Saturday, January 15, 2011

House Rules

One of the most common concerns expressed to me by parents of adolescent children is that their teens are totally uncooperative. This isn't a biological necessity of child or adult development. Delayed adolescence and rebellious adolescence is predominantly a modern western urban culture phenomena made worse by media, (aiming to sell to teens and feeding into their greatest depravities), divorce, working parents, loss of control of schools, gangs etc.
There are organizations that it really behooves parents to join. Parents Together is one such organization. Kids spend a lot of time talking about how to "beat" their parents. Parents need allies and in the modern single family homes there is a real need to reach out to get help. Al Anon is an organization for parents whose children have problems with alcohol and drugs. Police organizations, locally, the Vancouver Police and RCMP, often have personnell who will gladly advise parents if they have concerns about their childrens safety or behavior before a problem arises. Child and adolescent psychiatric services are available at hospitals and help lines are often another source of information. It is really important when children are problematic to get information from the school and consider the teachers as allies. It's really critical to know what others are doing or saying in the community.
That said, I commonly start with behavioral problems by encouraging the parents to make a list of 10 commandments, the House Rules. These need to be broad and clear and posted. My experience is not with healthy normal kids but rather with the most difficult teens referred as the worst in the school or sent to psychiatric wards. I tell parents the first thing that kids encounter in 'group homes' is the House Rules. You can look for House Rules on line and get an idea of what juvenile detentions, foster house and such use. So make a set for your house and make sure your teen is on the same page.

Here's some ideas:
1) No physical damage to the humans in this house. No use of knives, guns or baseball bats or fists against other humans. No hitting. No harming pets.
2) No damage to the house itself. No explosive devices. No fire setting. No head banging through walls.
3) No urinating or defecating anywhere else but in the toilet.
4) No cutting, strangulation, overdosing with pills or jumping off roofs in an attempt to suicide or self harm.
5) Be in house before 11 on weekdays and 12 midnight on weekends. These are arbitrary numbers but locking of a house or apartment should be done for the protection of all and all members should be inside at fixed times.
6) No strangers allowed in the house without parental permission.
7) Rooms should be capable of passing a basic health inspection. That means no left over food. I'm a big one for no clothing on the floor since where shoes and feet have been should not be mixed. Ideally parents should be teaching their children's the basics of what natives would call, "learning not to shit where you eat" and the difference between a 'bedroom' and a " nest." There's a lot of self respect to be gained by putting dirty clothes in a bin and clean clothes in another bin.
8) No smoking in rooms. No alcohol or drugs in rooms.
9) Chores - these aren't horrendous, child slave camp things but minimal levels of group living, like washing dishes, taking out garbage, cleaning once a week or something like this in which the adolescent participates in the running of the apartment or home. They should be contributing members.
10) Allowance should be earned and conditional not an entitlement.
11) Television times.
12) Computer times. Televisions and computers, cellphones, wifi and gameboys are not necessary in private bedrooms and can be moved to public areas if there are concerns in this regard. Their use can be limited. Parental controls are good things.
14) Game times.
15) Cell phone usage.
16 Lights out can be set as can wake up times. In psychiatric hospitals it's common practice to wake adolescents up for morning breakfast and to lock the bedrooms of bed seekers.
17) No yelling.
18) No calling your parents or family members names that are demeaning and objectionable to most U.S. marines.

These are just ideas. Ideally a list of 6 or 12 is better than 20. Keep it simple.

When there is an infraction don't discuss it but rather ask the adolescent what rule has been broken to see if they know, are brain damaged or really don't know. When they answer, "what!" or "whatever" or such responses invite them to come to the place where the house rules are posted and point at the number of the infraction. Don't read or repeat or say what it is. Ask them to do this to see if they can read or are stoned. Gain agreement on the misdemeanor. Note this is exactly what police do and it is a means of training children for the adult world.

Sentencing is a wholly separate matter and should be done at a completely different time and place if possible.

Ie. We agree you put the cat in the microwave and that is a breach of
rule number #1. We will discuss what consequences will result from this in one hour. In the meantime go to your room or else. Never tell any adolescent what else is as it quite possibly could lead to your doing jail time.

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