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Conflicts between family members? Try negotiating a contract

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``Dad, can I take the car to work?'' ``I cleaned the bathroom last week -- it's her turn!

``But why can't I stay out after midnight? All the other kids can!''

When children turn into teen-agers, parents are apt to feel challenged by the number of new situations that must be addressed. Since adolescence is the time when youngsters pull away from Mom and Dad, their craving for independence is natural and normal. But parents must continue to watch over their teen-agers, to set limits and withstand pressure, while at the same time letting a child test his wings with more freedom and responsibility.

It's a delicate balance, and most of us aren't quite sure how to handle this new role or what rules and regulations are appropriate.

Some families can talk it out by simply sitting around the kitchen table, discussing pros and cons, and reaching a decision that is pleasing to everyone. Other families can't discuss things well together, especially during these touchy years. Teens sometimes can be close-mouthed and defensive, parents too quick to jump to conclusions. And oral communication can be misunderstood as well.

For these reasons, many parents have found that drawing up a contract -- stating everything in unmistakable terms -- is a workable way to handle potential conflicts. Teens like a contract, too, because it gives them a chance to negotiate and add their input. Once terms have been discussed and decided upon, everything is written down and signed by both parents and adolescent. As in the real world, if one party defaults by not living up to the agreement, the contract is null and void (penalties should be spelled out clearly). And no one can claim misunderstanding or ignorance, since the terms and signatures are there for everyone to see.

We used the contract idea when our eldest applied for his driver's license. Like most parents we were hesitant about giving him the car, but we also wanted to encourage growth and responsibility.

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