13 Rules for Living With Teenagers

Sasha Brown-Worsham
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When you have babies and are bone weary, bleary-eyed, and discombobulated, everyone says it will only get harder. No one believes them, of course.

But then it does. And how. Living with teenagers and trying to keep some semblance of a home and family life can seem like an uphill battle.

It doesn't have to be, say David and Andrea Reiser authors of Letters From Home: A Wake-up Call for Success & Wealth, a book written in the form of letters to the authors four sons, offering advice on family life and living the "American Dream."

As the parents to four growing boys, the Reisers know how crazy family life can get. They offered 13 tips for managing the chaos and living with older children:

Make a "positive meal times" rule. No one is allowed to gripe or argue. Many days, meals are the only times when everyone (or nearly everyone) is together -- and the prevailing mood can set the tone for family interactions for hours, if not days, to come. Instead of focusing on what's wrong, consciously discuss good things that have happened, and what you're all looking forward to doing in the future.

Homework comes before free time. No exceptions. Even if your kids have five hours before bed and only an hour of homework to complete, they should tackle their assignments before engaging in the "fun" stuff. This will teach them to prioritize responsibly because their best efforts will be going toward the tasks with lasting value.

Divvy up household chores and insist that they're done daily. It takes a lot to keep a house relatively clean, in good repair, and fairly tidy. And just because you're the adult doesn't mean you should do it all! Make sure everyone contributes. Even small children can put their toys away. Not only will this keep the house clean, it will teach a healthy work ethic and demonstrate the value of sharing responsibilities.

Become an on-time (or early!) family. How often are you and your kids scrambling around, frantically trying to get to school or work or soccer on time? From now on, strive to make the answer "almost never." Building a few extra minutes into your schedule isn't hard -- but it has immense value. Timeliness reflects well on anyone's character and contributes greatly to peace of mind. Get behind a slow car? No matter! This erstwhile annoyance won't set you off because you've got extra time.

Make one day a week a "no electronics" day. Yes, you read that right. The Reisers really are suggesting that you ban all types of electronic entertainment for one day a week. On this day, no one can watch TV, play video games, or text their friends. No one can zone out in front of the computer (yes, this means parents, too!).

"When you pull the plug, your family will be forced to interact with each other or find other productive things to do," David explains. "Believe it or not, you've all got important stories to share with one another, games to play together, and projects to complete as a team. No, electronics aren't bad (far from it!), but they do have a tendency to be seen as 'essentials' when they truly aren't."

Choose a "cause" to support as a family. While America seems to be filled with an increasing number of selfish, entitled children (and adults!), your family doesn't have to swell those numbers. One of the biggest antidotes to self-centeredness, say the Reisers, is giving back -- plus, donating time and money to those who need it fosters perspective, counteracts the "gimmies," and establishes a meaningful connection with the human race as a whole.

Make sure that politeness is paramount. These days, courtesy isn't so common anymore. Explain to your kids the importance of using respectful language like "yes, ma'am," "no, sir," "please," and "thank you," and also teach them basic politeness tenets like looking others in the eye and extending a hand to shake. Model these behaviors yourself in public and at home, and praise your kids when you see them following your lead.

Teach your kids to disagree agreeably (and do it yourself, too). Getting into disagreements from time to time is part of life -- but outright fights don't have to be. Model the art of healthy conflict to your kids at home and in public. For example, hear your spouse out when you disagree and reply without raising your voice. Strive for direct communication instead of passive-aggressive manipulation. These communication strategies will foster mutual respect and help create authentic relationships -- inside and outside of your home.

Place a premium on respect. Respect isn't something you can choose to show when you feel like it; it's an attitude you either have or you don't. Don't allow bad language or name-calling under any circumstances, and teach your kids to be polite and deferential to all established authority figures -- regardless of whether they agree with what they're being told to do or not.

When big decisions or issues loom, hold family meetings to get everyone's input. Obviously, Mom's and Dad's opinions carry the most weight in a majority of situations, but as long as the issue or decision at hand is age-appropriate, it's important for everyone's opinion to be heard and considered. This sort of consideration and transparency will foster respect all around.

Make saving a family affair. There's no doubt about it: Raising a family and running a household are expensive! While it's true that everyone can't contribute equally, it's a wise idea for everyone to contribute something -- especially toward non-essential but much-anticipated objects and experiences. Involving your kids will teach them more about saving, prioritizing, and the value of a dollar than words ever could!

Insist that everyone set goals and report on them regularly. Without goals, most of us would merely drift through life, making the best of whatever came our ways. Sometimes this strategy works, but most of the time, it's a recipe for disappointment and regret. Teach your kids early on that setting realistic goals is a great way to stay on track and to get to where they want to be -- especially when folks who care about them are there to help them along!

Promise that everyone (yes, you too!) will face the music when rules are broken. "Do as I say, not as I do" is no way to teach your kids lasting values. When you or your spouse make mistakes, admit it! You don't have to ground yourselves, but you should issue apologies where necessary and do what you can to rectify things. 

What are your rules for living with teens?



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