Adolescents go through the transition of becoming more independent while still having parents dictate what they do. This conflict sometimes shows itself as behavior problems. Your teen may push you on issues, such as meeting curfew or showing proper respect. A behavior contract with your teen gets her actively involved in changing her behavior and meeting your expectations.
1. Create the Rules
Your existing house rules or general behavior expectations for your teen work well as the foundation of the behavior contract. If you haven't made specific rules, this is the time to do it. Rules for teens often cover topics such as curfew, household chores, respecting family members, homework responsibilities, screen time and driving privileges. When writing up the contract, you can customize the general family rules to fit that specific child. The contract also allows you to add rules that don't apply to other kids. For example, a teen who has a driver's license may need an extra rule about when she can drive. This rule doesn't apply to younger kids, so putting the driving rule in the contract makes it more relevant.
2. Assign Consequences and Rewards
The consequences and rewards section of the contract serves as a motivator for your teen to hold up her end of the deal. Consequences are designed to discourage certain behaviors. For example, if your teen takes the family car when she's not supposed to, she may lose driving privileges for a week. Rewards encourage positive behaviors. She might get extra screen time for finishing her homework on time. Customizing the consequences and rewards for each specific rule in the contract allows you to use logical options. Grounding is a common general consequence, but taking away the car keys may be more effective for reinforcing your rules about driving, for example.
3. Review the Contract
You have the responsibility to guide your teen's behavior, but giving her a chance to review the contract and offer input may get her to buy into the idea. Instead of forcing her to sign something without any sort of input, go through each part of the contract and get her reaction. Explaining why you added specific points in the contract can help her accept them more. If one rule is to check in with you when she goes somewhere other than school or her normal activities, explain that you need to know where she is for her safety. Let her know it is also important in case an emergency happens at home so you can find her. Your teen may also have different ideas for consequences and rewards that make the contract more appealing.
4. Use It
A behavior contract is just a useless piece of paper unless you consistently enforce it. Both you and your teen should sign and keep a copy of the contract for reference. If your teen violates part of the contract, you can show her in black and white what the expectation was and how she broke the agreement. You may find that part of the contract isn't practical in your everyday life. It's acceptable to change part of the contract, but you need to let your teen know about the changes.
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