What is a House-rules Contract?

A House-rules Contract is a written set of expectations that adults have
of their adolescents (and preteens). The contract includes basic rules,
consequences and privileges.

What is the Purpose of a House-rules Contract?

The primary purpose of a House-rules Contract is for adolescents to be held accountable for their
behavior while allowing moms & dads to maintain a reasonable amount of control. A House-rules
Contract will teach adolescents that there are consequences to breaking rules, the knowledge of
which hopefully will transfer in the adolescent's mind to school rules as well as the legal system.

A House-rules Contract will not resolve the issues of feelings and emotions involved within the
relationships between moms & dads and adolescents. It can only act as a basic agreement that
may allow you to work toward a resolution for problem behaviors, minimizing the disruption and
interference that can many times occur during the process of getting bad behavior under control
and restructuring a family's rules.

Who is Included in a House-rules Contract?

We recommend that ALL PARENT-FIGURES with whom the adolescent has contact be involved in the
creation and enforcement of the House-rules Contract. This includes biological moms & dads, step-
moms & dads, adoptive moms & dads, custodial persons, noncustodial persons who are responsible
for the adolescents for all or part of a day, and legal guardians.

It is very important for divorced moms & dads to put their differences aside and come together for
the purposes of creating a unified front for the youngster, so that one parent does not end up
sabotaging another's efforts to bring the youngster's bad behavior under control. Kids will
manipulate and undermine moms & dads who are at odds with each other, but will conform much
more readily to a unified front. Even if the divorced moms & dads do not agree on other issues, it is
tremendously important for them to agree on how to manage an out-of-control adolescent. In
situations in which two divorced moms & dads really don't get along, the House-rules Contract can
sometimes best be accomplished with the help of a third party, such as a qualified therapist. Again,
moms & dads must put aside their differences for the sake of their wayward adolescent!!

Other adults who may be present in the home but are not actively involved in limit setting and the
process of raising the adolescent should be excluded; for example, an aunt or uncle who is staying
with the family. Adults will tend to have different expectations of an adolescent depending upon their
own outlook, and many times, adults who are not ultimately responsible for the adolescent may not
enforce the rules and consequences which you are taking the time to carefully plan, in essence,
undermining and making your contract ineffective.

ALL TEENS AND PRETEENS in the family should be included in the House-rules Contract. In order
to be effective, all kids need to see the House-rules Contract as fair. Therefore, it may not work to
single out the youngster with the bad behaviors and exclude siblings, as the offending youngster
will see it as unfair and will most likely refuse to follow it. If the compliant siblings protest their
involvement as they are already following the rules, remind them that this is a family effort and they
are part of the family. They can be told that since they are already following the rules, this home
contract should be a piece of cake for them and that you value their input. By including all siblings,
you are firmly establishing the fact that you are a FAMILY, and that getting the family to work as a
functioning unit requires the input and cooperation of each family member. This also establishes that
kids of all ages need to be held accountable for their behavior.

Who Should Write the House-rules Contract?

A copy of the blank House-rules Contract should
be given to every person who will ultimately be
signing the contract, including the adolescents
and preteens, for them to fill out with rules,
consequences and rewards they feel are
appropriate for the House-rules Contract.
Adolescents who feel that they are being heard
by their moms & dads and are allowed to
participate in this process are far more likely to
be compliant than those who are handed a set
of rules and told "Do it or else." Moms & dads
are often amazed at what rules the adolescents
think they should be following and at the
severity of punishments they assign for
themselves. Many moms & dads have had to
actually decrease the punishments that the
adolescent has stated he or she should have for not following certain rules. Other moms & dads
have found that their kids will think of very important items that they, the moms & dads, didn't even
consider or overlooked. When kids contribute significantly to a good working contract, their
contributions should be openly acknowledged and/or praised. It should be cautioned that moms &
dads should go over their kids' suggestions alone, before presenting them to the family, and they
should eliminate those suggestions which are made with the sole intent of belittling other family
members with whom siblings making the suggestions are not getting along.

Sometimes your adolescent will refuse to participate, and if that's the case, then you may let him
know that this contract will be implemented with or without his cooperation, and if he makes the
choice not to participate, you fully intend to follow the contract to the letter. If he ultimately doesn't
like something that is put in the contract, then that will be his problem because he didn't participate
in writing it. Again, the participation of each person in the family who will be involved, if at all
possible, is vital to the success of your contract, but don't allow yourself to be undermined by an
adolescent who is threatening noncooperation!

Your final contract should be the results of negotiation and compromise, taking everybody's ideas
into consideration. If the whole idea of a House-rules Contract threatens to break down when an
agreement cannot be reached between two or more parties, particularly moms & dads, the entire
family should strongly consider visiting a social worker or family therapist, even if only for one visit,
to get an objective third party to help break the log jam and create a Home Contract that everybody
can live with. However, some items should not be negotiable, such as an adolescent demanding a
curfew that is later than what the law in your area would allow for his or her particular age group.

What are Appropriate Consequences?

Moms & dads should provide progressive consequences for refusal to follow
rules and directions. Unfortunately, some moms & dads, in an effort to "get
tough" on their wayward adolescent, will go overboard and ground the
youngster for weeks and weeks for a single incident. The rationale behind
punishment should be primarily to offer an unpleasant learning experience so
that the adolescent will learn to correct his own behavior and not repeat the
offending action. For most adolescents, a punishment that consists of weeks of grounding on a first
offense is too long and will cause further resentment rather than be a learning experience for the
adolescent.

Steps to Creating a House-rules Contract

1.        Identify a maximum of five (5) problem behaviors that you feel need to be improved. These
behaviors could be priorities, and some should be related to the behaviors that are causing the most
problems, i.e., legal problems, school problems, or medical problems (such as illness due to drug
abuse or an overdose, or medication compliance issues if the adolescent is on psychiatric
medications such as Ritalin).

2.        Specifically identify what the expectation is for each behavior. Be clear and concise when
identifying expectations so that there is no chance for an adolescent to tell you he or she didn't
understand the expectation.

Example: Adolescent will attend all therapy sessions, including weekly individual and weekly family
therapy, and adolescent will take medication as prescribed.

3.        Specifically state what the privileges and consequences will be when an adolescent is either
following the rules or chooses to break the rules. These privileges and consequences should be
natural and logical. In other words, when possible, set a consequence that is related to the
misbehavior. Be sure you, the mom/dad, are willing and able to enforce the consequences that you
set or your contract will be worthless.

Example (for the expected behavior listed above):

   Consequence: Adolescent will not be given any privileges until he complies (car, phone, TV, radio,
going out with friends, etc.). THIS IS NOT NEGOTIABLE.

   Privilege: Adolescent will earn moms & dads' trust and be better equipped to cope with stresses.

4.        Set a date that the contract may be revised and/or negotiated. Renegotiation is based on
the amount of progress. Inform adolescent that he/she may earn more or fewer privileges based on
behavior in the interim. Encourage dialogue with your adolescent regarding privileges he or she may
want to earn in the future.

5.        VERY IMPORTANT - Consult with other parental figures to make sure that ALL ARE IN
AGREEMENT AND WILLING TO ENFORCE THE CONTRACT AS WRITTEN. If parental figures do not
agree on some of the items, it is imperative to make the necessary revisions to come to an
agreement. Again, a qualified therapist may be able to help you get over the hurdles of differing
opinions.

Examples of Items that Might be Included in a House-rules Contract

A Sample Contract with three items is included below. The items below are only suggestions to get
you started. Moms & dads must take their own individual circumstances and priorities into account
when setting up the individual items in a House-rules Contract. Some items that might be considered
priorities, other than those listed below, might include profanity or abusive language towards other
family members, homework issues for students with poor grades, and violent behavior towards
family members, including pushing, shoving, and slapping.

A list of possible priorities to include in a House-rules Contract includes:

1.        Alcohol/drug use
2.        Attendance at therapy sessions
3.        Chores
4.        Computer use
5.        Conflict resolution (helpful when two siblings are at each other's throats)
6.        Curfew
7.        Expression of anger or violence, including profanity
8.        Medication issues and compliance (for those who take regular medicines, such as Ritalin)
9.        Running away
10.      School behavior and grades
11.      Smoking
12.      Telephone use
13.      Use of the car

NOTE: For the safety of everybody involved, police should be called for ALL violent episodes that
occur on the part of the adolescent with the perceived intent of injuring a family member or
destroying property that belongs to other family members. Violence that has no consequences will
continue to escalate and could eventually result in a serious incident, so this type of behavior needs
to be halted immediately by allowing the adolescent to experience serious consequences for the
violent behavior (police, charges and possible court date). It sounds harsh to call the police on your
own youngster, but it is better to have the adolescent learn from you that violence will never be
tolerated, and that this behavior is absolutely forbidden, than for your adolescent to wind up in jail
down the road because he never had any consequences for violence at home. An old saying states
that if a mom/dad does not properly discipline a youngster, eventually society will do the disciplining.


SAMPLE CONTRACT

A.        Adolescent will not use any alcohol or drugs.

     Consequence: Adolescent will be grounded for one week. Grounding consists of: staying home,
no friends as guests, no phone calls, etc.). Punishment will increase one week for each subsequent
offense (i.e., if adolescent is caught using substances a second time, punishment will be for two
weeks, etc.). Note: It is VERY important to clearly state what being grounded consists of so that
there are no avenues for manipulation by the adolescent to get out of the punishment.

     Privilege: Adolescent will be allowed to continue going out with friends and may have continued
use of the car.

B.        Adolescent is expected to return home immediately after school except if prior arrangements
are made with moms & dads. Adolescent will inform moms & dads where he/she is going and will be
home by 8:00 p.m. on school nights and 11:00 p.m. on non-school nights.

     Consequence: Adolescent will be expected to come home twice as early as he was late for one
week. (e.g., if 30 minutes late, then curfew will be one hour earlier for the next week).

     Privilege: Adolescent will maintain current curfew and gain trust (some moms & dads may want
to allow their adolescent to work his/her way up to a later curfew by proving himself or herself, but
moms & dads should never set a curfew later than the legal curfew in their area).

C.        Adolescent will perform all assigned chores in a satisfactory manner, according to the
standards set by moms & dads. (It is helpful to provide a written list of daily chores so there is no
misunderstanding - a dry-erase marker board hung in the kitchen or other family area works great
for this purpose).

     Consequence: Adolescent will not be allowed any privileges until required chores are completed,
including TV, radio, computer, having friends visit or going out with friends.

     Privilege: Adolescent will maintain access to all privileges of the house, including watching TV,
using the computer, having friends visit, and going out with friends.


In summary, a House-rules Contract that has been carefully thought out and agreed to by all parties
can provide much structure to an adolescent who is having difficulty staying out of trouble.

A Blank House-rules contract for you to get started is provided by clicking on the below link. This
blank contract can be printed on your printer by clicking on the printer icon in your browser.


View and Print a Blank House-rules Contract
How to Create a "House Rules" Contract