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As my kids grow, they need different limits. Right now, the house rules are reactionary as a result of something we didn't like happening. Things like, "call home if you are going to be somewhere other than where you said you were going to be" originated when my son told us he and his friend had gone to visit another friend without telling us in advance.

I would rather be proactive so that the boundaries are clear at the start. But I'm not sure what I need to have boundaries for! Be respectful and be safe need more detail.

What house rules are appropriate for pre-teens? And how did you arrive at these rules?

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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't think many parents do it differently from how you're doing it now. Every child is different, and while there surely are common threads among children there probably aren't as many as you might think. So, it's difficult to be proactive beyond some very general situations, e.g.:

  • Call if you're going to be late
  • Call if you're going to be somewhere other than where you said you'd be
  • Call if you feel unsafe and/or uncomfortable in a certain situation

There are also a lot of areas where parents' opinions of how to raise their children will come into play, such as whether or not to enforce a curfew, where a child is and is not allowed to go, who a child is and is not allowed to go with, etc. You'll obviously need to decide what these are on your own (or with your partner).

Finally, you'll need to decide who the responsible parties are in all cases. As an example, when I was young my mother would always coordinate directly with my friends' parents regarding what time I would be home, whether she was picking me up or the other parents were dropping me off, etc. I think this is probably a good approach for a pre-teen (and perhaps even a young teenager). But, as I grew older the responsibility fell upon me to provide my mother with the info mentioned above. Again, this is something that you'll have to decide for yourself as far as the division of responsibility for communication, etc goes.

Last but not least, besides communicating rules you'll need to be up front about communicating consequences. This is something that I think parents fail to do too often, especially as children get older. Make sure that your child knows what the consequences are for breaking whatever rules you come up with. On the flipside of that coin, there should also be positive consequences for when your child faithfully follows the rules.

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+1 for the idea of the responsible person –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 16 '11 at 13:38
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My advice would be to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. First decide what you (as a family) want to accomplish, and why, and then figure out how. Then do the same on a lower level to determine the rules.

For instance:

Goal

What: We want the members of our family to be safe.
Why: Because we love each other and don't want any harm to come to us.
How: Therefore, we will need some rules to guard our safety.

Rule

What: We want to know where you are and where you're going to.
Why: So we know where to reach you in case of an emergency, or where to look if something happens to you.
How: Therefore, let us know where you're going, don't go somewhere else without letting us know, and take the emergency cellphone (assuming they're too young for their own cellphone) if needed (for instance, when trick-or-treating).

Of course, you could make 'communication' the goal and arrive at a similar rule, but from a different viewpoint ('so we know where to reach you if plans change / when diner is ready').

The point is that rules by themselves can seem arbitrary and be subject to rules-lawyering, while this way, they're part of a bigger whole. (For instance, 'safety' can lead to not just rules but measures as well, like smoke detectors and fire blankets).


While the parents will have final say, the children can be involved in setting up the rules. That way, they should feel they co-own the rules; if they break a rule, they not just broke your rule, they broke their own rule.

Also, don't be afraid to accept rules the children may come up with. The goal 'hapiness' can lead to a rule that 'the family should play a game for at least an hour each saturday'.

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Give the child a cellphone with google latitude turned on. My son was in 4th grade when I gave him a cellphone - which what 8 years ago if you could imagine. Although people thought and sometimes commented, "You gave your 10 year old a cellphone?" I never regretted it. He was a very active child and played sports in different fields in the area. I always knew where he was and I could call him to come home if I realized that he didn't finish his homework.

However I do not intend to replace Brian Driscoll's answer, but instead append to it. I believe there's a lesson of responsibility to be learned by following the rules described in his answer.

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Children and especially preteens/teens, respond well to being empowered. Have a family meeting and have the family as a group decide what is important. Allow time for discussion from each one's position and then develop the rules from the information shared. Another meeting to share the rules that you as a parent have set will likely be needed.

This does not mean each gets a vote, but rather each gets heard and an atmosphere of understanding one another's perspectives and view is created. It may be helpful to use a marker board and make lists of major concepts/considerations. This will help you remember and consider all the thoughts shared when you develop the rules.

Hearing a child's perspective helps you see more clearly their maturity level and gives an opportunity for better dialogue as well as clarifying expectations and consequences. This model also promotes verbal communication and negotiating skills, introspection, empathy and values setting.

Making this a "formal" event with a planned time and preparation will create interest and increase value. Get all the kids involved allowing them to take notes and ask questions. Some families encourage all members (including kids) to place topics for family meetings on the fridge and schedule meetings to address issues on a regular basis.

This can be a powerful and productive tool for families with many positive results and can be used with even younger children with good outcomes.

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