutic Group Home. I was responsible for the counseling of foster children who needed an extremely high level of supervision. We had a 24-hour staff that was accountable to where the children were at all times. These workers all had differing opinions of how things should be run, but we couldn’t do it a different way for each staff member. Additionally, I learned that the kids would have been very happy for us to try to run the group home eighteen different ways. They could exploit that. That is why we emphasized the concept of “splitting” or divisions. By having a common plan, we were able to keep the children from using the different “parenting” styles of the workers against each other. Sometimes the kids understood it better than the grown ups though.

So when I left the group home I began working with children in an outpatient type setting. They had at least one parent. I realized that these children also had stability issues that I could address by simplifying the structure of the group home. I wanted to also make it a Biblical model, because I am confident in the Bible’s relevance for everyone. I noticed that many of the parents were mad because their kids were “disrespectful.” I asked them to tell me how they will know their kids are being respectful. They would say something like, “He’ll say yes ma’am or no ma’am. He won’t use profanity anymore, or he won’t get into fights at school.”

I would ask those same parents to write those down as rules, and about half the time, they would not write down those rules. Since I had so many kids, and about half of the parents would not work on coming up with rules, I began working on the rules myself with the kids. I would send the kids home with the rules, and many of them would get really excited about their counseling! In turn, their behaviors at home would improve. Imagine how a teenager feels when they are getting into trouble, and they begin to take responsibility for their actions. It is so disappointing when they get home and their parent is not involved in the counseling that they demanded the child receive. The only time I had a hard time with this design was when parents just did not think it was necessary to be involved in participating in the therapy. They would say things like, “Can’t you just get her to do what I say?”

Unfortunately, those were the cases where I was least effective in helping the families. The “Ten Rules” is a model designed to help the parents and the child communicate about expectations. This behavior management template also allows the counselor to work on the deeper issues once the clear expectations are set at home. Many times it even improved marriage conflict, because it gives the parents an opportunity to parent from the same set of expectations. In time the “Ten Rules” get replaced with the language that the parents learn to use in the moment. In essence, it teaches the parents how to step outside of the issues they inherited from their own development, and to parent from a Biblical model, instead of an inherited wound of the heart from their own parents.