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How to Make Agreements with Teens

What does summer mean for you and your family? What does quarantine look like in your household? Which aspects come easy and naturally? Which aspects are challenges or struggles?

Perhaps you’re already been coping with behaviors or unmet expectations that are pushing your buttons, causing you concern, or taking up your mental space.

Through each transition, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and your loved ones while utilizing boundaries. Specifically, consider working as a family to create agreements that will help keep everyone on the same page.

Agreements Work for Nearly Everything

You and your family can make agreements about screentime, chores, finances or allowances, curfew, safety standards, and so on.

When you and your child or teen reach agreements TOGETHER, the buy-in is stronger. They are more likely to follow through with genuine interest and commitment.

Plus, there’s less weight on you! Instead of giving instructions or reminders– which can feel like nagging– you can ask/remind your teen, “What did we agree to?” or “What was our agreement about screen time?”

Agreements can be short-term or on a  “trial period” at first. In fact, trying the agreement for a set period of time– such as a week– and committing to coming back to reassess together, is highly valuable. It gives you and your teen the time to try the agreement out, gauge what works and what doesn’t work, and think critically about how the agreement might be improved. Additionally, when we don’t feel the pressure of making a change forever, and instead agree to the new plan for a day, or a week, or 10 days, it feels more manageable and achievable for everyone.

Steps for Creating Family Agreements

  1. Pick 1-3 behaviors or unmet expectations that seem to take up more emotional and conversational space in your home and family.
  2. Invite your family to come together for a low-key chat.
  3. Name the challenging behavior or unmet expectation in a calm, non-judgemental way. For example, “I notice that you are using your phone for 2-3 hours each evening,” or “I’ve been finding the bathroom cluttered each morning.” Then, allow each family member to share their perspective.
  4. Open the discussion to brainstorming. Encourage everyone to share ideas for solutions, whether they are goofy and outrageous or practical.
  5. Together, consider eliminating any solutions that are impossible, disrespectful, or irrelevant. Then, assess the pros and cons of each solution, exploring the possibilities that each one may create for the family.
  6. As a family, decide which solution each person “can live with.” This is a useful phrase because the solution may be undesirable for one or more parties, but they may be able to tolerate and try it.
  7. Determine the length of the trial period, and set a date to reconvene to share progress and/or challenges.
  8. During the trial, if an agreement is not being met, try using this phrasing: “What was our agreement?” or “I’m checking in about our agreement. What are you noticing?” (Check out this article for other simple ways of following up.)
  9. Come together as a family and share about the agreement. What went well? What didn’t go well? Are there adjustments that need to be made?

The Process of Agreements

It’s important to prioritize the behaviors or unmet expectations that consume the most time and energy. Start with one agreement, and after becoming familiar with the process, you and your family may add 1-2 additional agreements. Your teen might also have topics or ideas to bring to the table!

Allow yourself and your family time to figure things out gradually; don’t expect immediate resolution or transformation. Remember that each agreement is an opportunity to recreate and adjust family routines, which can be uncomfortable or challenging. That is okay and normal! Keep breathing, and stay patient through the process.

If you or your teen are ready to add another layer of support in your day, check out my guide to building unique support systems.

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