When most kids hit adolescence, they start questioning rules with vigor. Sometimes the rules are even broken or dodged with regularity. How do you get adolescents to identify with and agree with rules?
Involve them. This takes a fairly good level of communication with your teen, and it will involve compromise from both of you. But if you can engage your teen into making rules with you, it can be a wonderful exercise in communication and effective discipline. (This requires a fairly mature and communicative teen.)
For example, let’s take curfew. You want your teen home by 10 pm on weekends. They think any curfew is ridiculous.
Examine why you choose to set a curfew. What happens as one gets later into the night that you don’t want your teen involved in? What are you worried about that is more likely to happen after 10 pm? I’m not against curfews at all; but these are questions your teen is likely to have.
Explain your reasoning to your teenager. If you have no logical evidence, but you feel strongly about it, that’s okay- you’re the parent. You might say, for example, “I know that 10 pm and midnight just seem like numbers. But I am worried that the later you stay out, the more likely you might be to get in a bad situation. Your friends’ parents may not feel that way, but I’m okay disagreeing with them on this issue. I love you and I want you to be safe.”
Listen to their response. Does it make sense? Are they listening to you and addressing your concerns? There’s a difference between “You worry all the time about nothing!” and “But what if I’m at a friend’s house, and their parents are home?” Seriously consider their side of the argument. Even if you don’t agree with it, is it logical? Are they trying to meet you halfway?
And then — this is hard — compromise. If your teen says they think midnight is appropriate, and you think 10 pm, can you compromise at 11 pm? 10:30 pm? Or perhaps there are circumstances under which the rule can be bent- for example, spending time with a friend at the home of a family you trust. Even giving in a little can show your teen that you respect their viewpoint, and make them more likely to respect a deal struck between the two of you.
“Graduated” rules can be a great compromise. Can you agree that curfew will be later by a half hour or an hour every year, as long as your adolescent has been complying with the current curfew? It’s a great opportunity for your teen to prove they can be trusted, and to earn privileges with good behavior.
Of course, there are many areas this can be applied to, from dating privileges to academic expectations to weekends away. The important things to bring to the table are a willingness to listen, a willingness to discuss the issue, and a willingness to compromise.
If something is non-negotiable, tell them outright, but try to share your reasons. “Because I said so” is not going to make as much of an impact as “Because I have a serious problem with what you want to do, and I’ll tell you why…” Is it your religion, your values, your culture, your experience, your gut feeling? These can all be good reasons to make a decision about your teen’s privileges and restrictions.
There are many issues that simply cannot be compromised on. Underage drinking (apart from wine or beer with family, if you allow it), illegal drug use, driving while intoxicated, violence, destroying property, disappearing without notice, bullying, etc. are completely non-negotiable. If your teen does have these behaviors, they need professional help right away.