Parenting preteens and teens presents a whole slew of new challenges. The tactics that you’ve come to rely on no longer seem so effective. Gone are the days of time-out chairs and Sesame Street distractions. Rewards of gold stars and extra treats are a thing of the past. You need a new strategy.

Something that I’ve learned is that teens are still a lot like toddlers. They like structure and routine. They thrive when they have clear guidelines, and somewhat limited choices. They want to make their own decisions, but still need a lot of help from their parents. Most of all…they are anxious to prove their independence.

At the beginning of each school year, my children bring several contracts home. They sign athletic contracts, internet use contracts, and homework contracts. It’s a discipline that says “I’m committing to this” instead of simply doing something because the adults said so. It’s one small step toward acting…and being treated…like a grown-up.

I’ve used a variety of contracts over the past few years. Positive behavior contracts are similar to chore charts or responsibility charts. These contracts spell out what expected behavior looks like, and are perfect for detailing household contributions. Restriction contracts are disciplinary contracts. They list punishments such as grounding or computer/phone/game restrictions. I like the clarity that these contracts bring, and also the helpful reminder that they provide to both me and my kids. I’m also a fan of Safe Behavior contracts…basically a contract that kids sign as a pledge to make good choices when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

A few tips to ensure that contracts are effective:

1. Be concise. Have you ever really read the fine print on your mortgage paperwork? Probably not. Keep it short, or kids will quickly lose interest.

2. Be specific. Rather than “I will keep my room clean,” write out “I will not leave dirty dishes in my room” or “I will put away my clean laundry.”

3. Be fair. If there is room for negotiation, note that in the contract. If there is a reward for good behavior in the Restriction contract, note that also.

4. Be open to changes. Update contracts on a regular basis, adding new responsibilities, and removing items that no longer apply.

5. Be involved. One-sided contracts are sometimes necessary, but it’s also helpful to have “if/then” statements. If this behavior is followed for x amount of time, then the reward/privilege will be y.

There are a variety of sample contracts available on the web to help you get started. It’s also extremely helpful if the contract writing is collaboration. Kids are more likely to follow the rules if they’ve helped to write them!