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Why You Need Rules AND Principles to Parent Well by Fern Weis, Parent + Family Recovery Coach

We parents tend to want to control our children’s behaviors and attitudes. Over time we develop a long list of rules. Rather than complying, our kids often push back and rebel. We end up arguing and making more rules, and cooperation becomes something we only dream about.

This is where your values and principles come into play. It is possible to have more peace and cooperation at home, even with rebellious teenagers. “Why you need rules AND principles to parent well” will show you how to do just that.

There are days when parenting a teenager seems like an endless series of confrontations over enforcing the rules. Our focus is often on maintaining some control. When we feel as if we are losing control, we may add another rule, and then another. We end up with a list of rules, and unhappy, uncooperative kids. Knowing what your principles are can make it easier to parent and decide on more effective rules. So what are rules and principles, and how are they different?

Rules are all about how we want things done, or not done, in the course of our day. They help establish order, and make things predictable. For example, you may have a rule that says “Don’t leave dishes in the family room” or “Homework must be finished before you post on Instagram.”

Principles are your values. They guide how you live your life. What is on your list of values to live by – respect, cleanliness, positive attitude, honesty, compassion, persistence?

The biggest difference between rules and principles is this: rules change, principles don’t. If we are having a bad day, or our kids are having a bad day, we may change a rule or two. Our principles, our values, do not change. And you need them both.

The first step is to determine what your values are. What are the guiding principles of your life? This is a great opportunity to have a discussion with your children about what is important to you and to them. You can make separate lists and then see where your principles match up, or brainstorm the list together. You may be pleasantly surprised to find out how much you have in common, and to see that they really do understand some of the things you’ve tried to teach them. As teens, they are often in a state of confusion; however, underneath all that angst, they have taken in more than you realize… you just may not see it for a while.

The next step (not necessarily in the same sitting) is to make a list of the rules you believe are necessary to keep your family and home running smoothly. Ask yourself, “Why have I chosen these particular rules?” Now here is the part that will take some thought – What are the principles or values behind those rules? If it’s about not leaving dishes around the house, that may be because you value cleanliness and don’t want bugs feasting in your living room. If it’s about doing homework first, it might be that education is a priority, and that we act responsibly by completing required work first.

Did you notice that first you establish what your values are? They are the true underpinning of your life. Now add the rules. Once you are clear about your rules-principles equation, your foundation is set. No, your children will not necessarily buy into it. They are kids, after all. There are other things they’d rather do, and they want to do them now; however, it will make parenting, decision-making, and sticking to your decisions easier on you.

When you are clear about your principles, you can opt out of the discussions that teens are so good at drawing us into, discussions that go nowhere and leave you scratching your head about not making any progress. Or maybe you find yourself giving in, because kids are so good at outlasting us when they really want something.

Remember that first step where you and your kids found common ground on what you value? Gently remind them that they identified with some shared beliefs. Keep coming back to your principles and quietly end the discussion.

When you are committed to your principles, decision-making is clear, too. You don’t have to wonder if your decision or rule is right for the occasion. If it is aligned with your principles, you’re set. This is the consistency that both parents and teens need in order to navigate through the days, and through life.

Fern Weis is a certified life coach who learned that caring and good intentions are not enough in parenting.  In fact, they are often the problem! Fern supports parents of teens and young adults who are going through difficult situations, including addiction recovery.  She helps parents release guilt, end enabling and confidently prepare their children to thrive through life's challenges. Her articles are featured in Thrive Global, Medium, Motherly, The Teen Mentor, and Bergen County Moms.  

Learn more about coaching and classes at And then download your free guide, "Five Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk." For information on Family Recovery programs, visit

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