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Parent-Teen Contracts
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Parent-Teen Contracts - A Positive Choice for Change

Do you remember when you were a teen? Expressing your individuality, your friends were your life, you were excited by and yet scared of your new found independence. There was school, dating, peer pressure, sex, drugs, alcohol, learning to drive and so much more. You wanted to prove that you were an adult and could make your own decisions, control your own destiny.

Now think about how hard that was to do when you had to ask for permission all of the time, be in by curfew, ask to borrow a car and borrow money and then face your parents when your decision turned out not to be the best one.

We tell our children as they are growing up that they can be successful and that they can be anything they want to be. As teens we tell them that their success however is dependent on following our rules and we continue to try to control many of their decisions.

It is likely that our teen is having trouble expressing him/herself to us and that is leading to frustration for everyone. As parents we can help our teens communicate better by actively listening, asking open-ended questions and showing our understanding.

As parents we may be dealing with work stress or unemployment, money trouble, other children, elder care issues or marital issues. Adding a teenager to the mix makes for a very difficult time in many of our families.

Our role becomes one of explaining, monitoring and guiding rather than commanding. In order to guide we must continue to build on the communication with our teen by bridging the gap. We need to find new ways to communicate with our teen; Facebook, MSN and texting are excellent options. We need to ensure that after years of preparing them to think independently, take responsibility and communicate when their needs aren't being met that we allow them to practice these skills in a safe family environment.

There is no denying that our job as parents of a teenager is not simple. The transition through the teenage years is not easy on any member of the family. As parents we are still looking out for them, wanting to make decisions for them and keep them on the straight and narrow. After all, we have already been through everything they are going through so they will definitely want to benefit from our experience and wisdom correct? Ok, you can stop laughing now.

During this time we will need to listen more than we talk. When they were younger they automatically followed everything we asked of them. As teens their jobs are to learn how to think for themselves and make decisions independently based on their needs, personalities and comfort levels. In truth we probably have the same goals yet how our teen achieves these goals is likely not to be how we would approach it.

Miscommunication, yelling, slamming doors and bad feelings are common occurrences in a household with teenagers. It's important that we model the behaviour that we want our teens to learn. We need to show respect, listen (and I mean really listen) and communicate clearly.

In reality it is often us that need to change the way we think and react to our young adults. While demanding that they do what we say and follow our rules is a sign of love to us, it is cause for rebellion to them.

The Contract

Parent-Teen contracts are a great option for clearly communicating our expectations and why we expect them. This is a written agreement between parents and teens involving a negotiation where both sides win.
Power imbalances exist. Parent-teen contracts help to level the playing field and empower our teens. It will strengthen the relationship, build trust and allow our teenagers to have a voice and in turn listen to what we are saying.

Generating an agreement is a process that involves communication, brainstorming ideas together, deciding on a plan of action and identifying consequences if those actions aren't followed.

Parenting Contracts don't need to be done in a formal setting like mediation but that opportunity certainly exists to get you started. Using a trained facilitator can help both the parents and the teen learn how to effectively communicate in a neutral setting. Mediation models the process so that you can continue to practice at home with other siblings/children or to resolve other issues. The family makes decisions together with the teen playing an active role. 

Conflict management, communication and mediation are excellent life skills that can go a long way to helping your teen grow into a successful adult. Participating in this process shows your teen your commitment to the relationship, the resolution and their value in the family.

Parent-Teen Contracts are not about creating an agreement to be used as a hammer or a tool for discipline. It is a tool used to open up the lines of communication, clearly set expectations and strengthen the trust in the relationship.

 

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This article was submitted by Julie Gill of Families First Mediation

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