Setting boundaries and agreements with teens

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Sometimes the words ‘rules’ and ‘discipline’ can automatically cause friction between parents and teenagers. A useful tip is to consider changing your approach to how the rules are created. This helps to establish a sense that you are responding to the changing needs of your teenager, so they don’t feel you are still treating them as the ‘young child’ they once were.  

The term ‘agreement’ suggests a ‘negotiated arrangement between parties’, as opposed to the term ‘rule’ which suggests a more rigid approach with little room for negotiation or the handover of responsibility. The best thing about these negotiated family agreements is that the more adolescents are involved in their development, the more likely they are to respect and follow these agreements. In fact, parents often comment that their adolescents suggest harsher consequences than they would.

Involving your teenagers in the development of these agreements and rules as well as the consequences if those rules are broken, demonstrates that you are listening to and appreciating their growing need for more independence. It also shows that you are open to them earning your trust as they show they are capable of being responsible. This forms the basis for trust and respect rather than just control. 

When we negotiate agreements with our adolescent children, we are teaching them self-discipline and also allowing them the opportunity to prove that they can manage themselves and be responsible. Because adolescents are striving to be independent this has proven to be a far more successful strategy than just telling them what they can and can’t do with no opportunity to test their skills to manage themselves. Also telling a child that you trust them is a powerful motivator for our kids to prove this is true. 


Your teenagers still need to adhere to and respect rules just as they need to follow the rules at school and the laws of society. Some examples of general family rules include: be kind to each other, be fair to each other, speak respectfully to each other, and treat each other how we like to be treated. 


Agreements can be family agreements for everyone or agreements that are dependent on age and maturity. Agreements involve discussions around safety, health and wellbeing of the family plus the potential risks associated with more freedom for your teenager. Examples of agreements you can make with your teenager: beds made each day, curfews, all phones off before bedtime.   

Top Tips for establishing agreements and rules with your teenager

  • Keep it simple: Form rules and agreements that are easy to follow, apply and adhere to.  
  • Involve each and every member of the family while establishing your family agreements. Identify those areas that are important to your family’s safety and wellbeing. 
  • Negotiate agreements according to the age of each child. As they get older demonstrate that you are listening to and appreciating their growing need for more independence.  
  • Ask teens to suggest appropriate consequences and then discuss: Whether it be withdrawal of privileges, or pocket money etc let them initiate them. 
  • Be firm, fair and consistent in applying agreements and consequences once agreements have been established. 
  • If they break a rule or agreement calmly remind them of the family agreements you made and why they were agreed to, then move to the consequences that apply.  
  • Generously praise responsible behaviour: Let them know you are proud of the way they are honouring the family agreements and showing maturity. 
Have you enjoyed this article? Explore expert advice tailored to fathers, and gain a fresh perspective on instilling discipline while nurturing a strong and loving relationship with your kids. Discover more behaviour and disciple advice for fathers on our blog.

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