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Rules of Civility for Teenagers

By Anna Green ; Updated September 26, 2017
Parents play an important role in modeling civility for their teenagers.

Although it is relatively common and developmentally expected for teenagers to break rules, sometimes be self-centered and show a lack of empathy, setting clear rules for civility is important for adolescents. Without clear expectations for how to behave in social settings, teenagers might not develop the skills or moral grounding they need to succeed.

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Modeling Civility

According to psychologist Rick Nauert of the website PsychCentral, modeling civil behavior is an important task for parents because teenagers often emulate the way they see their parents behave and interact with others. Showing respect to your teen, partner and people in the community can model civil behavior for your adolescent. Simple acts, such as saying “please” and “thank you,” and handling disagreements constructively can be good ways of establishing rules of civility for teenagers.

Importance of Rules

Without clear rules for what civil behavior looks like, it's difficult for teenagers to understand exactly what you expect of them. Talk to your teenager regularly about what type of behaviors you expect. For example, have regular discussions about how you expect your teen to behave at home, at school and online. In addition to setting rules, parents should also try to understand teenagers' inappropriate behaviors and use errors in judgment as opportunities to teach rather than just punish, according to a web page on the Brigham Young University website.

Consistency, Reinforcement and Punishment

Rules of civility will have little effect on teenagers if you do not enforce them. Along with enacting appropriate punishments for breaking rules of civility -- for example, taking away computer privileges for using rude language online-- parents should reinforce positive behaviors with praise. It is also crucial for parents to enforce rules consistently. This will help teenagers understand that these rules of civility are expected behaviors, not mere suggestions for how to behave.

General Rules of Civility

Most teenagers can benefit from basic rules of civility, such as showing respect for other people’s emotional and physical boundaries, including asking before using other family members’ possessions. Likewise, parents might set rules on handling disagreements in appropriate ways -- for example, talking calmly about how conflicts affect them, rather than yelling or slamming doors. Rules of civility might also include rules against cursing, name-calling or other derogatory language.

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About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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