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Contracts of Trust Between Parents and Teenagers

A written contract may help parents with developing trust in teens. Here's how to begin negotiations.

At the Bargaining Table

As with any contract negotiation, Sege and Maxym say chances for success are greater if both parties follow a few simple rules:

  • The teen's and parents' responsibilities under the contract should be clearly laid out. For example, if the contract involves budgeting for personal expenses, it may specify that the teen is responsible for buying his own school supplies and that the parents are responsible for ensuring that the kids have the adequate resources to do so, such as allowance or payment for chores. "You obviously want at the end of this period for the child to make some of his own financial decisions, so how that progresses should also be part of the contract," Sege says.
  • The definition of what constitutes a breach of contract must be clear. If the contract spells out an 11 p.m. curfew, is the teen in hot water if she slips in at 11:02? 11:15?
  • Establish clear and consistent consequences for breaking a contract. Ideally, the punishment should be appropriate to the offense. "Say a child is drunk, drives home, causes some minor property damage and gets a ticket," Sege says. "One parenting technique is to yell at the kid and ground them for 12 years or whatever, and go ahead and pay the ticket and fix the property damage. Another approach might be to talk the child about it and facilitate him or her raising enough money to pay the ticket and pay the property damage."
  • Treat one another with respect and listen to your teen's input.
  • Be flexible, even if it means not going through with a contract in the first place. "I see such a wide range of families and circumstances, and for some families contracts would frankly be absurd, but for many families in limited circumstances they are a good idea," says Sege.

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Reviewed on August 06, 2003

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