The teenage years can be trying for teens and families, as the adolescents grapple with their emerging identities as young adults and parents try to maintain authority. Teens can still benefit from consistently expressed and enforced codes of conduct; in fact, many will already be familiar with explicit codes at school, church, youth organizations and some athletic programs. Taking time to develop a code of conduct tailored to meet the needs of your family, and especially the individual needs of your teen, can create additional stability at home.
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At their most basic, a code of conduct for teenagers should abolish some of the most potentially damaging or dangerous activities within the home. Experimenting with drugs, violence, sexual activities, theft or damage to family property and bullying or intimidation of parents or siblings might top this list of potentially harmful activities. The code of conduct might also establish a curfew for weekday or weekend nights. Creating an explicit, zero-tolerance environment for dangerous choices will help parents maintain authority and reduce a teen’s ability to claim ignorance of family expectations.
Teens tend to have busy schedules that incorporate school, work and athletic or social obligations. Parents may choose to require teens to help around the house anyway to contribute to a peaceful, efficient household. Even if parents reduce or eliminate chores so that teens can focus on school, a code of conduct for teenagers can still include expected behaviors and attitudes about family community. For example, teens might be expected to eat dinner with the family and pleasantly contribute to the conversation. Teens may also be expected to speak when spoken to, avoid talking back to parents and attend extended family gatherings.
Parents can also articulate their expectations for behavior in the outside community. A code of conduct for teenagers might include avoiding substance experimentation at parties, vandalizing, driving recklessly or loitering in unsafe areas. Expectations for attire may be part of the code; for example, parents might forbid midriff-baring tops or heavy, potentially dangerous wallet chains sometimes associated with gang attire. Parents might expect their teens to participate in meaningful ways in the community by volunteering or joining a church group.
Teens love socializing, whether in person or online. Codes of conduct can also articulate behavior expectations for online interactions. Parents might prohibit posting provocative photos, engaging in malicious gossip, online bullying or interacting with strangers. Parents of younger teens might reserve the right to monitor their teens’ social networking accounts at all times.
Codes of conduct lose meaning without accountability. Increase accountability by involving your teen in creating the conduct code. Teens rarely benefit from being stereotyped, so your consistently well-behaved and mild-mannered child may resent the imposition of a severe, draconian code of conduct unrelated to her previous behavior choices. Keep it realistic and simple. Ask teens for feedback about consequences, including the possibility of earning additional adult privileges (such as a later curfew or less-frequent check-ins) after demonstrating sustained responsibility.