While not too long ago your teen was a complacent and agreeable child, parenting has now become a tedious balancing act as you try to maintain equilibrium between privileges and boundaries -- all in the effort to keep her on the path to becoming a happy and successful young adult. The teen years are a tumultuous time, fraught with a constant struggle for independence, and it can be difficult to navigate through those years for both of you. Fortunately, you can enlist a little help from a behavior contract that clearly spells out what you expect from her and what she can look forward to in return.
Create a list of your teen's behaviors that you feel are problematic or the types of behaviors you'd like to encourage. For example, your teen might have problems with angry outbursts, staying out past curfew, or talking inappropriately at home or at school. Alternatively, use the behavior contract to focus on positive behaviors rather than negative, such as taking responsibility for his chores, working on improving his grades or interacting appropriately with parents, peers and teachers. Both can accomplish the same goal, but the focus on positive behaviors focuses on what your teen can start doing right rather than what he is doing wrong.
Make realistic goals and objectives for your teen and outline ways for her to succeed. While you might like her to pull up her flunking grades overnight or never raise her voice again, change takes time. If you'd like her to improve her academic performance, help her develop study skills to slowly begin the upward climb. If you'd like her to control her temper, help her find healthy outlets for her emotions.
Choose rewards for your teen’s behavioral changes that will help to provide the motivation he needs to stick to the contract. Since changing his behavior is going to take some hard work and effort on your teen’s part, you want him to keep his eyes on the prize and stay dedicated to the task. Try to balance the reward to the effort without under- or overindulging him for an accomplishment. For example, one evening of completing homework does not generally warrant a weeklong homework or chore pass, whereas being home by curfew every night for a week might warrant an extended weekend night curfew.
Tailor the rewards to coordinate with your teen’s interests. For example, if your teen sticks to her homework schedule all week, an extended weekend curfew might not be of much interest if she doesn't go out very often. Since teens don’t require immediate gratification, you can incorporate both short- and long-term goals in the contract, such as a trip to the amusement park if she keeps up with homework for a month or a coveted, summer camping trip for a successful semester.
Talk to your teen once you've figured out the details of the contract to explain your expectations, the short-term rewards and the long-term benefits of making these behavior changes. Be willing to discuss each area of the contract with your teen so he has an opportunity to voice his opinion or concerns and ask any questions that come to mind. This helps to keep the lines of communication open and lets your teen know that you value his input. If your teen poses a rational, reasonable argument, you can make any resulting changes before drafting the final copy of the behavior contract.
Sign the contract, and have your teen sign it as well. Make a second copy of the agreement for your teen to keep and refer to when necessary.
Monitor your teen's behavior on a regular basis and arrange a meeting with her to review her progress weekly for the first month or two of the contract. You will then both have an opportunity to address any issues or concerns that arise from the contract and propose reasonable changes if necessary.
Tips & Warnings
- You can include consequences for breaching the contract if you feel your teen will need this additional motivation. Choose consequences that are appropriate for the breach. For example, if your teen comes home after curfew once, he must be home 30 minutes before curfew the next night. If he breaches curfew twice, he will face an even earlier curfew or lose his privilege to go out the next time.
- "I'm Not Your Friend, I'm Your Parent: Helping Your Children Set the Boundaries They Need ... and Really Want"; E. D. Hill; 2008
- University of Washington: Notes for Developing Parent-Teen Contracts
- National Education Association: Behavior Contracts -- How to Write Them
- "Queen Bees and Wannabes"; Rosalind Wiseman; 2009
- Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images