Addressing Unspoken Family Rules


A Note From The Santa Monica Teen & Family Therapist

It is important to identify your rules for dealing with your teen as well as their rules for dealing with you. – Sandra


  • “I’ll give you anything you want if in return you will love and respect me.”
  • “I need to raise my kids the exact opposite of how my parents raised me.”
  • “Since I am your mom, I obviously know what is best for you.”


  • “Whatever trouble I get into, my dad will get me out of it.”
  • “It’s my parent’s job to do everything for me.”
  • “Everything should go my way. If not, I get to throw a tantrum and disturb everyone around me.”

We usually make up rules based on varying experiences we have had in life, their purpose being to help direct the exchanges we have with others. These rules are generally neither right or wrong, but they either either work–or they don’t.

You should keep using the rules governing your exchanges with your teen only if you are getting positive results. Remember, hidden rules can sabotage a relationship.

We ultimately need to try and bring hidden rules out into the open. If there are hidden agendas or rules, people usually feel they are trapped, unclear about what is expected of them. This often leads to rebellion and/ or power struggles.

By putting the rules on the table they can be talked through, and made transparent. An example of naming the rules would be “the reason I can buy you the things you want is because I worked overtime. The reason I can do this is because you help out at home with the work I normally do. By your helping me, I can help you.”

Teenagers then know that there is a cost for what they are getting. By doing this, you help teens become more aware and grateful. Adolescents know that they must take part in the exchange, if only to say “thank you.”

It can be very helpful to first approach a teen asking “What do you want?” and clarify what that means to them. You can then ask the big question…”What are you willing to give to get that?”

Remember, you are in the power position. Power, used wisely, can eliminate power struggles allowing you to focus attention on creating exchanges that work.

If your teen or young adult child is struggling socially or emotionally, I can help you to discover the cause and remedy it.

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