Navigating the teenage years can be difficult for parents and teens alike. This time period is fraught with struggles for independence and a tedious balance between boundaries and freedoms. If your once-complacent child has begun exhibiting behaviors that you're afraid could impede her healthy development and successful path to young adulthood, you can enlist the assistance of a behavior contract, designed to lay out exactly what you expect and what your child can expect for cooperating.
Make a list of your teen's behaviors that you want to eliminate, such as missing curfew or talking disrespectfully. The list could also be geared more toward the behaviors you want to encourage, such as keeping up with homework or doing additional chores around the house.
Choose the most important goals and be realistic. It's unlikely that your D-average student will end up on the honor roll overnight, but your contract may help him acquire the study skills and dedication necessary to get him there over time.
Reward positive behavior. You want your teen to work hard and stick to the agreement, so lay out what she can expect to receive for her efforts in the contract. Matching a task with a reward can be tedious. Demand too little of your teen and you won't see much change; demand too much of her and she'll lose any motivation to pursue the reward. You want her to feel motivated to aim for the reward -- and not that your requested changes are an unreachable goal or not worth the effort. Aim for realistic change and a moderate reward.
Use your teen's interests as a guide to the best type of reward. You want him to stay with the program and keep working hard. For example, if your teen meets curfew every night during the week, you'll extend his curfew by a certain amount on weekends. If he diligently hands in his homework all week, reward him with a Friday night out. You can also incorporate longer-term goals, such as the camping trip he's been asking for, if he brings up his grades by the end of the semester.
Communicate with your child. Sit down with your teen once you have an idea of what you would like in the contract and explain which specific behaviors you would like to change and why. Explain the long-term benefits of these changes.
Make your child aware that you are open to negotiations before writing the final draft of your contract. Listen to your teen's input about the details of the contract and make any reasonable changes accordingly. When your teen sees that her input is important, she'll be more motivated to uphold her end of the contract.
Review your teen's progress at least once per week during the early weeks of the contract. Sit down together and talk about the effectiveness of the contract and any proposed changes, and amend the contract as circumstances change.
- Queen Bees and Wannabes; Rosalind Wiseman
- Engage Every Student: Motivation Tools for Teachers and Parents; Elizabeth Kirby and Jill McDonald
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images