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Teen Rules

Helping Your Teen Own, Live and Follow the Rules!

November 6th, 2019     By Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director, Boys Town

Consequences, Family Home Program, Quality Care, Residential Care, Teen, Teens, Troubled Youth, Village of Boys Town

With the school year well under way, most teens across America have been following a different set of rules from those they were expected to follow during summer break.

Those new rules probably involve being in bed at an earlier time, reporting whereabouts when out with friends, being home at a reasonable hour on school nights, completing homework before watching TV or using social media and helping with chores around the house.

As any parent knows, it's easy to set these rules for teens. But it can be a whole different ballgame when it comes to getting a teen to follow them.

At Boys Town, we have a lot of rules. That's because most of the boys and girls we care for in our residential program haven't had a lot of structure or accountability in their lives. Most times, they've just done whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it.

This usually led to unpleasant situations like academic failure in school, being suspended or expelled, getting in trouble with the law, and, in the most extreme cases, hurting themselves or others through violence, drug and alcohol use or sexual activity.

One approach we take to help our youth learn the importance of rules is a Peer Ministry. Every year, 10 to 12 high school juniors or seniors become role models and leaders in faith. They attend a special class five days a week where they learn leadership skills and help plan and carry out prayer services, service projects and retreats. 

At one of those retreats, I asked one of our Peer Ministers if she was still struggling to follow the Boys Town rules like she did when she first arrived. Her response was great.

"Oh Father, I not only follow the rules, I own the rules, I am the rules and I live the rules! When other girls in my Family Home struggle with the rules, my Family-Teachers® just say, 'Do what she does!'"

She really is living the dream of our founder, Father Edward J. Flanagan – helping kids improve their behaviors so they can improve their lives!

The keys to helping our Boys Town kids learn to follow – as well as "live" – the rules are teaching skills and developing caring relationships. Eventually, they start to see the rules as the structure that's been missing in their lives. Like our Peer Ministers, they begin to "buy in" to the right way of doing things and understand that there are benefits to accepting and following the rules.

It's an effective approach and a strategy that any parent can use. Here are just a few tips that can help you and your teen find success:

      • Give your teen a voice in setting the rules. Young people are much more likely to take ownership and follow the rules if they are part of the decisions that go into setting them. (At Boys Town, we have daily Family Meetings where our kids and their adult caregivers make the rules together and discuss the importance of following them.)
      • Set reasonable rules that have a purpose. Most rules are designed to keep teens safe and healthy, help them stay out of trouble and ensure that a home runs smoothly. Discussing these benefits with your teen can give him or her some positive incentive and motivation to follow the rules.
      • Clearly explain your expectations and describe the consequences your teen will receive for following the rules or failing to follow them. This means praising and rewarding teens when they do what is expected and taking away a privilege or adding a chore when they don't. Rewards can include tangible items like an extra snack or money to go to the movies, or privileges like staying out a little later on a weekend or using the car.
      • Consistently follow through on consequences. Issuing warnings or making threats won't change your teen's behaviors in the long term. Once your teen realizes that you are always going to respond to their behaviors – good or bad – with consequences, he or she will be much more likely to adhere to the rules.   

Boys Town has been caring for children for more than a century. We have hundreds of parenting experts who understand child behavior and how to improve it through setting effective house rules, using consequences (positive and negative) and building strong family relationships.

I encourage you to visit our parenting site at and check out the many resources that can help guide you in your parenting journey.  

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