Overview: Structure and rules for teens should not be given up completely. Learn how to apply them in order to develop responsibility and security in your teen.
Yes, teens are much more independent than their younger siblings. But should they be given complete freedom with no structure or rules? I don’t think so. Wouldn’t be prudent! (Which is a reference many of you will NOT get, LOL.)
In this episode we talk about why structure and rules for teens are important and give some examples. We also discuss how to handle when the rules aren’t respected — and when rules should be done away with.
I’ve raised five of them, y’all, of various personality types and maturity levels. Yet today they are all responsible adults whom I respect and enjoy hanging out with! Keeping structure and rules in place is one reason why. Listen or read to learn more!
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This episode is sponsored by CTC Math.
Teaching math to your kids can be a dreaded task, and so is finding the right curriculum. CTCMath helps your family succeed in learning math at home. Their short, concise, easy to understand lessons have won multiple awards, including the prestigious Cathy Duffy award.
It’s the only math curriculum where all lessons and every grade level are included in one low family-friendly price. Plus, you get a full 12 month money back guarantee. Because they believe in homeschooling, you actually get a half price discount.
Episode 88: Why and How to Apply Structure and Rules for Teens
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Ann Karako: Hi, I’m Ann Karako and you are listening to episode 88 of the It’s Not that Hard to Homeschool High School podcast.
Welcome to another episode of, It’s Not That Hard to Homeschool High School, the podcast for real people so that you can confidently, competently, and yes, even contentedly provide the high school education that is best for your teen and your family. I’m your host Ann Karako from notthathardtohomeschool.com.
Ann Karako: Hello, everyone, and welcome back. I was trying to record earlier today. It’s a beautiful day outside but my husband was mowing the lawn and so every few minutes there was a loud mowing noise right outside the window where I sit to do my recording. It’s a little bit later in the day today. Hopefully, I won’t sound tired. After this, I’ve got to go get dinner started — but you don’t care! “What’s the topic for today, Ann? Just get to the story, please.”
Today, we’re going to talk about structure in our teen’s life. As you may remember if you’re a regular listener, I’ve been doing once a month a continuing series called The Care and Feeding of Homeschooled Teens. Today, I want to talk about structure in our teen’s life. The thing is that we talk a lot, and I have too, about letting teens have independence and autonomy and how important that is — and it is.
It’s very important not to hold the reins too tight to give our kids the chance to practice making decisions, doing things for themselves, giving them as much autonomy as we reasonably can, but yes, let’s not take it too far. Let’s be reasonable about this.
Some people think that teens are mini-adults and that they should have the right to make every decision about their life. I’ve got to say I don’t agree with that. I think we’re still their parents until they are out of our house living absolutely independent lives, paying their own bills, hello. I don’t agree with that, but our culture is really big right now on how teens are the most amazing thing on the planet and they know more than adults do.
So many of the young adult fiction these days, whether it’s movies or literature, portrays teens as being smarter than adults, and they’re the ones who are saving the world in these dystopian worlds that we read about. I’m thinking of Hunger Games, Divergent, great stories, don’t get me wrong, but they definitely portray the teens as being as mature as adults if not more so. The fact is that’s not necessarily or often true.
Physically, teens just don’t have the brain development. Boys, for instance, their frontal lobes take a lot longer to develop. I don’t know when girls’ frontal lobes develop, but I know that boys are into their 20s before that frontal lobe has fully developed. Physically, they just don’t have the capacity to see the full picture yet and make decisions that way.
Also, maturity-wise, they don’t have the experience that we have, and they’re not going to understand fully the consequences of the decisions that they make. That’s something to keep in mind as well.
But you know what? That’s not the main reason we want to have structure in their lives, because not all teens would be irresponsible when given freedom, complete autonomy. Some of them are quite mature and could handle it quite well. There’s a larger, a more important reason other than to keep them from ruining their lives.
That is that giving teens some structure or rules, if you want to call it that, is a way to show our care and concern for them. They provide teens with a sense of security, of being loved, of belonging somewhere, of knowing that somebody cares about them enough to set rules and enforce them. Really, kids of any age benefit from rules and then consequences if necessary and teens are no less so in this regard.
It’s an instinctive thing, it’s not something that any kid can really verbalize, but that knowledge that their parent is watching out for them, is paying attention to them, is willing to make the time and effort to make these rules and then to do what it takes if those rules are broken, that provides an inner sense of security that is very, very necessary.
I think the teens whose parents don’t provide any structure at all, who let them do whatever they want to do, I think those teens feel less loved. It’d be interesting to talk to one and see what they say.
Here’s another reason for structure and rules. When you provide rules for teens, these are opportunities for your teen to show submission to your authority, not just rote obedience which is what happens when they’re younger, but submission. Submission as a term gets kind of a bad interpretation. I’m not talking about becoming a doormat. What I am talking about is choosing to abide by the authority in your life, choosing to do that willingly, not begrudgingly.
We all have authority in our lives. When we go to work, we have a boss. Now, if we want to make our work lives difficult or get fired very quickly, then we can question everything our boss says or not do what they say, but that’s not how it works, is it? If we want to keep our job, then we do what the boss says whether we agree with it or not. It’s not a matter of being a doormat, it’s a matter of submitting to what the boss says, and in the case of our teens, they still need those opportunities to do that.
The younger kids, that’s much more of a rote obedience thing. We don’t give them the opportunity to question much. With teens, it has to be more of a choice, and yes, there should be the opportunity when done rightly, when done respectfully to say, “Hey, can I appeal that? Here’s what I’d rather do instead,” and then a dialogue ensues, but in the end, even if there is a dialogue like that, if the decision is made differently than what the teen wants, the teen still needs to learn to abide by that decision with a good attitude.
Structure and rules provide opportunities for the teen to learn how to choose to abide by those things rather than just doing it by rote without thinking about it because, of course, we know that teens have opinions. They have opinions, they have values, they have emotions. They’re not always going to agree with us anymore.
When they choose to obey us anyway, that’s called submission, and it’s something they need to learn especially, because it’s going to be something that’s part of the rest of their lives.
Here’s another reason structure and rules are important. We want to give our kids the opportunities to practice good habits. I’ve got a friend, he’s an older gentleman, and he has two daughters. I may have told this story before, so if you’re hearing it as a repeat, I do apologize. He said, these two daughters, one of them learns lessons the easy way, and one of them learns things the hard way.
The one who learned them the easy way is the one who abided by the rules and practiced the good habits and reaped the rewards of that. The one who learned things the hard way was the one who didn’t abide by the rules and had to learn through her mistakes, which is a much harder way to learn.
So we want to provide our teens with opportunities to practice the good habits and to see the success that comes from those, and structure and rules for teens helps with that. It doesn’t put it all on the teen to muster up the motivation to do something in a way that’s going to be beneficial. If we’ve provided a rule for that that they have to follow, then we’re coming alongside them and helping them with their motivation to do that.
“All right, and what are you talking about, do you have any examples?” Yes, here’s a very concrete example. Our kids always had a curfew, especially after they learned how to drive, so let’s talk about your driving teen, what time should they be home at night? Do you have a curfew set up? We did.
Now, that curfew did get later as the teen got older and had more driving experience, but there still was a curfew. We did not let them decide what time they wanted to come home, we told them what time they needed to be home by. In the early years, it was fairly early, 9:30, ten o’clock. Gradually, it went to eleven and then to midnight, but I’m pretty sure midnight was the latest. That’s for a senior in high school, that’s for a senior spring semester, that’s for a senior summer after senior year.
Why do we have a curfew? Well, A, does it make sense, or is there any good reason why a teen needs to be out past a certain point? I can’t think of one. B, yes, safety. Safety is an issue. They’re driving a car, they’re alone, it’s late at night. In our case, we live very rurally, so they’re out on these roads all by themselves late at night, safety was an issue. On a more very selfish level, I wanted to be able to get to sleep. It’s very hard to get to sleep when you know one of the kids is still out of the house doing something and driving to get home. A lot easier to fall asleep when everybody’s already under the roof. It was helpful to me to have a curfew so that the kid had to be back by a certain time so I knew I could get to sleep. I bet you can relate.
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We also were flexible with this curfew. There are always the possibility of special circumstances, mitigating circumstances, where they’re unable to make the curfew. It’s beyond their control. In that case, if they called us, and told us what was going on, that was great. As long as respectful communication is happening, then we’re not going to hold that rule hard and fast.
Sometimes we’re going to have to say, “No, that’s not a good enough reason to stay out past your curfew. You still need to come home.”
Other times, “Yes, you know what? I can totally understand that, so in that case, be home by this time instead, and call me when you leave the place where you’re leaving, [laughs] when you’re on your way home.”
Incidentally, for driving, that was another rule that we had. When they first got their licenses, they had to text or call us when they were leaving someplace, and then when they arrived at the next place, and then when they were leaving that place, they had to text or call again, and when they arrived to the next destination, they had to text or call again so that we always knew every leg that they were on the road.
That was another means for them to show us that they were willing to abide by our authority in the area of driving the car. Then consequences would be, “Hey, if you’re not texting me like I told you to, then no, you don’t get to use the car the next time,” or, “If you’re not coming in for curfew like we told you you needed to be, and you have not been communicating with us, then guess what? You don’t get to use the car the next time,” or whatever the consequences might be, because what’s the point of rules without consequences?
In fact, if there is a rule that you set that you are unwilling to enforce that rule, you are unwilling to apply consequences if that rule is broken, then that sounds like it’s probably not as good rule to have. It’s probably an unreasonable rule, and you feel guilty for trying to enforce it, so you don’t. In that case, don’t make it a rule.
You know what? Even if everybody around you is making that a rule for their kids, if you are not willing to enforce it, you are not willing to apply consequences because you can’t feel good about that, you don’t think it’s the right thing to do, you want to give your teen more leeway than that, then don’t make the rule. Give your teen autonomy in that area. If you’re the one who says, “Hey, I don’t care when they come in, I don’t want to have to enforce that,” then okay, that is good for you, and that’s your family. As always, do what is best for your teen and your family, and you. I’m just giving you some examples from our little corner of the world.
Consequences show caring too, though. If you’re going to set a rule, please have consequences if it does not get followed, because that’s another way to show that you care, to show that you are paying attention. It’s not about your power, it’s about their growth.
The point is that breaking a rule is a sign of disrespect to the person that made the rule. If your teen is breaking your rules, then either, A, they are unreasonable rules [laughs] and you need to adapt them a little bit better, or B, that’s a sign of disrespect, and that needs to be dealt with so that they don’t deal with rebellion against authority for the rest of their life.
Rebellion against authority sounds like a really weighty term, but honestly, life goes smoother when we’re not constantly bucking against the structure that’s been placed around us in whatever area of life we’re talking about.
When we enforce rules by applying consequences when they’re broken, that is a way of teaching our kids to respect us, A, by holding to the rules in the first place, or B, by abiding by the consequences with respect. I think many of us, raising my hand here totally, when we want to get respect from our kids, we demand it verbally. “You need to respect me.” How many times have you said that? I don’t even want to answer that question.
When we enforce rules, that’s a way of saying that without saying that. “Hey, you need to respect me. You didn’t respect me. Guess what? There are consequences for that.” You’re not saying all of those words. You’re just saying, “Okay, that rule was in place for a reason. You decided not to abide by it, so here’s what needs to happen.”
As long as you are communicating respectfully with them — and sometimes that means working together to figure out what the consequence should be that makes the most sense — when you are dealing with them respectfully in spite of the fact that they just broke the rules, that’s another way for them to learn to show respect to you.
All sorts of lessons are happening here. Do you see this? When we set reasonable rules and then we enforce them with reasonable consequences and respectful behavior.
It’s about their heart attitude. It’s not about the letter of the law, it’s about what heart attitude are they showing us. As their heart attitude gets better, as they are more respectful to the rules that exist, as they accept consequences gracefully and without animosity or anger, then guess what? Now we can start to widen that parenting funnel.
I’ve used the illustration about the funnel before. The narrow part of any funnel in relation to parenting means your kid has relatively little choice. They are bound by these narrow walls of this funnel and that’s where they live. As they get older, the funnel widens and they get more and more power of choice. They get more and more autonomy. To determine when to widen the funnel, that’s based on how they are doing with the existing width of the funnel.
If they’re abiding by it respectfully, consistently, then it can be time to widen that a little bit and give them a little more freedom of choice. Then we watch and see how they do and if they’re handling that okay, then we can widen some more. If they’re not handling that well, then we narrow it back up again and give them another chance to get ready.
The same thing is true here with teens in regards to rules and structure. What is their heart attitude like? Are they abiding by the rules that you set? If they are, then you can start maybe taking some of those rules away or extending them to be a little bit looser like we did with that curfew. It got later and later as the kid showed responsibility with the curfew that they were given and as they got older.
The thing about structure and rules for teens is that our kids will know we are always there for them. That we’re paying attention to what they do, that we are concerned for their growth as human beings. All of that says without words that we love them and we care about them deeply. Yes, do we want to give them autonomy as much as we can? Yes, we do. Or meet them halfway as much as we can, yes, we do, but let’s not abandon structure and rules altogether.
Let’s keep some of that in place for their own security and safety, but also for their growth as human beings, and so they know they don’t have to verbalize it but they know in their inner being that we love them, that we want what’s best for them, and that we will always be there for them.
When to take rules and structures completely away, that’s going to be dependent upon the kid and your situation. Usually, when they’re headed to college, they’re going to be making all their decisions when they’re in college on their own anyway, or they move out of the house, obviously.
If they’re living in the house, having graduated high school and working full time, that’s something that you probably need to negotiate a little bit. That also depends on if they’re paying you rent or not. If they are paying you rent, then they’re pretty much an independent individual, and there shouldn’t necessarily be any rules because now they’re doing their own thing and they’re paying their own way.
If they are living off of you, then I think there’s more room for a few rules for them, but make them be reasonable ones, ones that acknowledge that they are full grown adults that are making their way in the world as best they can, and don’t be overbearing or treat them like they’re 15.
The end result of all of this is that you’re going to have kids who grow into responsible adults that you enjoy hanging out with. Now, that you’ve heard me say a lot, that’s the goal. That’s the goal of homeschooling high school. That’s the goal of our parenting our teens, is that they become responsible adults, contributing to society, not being a drain on society, and that we enjoy hanging out with them.
Having adult kids is literally the bomb. It’s worth the effort that we put into their lives through all the years that we have the opportunity to do so.
I hope this has been helpful and encouraging for you and giving you some ideas for your own parenting of the teens that are in your home. Next time we’ll have a guest podcaster, and then I’ll be back in November for another episode in the series. Thanks so much for being here. Have a great day.
- Episode 91: Unschooling Teens — My Experience and Advice (with Julie Polanco) - November 18, 2022
- Episode 90: Are You Giving Grace to Your Teen? - November 4, 2022
- Episode 89: Kristin Moon’s Homeschool Experience — Do’s and Don’ts for High School - October 21, 2022