Rules: it’s the ‘how’ that matters to teens

Contrary to what you may think, teens don’t have a problem with rules. But they may have an issue with how you bring them. How you communicate rules as a youth leader or a parent is a huge factor in teen’s decisions whether or not to stick to these rules.

The University of Gent (Belgium) has come to these conclusions after multiple researches amongst young people. Their conclusion is that you shouldn’t avoid rules with teens, but how you introduce them is important.

If you introduce rules in an authoritative and forceful way, teens will feel threatened in their freedom and will likely act out the opposite of the rules. This phenomenon is known as psychological reactance and it’s been well documented in several researches.

rulesIf you introduce the rules in a way that respects the viewpoint and autonomy of the teen however, he or she will be much more likely to behave according to the rules. What matters is that teens get the chance to weigh in, offer their perspective and feel heard and seen. It’s also important to offer choices where ever possible, for instance in when or how something needs to be done.

A third aspect and one that I’ve written about before is the importance of explaining the why of the rules. Researchers discovered that if the rules were explained to the teens in a way that made sense to them, they were more likely to follow them.

Interesting was that one research was done amongst teens in a ‘closed institution’, a correctional facility for teens (not necessarily prison, but a place where teens are being sent that have run into trouble). This is one place where you would expect a lot of rebellion against rules in general, but again the way rules were being introduced and communicated factored into teens’ decision to follow them or not.

My take away: teens have no problem with youth group rules or small group rules, but be sure to involve them in the process of making these rules and communicate them in a non threatening way!


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