Setting The Ground Rules

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Paul and Carol’s only child, Bianca is 12 and about to enter middle school. They are excited for her but also worried about what the new school and social life will bring in the way of challenges and temptations. They have read up on prevention tips and decided to have a first conversation about rules.

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(knock, knock at the door)
PAUL: Bianca, do you have a minute? Mom and I want to talk about something.
BIANCA: I suppose. What’s up?
CAROL: Honey, we are excited that you’ll be in middle school in just a few weeks. But we are also concerned that you’ll meet kids who may try to talk you into drinking or using pot or do other things that won’t be good for you.
BIANCA: But mom, that won’t happen. You know my friends.
PAUL: Yes, but with a new school comes new classes, afterschool activities and new friends. Things will always be changing.
CAROL: Dad and I love you very much and want the best for you.
PAUL: So we want to begin by sitting down now to talk about the rules about NO DRINKING. We really want you to be safe and healthy, that’s why we don’t want you to use alcohol.
BIANCA: (pause) Is this talk really necessary? You know I don’t do that stuff…please, are we done here?
CAROL: We want to make sure you know how strongly we feel about this and how important it is to us that you don’t drink or use pot. You know we feel strongly about this because dad and I both had family members who have been in trouble with alcohol.
PAUL: We know that this rule may sometimes be hard to follow. And we want to make sure that you know the consequences for drinking or drug use will be no cell phone or internet for 3 weeks.
BIANCA: Whatever...
CAROL: If find yourself at a party when kids are drinking. I want you to call us and we will come pick you up.
PAUL: We hope that you will always keep talking to us about the tough things you might be dealing with. We are here to love and support you. And we don’t want anything to get in the way of your dreams. That’s why the rules are here – to make it a little easier to reach your dreams.
BIANCA: I suppose I see what you are saying. Can we talk about this later? I have to call Christy now.

What the Experts Say:

Setting Ground Rules for Teens
Research shows that young people are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs if their parents set clear rules about not doing so. If parents have not previously established rules around more basic activities however, they will have little chance of getting their children to obey a rule about not using marijuana, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some rulemaking tips:
Set clear rules and discuss in advance the consequences of breaking them. Don’t make empty threats or let the rule-breaker off the hook. Don’t impose harsh or unexpected new punishments.

The rules must be consistently enforced; every time a child breaks the rules the parent should enforce a punishment.

Punishments should involve mild, not severe, negative consequences. Overly severe punishments serve to undermine the quality of the parent-child relationship.

Set a curfew. And enforce it strictly. Be prepared to negotiate for special occasions. )

Enforcing Rules at Home
We all want a peaceful household, but conflict will probably arise when your teen does not follow the rules. A question you might ask is: What is the consequence for breaking
the rules? The important point here is to not overreact; however, you should set a punishment that has some impact. Remember, you’re the parent and you set the rules and consequences, which are not negotiable.

Here are some suggestions for reasonable punishments. Keep in mind that the punishment should not be much longer than three weeks. If it’s too long, your child will forget why he’s being punished.

  • Restrict television or Internet use.

  • Have your teen read and discuss information about the harmful effects of drugs,
    tobacco or alcohol.

  • Suspend outside activities such as going to the mall or movies.

  • Temporarily restrict friends from coming over to the house and don’t allow visits
    to friends’ homes.

  • Have your teen perform a community service to encourage positive usage of time.

  • Disallow telephone calls.

Here are suggestions for how you might deliver the punishment when they break the rules:

"Because you stayed at a party where there was no adult supervision and where people were using drugs, you’re not going anywhere — no mall, no movies, nowhere — for one week (up to three depending on whether the child lied and on how severe the act was)."

"You broke the most important rule — no drugs. We’ve talked about how I feel about that; here are the consequences of your behavior. You get no phone or television privileges for one week (up to three depending on whether the child lied and on how severe the act was). You do get Internet privileges, so that during that time, you can read a paper on the effects of drugs."

Source: The National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign's Behavior Change Expert Panel