185: The Teen Contract

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Mama Thursday | 0 comments

Welcome, Mamma Crew, to another chaotic, exciting, but always beautiful day of an older mom like you!

Part of adulting 101 for parents (because we have a lot of parenting too, as parents) is transferring power to our teenagers. For the longest time, we held all the power when they were babies, toddlers, kids, and then in the tween years, we slowly began that transfer. As they hit the teenage years, the transfer started becoming a little bit faster. And it’s a hard shift. We often talk about how hard it is for the kids, but it’s also challenging for the moms. 

It’s complicated because, while they can drive us crazy, at the same time, they don’t need us as much as they used to. Our kiddos don’t always know that. They don’t always understand that. But we, as parents, feel it and understand it first.

Just recently, my husband and I had to travel to our home in the Caribbean, and we ended up having to stay there for two weeks. And let me tell you, my emotions were really contradictory. On the one hand, I was so proud that my girls were self-sufficient and fairly responsible for thirteen and a half-year-olds. I was amazed that I was gone in the two weeks and then had to quarantine after I returned, and the girls were able to get along relatively well. Not that they don’t get along, but they bicker a lot like most sisters do. But they managed that because they knew that their parents were not there to constantly help them referee their problems. 

At the same time, it broke my heart that they didn’t need me as much as they used to. I felt throughout the three weeks that I had done too good of a job, too fast. I know plenty of moms who have teenage kids who are nowhere near as independent as mine or as self-sufficient. So, my heart would just break, and I felt like it had gone too fast. It was happening too fast, and I wasn’t ready. How could I be caught unaware? But the reality was that is exactly what had happened. 

Time had passed, and my kids were letting go, but I wasn’t ready to let go as fast as they were. And I get it. They’re moving to the next stage of their life, and the next stage of their life is an exciting one. I mean, in their late teens, they’re going to get to go to college. They’re going to get to try different things, to travel. I get all of that, and I’m excited for them. Oh my God, it’s hard to let go of your babies because, in some way, shape, or form, they’re always going to be my babies. 

But if we want our kids to be healthy adults, self-sufficient and independent, well, it’s part of adulting for older moms to start letting go. Not to share power with our kids but to transfer it to them. The power to make more decisions. The power to make more mistakes in a safe place where we can still help them navigate the consequences of those mistakes. The thing is that in order to adult well, you have to learn not just to make decisions but to make mistakes. And it’s hard. It’s hard as parents to allow our kids to make mistakes. It’s so much easier just to run in there and fix it for them. 

I was recently thinking that one of my daughters had to deal with a girl who was two years younger than her who has such a strong personality and character that even I often forgot that he was two years younger than my daughter. My daughter, the one I’m talking about, is a people pleaser and has social anxiety. And so you have this child that is struggling to find herself with this child who has a very strong sense of themselves. And I did a lot of rescuing there. 

Now I think back at it, and I know I shouldn’t have done that. That was a mistake on my part. I should’ve helped my daughter navigate the situation. I was so concerned that the potential mistake would impact her social standing in our community that I just couldn’t stop myself from intervening. I’ve robbed my daughter of an opportunity to make a mistake and learn from it and become a better person because of them.

We can’t grow without making mistakes. We can’t grow without experiencing pain. And that’s one of the hardest things to allow our children to go through, making those mistakes and feeling that pain. So, lately, I have been allowing my kids to make mistakes and have to deal with the consequences of those mistakes. You know, not that it’s been any easier, but I really do try to take a step back.

The Teen Contract is Making Our Transition of Power to these Pretty Girls Much Easier!

One of my kids recently made quite a social faux pas. They have an all-girls Valentines’ gathering, and it’s meant to be just friends. No romance, just friends to celebrate that. But it was only supposed to be girls, and she made the mistake of informing a boy (who is their friend–not a boyfriend, just a friend) that he was not invited to the party. Okay. This created a massive disaster, major drama, hurt feelings. You name it! 

My first impulse was, this is going to spill over to our party on Sunday, a co-ed party.  The boy was also threatening to show up at that all-girls party on Saturday as well. 

So, number one, I thought I should call the mom and let her know this boy’s potential to crash the party is there. And number two, I needed to do something to mediate this situation. So, here I am with my finger on my phone screen, ready to text… and I pulled my finger away. 

I pulled it away. First, because it was my daughter who created the mistake. She’s the one that created the problem. She’s the one that needs to fix it. My other daughter, who’s totally stressed out about the situation, wanted me to do something about it. But the answer was, “No.” No, because her sister needs to figure out how to deal with the consequences of making those kinds of mistakes. Mainly because she keeps making these kinds of mistakes. This is not the first time she was indiscrete. She keeps making this mistake over and over again. And as long as I keep rescuing her, she’s never going to learn to stop making the mistake or know how to fix the mistake she made. 

Now, she also has the habit of not asking for help, making it very difficult for me. But you know what? I was guilty of that as a kid and in my early 20’s. I didn’t ask for help. I had to learn to ask for help.  Additionally, when you’re constantly being rescued, not only do you not learn from your consequences, but you never become self-sufficient. You’re always expecting somebody else to fix it for you. 

So, despite the potential for disaster there, I stepped back. I pulled myself back, and I did not allow myself to intervene. My other daughter, the one that’s asking for help, what I told her was, “This is not your problem.” 

And that’s also part of growing up, learning when something is not our responsibility or problem. This is a very important lesson that I want to teach my kids as a child of an alcoholic father and an extremely codependent mother. I have codependent tendencies. I always want to fix things. 

So I said to her, “You didn’t cause this problem. You don’t have to deal with the consequences of this problem. If this boy does show up to the other party, it’s the other mom’s responsibility to deal with it. It’s the other girl’s responsibility to deal with it. They have their own relationship with that boy that they need to address. And I get it that you’re upset that your sister made this mistake, but you know what? Come Sunday, and if there’s a problem at your party, I’m going to pull her out, pull the boy out and have them talk it out.”

That would be the extent of my intervention: making my daughter responsible for her own mistake. She has to be able to deal with it. And here’s the thing, whether she realizes it or not, she’s one of the hostesses at this party. So, she has to make sure that other people in our home are comfortable and that everybody’s having a good time. That’s part of the responsibility of hosting.

Are there potential things that are going to be testy or go wrong? Yup. You got it. I already know that that’s going to happen. But she’s going to have to deal with it because she’s the one that created the problem. 

So, as we navigate these new waters, this transfer of power by transferring responsibilities and freedom, my husband and I decided that we really needed to look into a teen contract. Now, when I first heard of it, I thought it was kind of ridiculous because that’s always my tendency to say, “Can’t we just talk about these things?” 

But then I realized I like this idea of having things in writing. I think it’s going to make my life easier. I really think it is. So, we’re in the process of introducing it. 

So, what’s a teen contract? Well, in our case, the teen contract defines the expectations that we have for our children. Family rules. Here’s an example. We’re a household that attends church. Now, we haven’t been attending due to the pandemic, but we’re a household that attends church. We believe in God. Now, one of my daughters is Wicca. Okay? That’s her thing, and I went through this in my 20’s. Am I concerned about it? To be honest with you, I’m not. I’m not at all. I have no problem with her looking for the feminine divine. I have no problems with her exploring other forms of worship. But she has to be respectful about the family’s beliefs, and she still has to attend church when we attend church. Period. 

So, that’s what I mean by defining expectations. Even through their individuality, they still need to understand that certain things are expected from them as long as they’re part of this family. 

It also defines responsibilities. Who’s responsible for loading and unloading the dishwasher? The responsibility of having certain things done on time? Like their schoolwork. 

It defines the responsibility of their emotional contribution to the family: taking care of each other. I have this rule where they’re not allowed to go out on their own. They’re not. Here’s the thing, there’s three of them. This Saturday, when they go to their Valentine’s all-girl party, one of them doesn’t want to go. That’s fine. The other two can go. If only one wanted to go? That would not work. They would have to convince one of the other two to go with them. And it behooves them to cooperate and compromise because there will be a time when one of them will want to go someplace, so guess what? You need to cooperate. 

It also defines consequences because I don’t know about you, but sometimes when they messed up, and I’m tired, and I’m trying to cook dinner, and I have million other things to do, it’s just easy to say,

“I’m taking the phone away from you” or whatever, and that’s that.  

And then the question invariably becomes, “For how long?” 

If you press me on the spot, I’m always going to give you a longer time than if you actually give me time to calm down and think about it.”

It also makes certain that they understand the difference between privileges and needs. What do I mean by that? Well, our teen contract very clearly defines that they’re going to have to start paying for their telephone service. That does not mean that they’re entitled to have a telephone. That means that if they follow certain guidelines, they have the privilege of paying for that telephone service so they can use their phone. If they don’t meet those guidelines? It doesn’t matter whether they paid for the phone or not. They still don’t get to use it. 

And the thing about it is, I don’t have to argue with them. I just refer the girls back to the teen contract. 

“What does it say on the teen contract? If this happens, what’s the consequence?”

So, this leads to a lot less parental stress and better adulting 101 for the kids. They come to me. They want to make an argument. They want to make a case. I refer them back to the contract. I don’t need the stress of arguing with them. I just don’t. I have a lot going on. I have a lot I need to do.  

We plan on doing a monthly review of the contract. Where are we? What’s working? What’s not working? And the girls will be able to discuss their feelings about the contract with us during that monthly meeting. It doesn’t mean that they get to decide whether or not there should be a change in the contract. But they can request a change, and when they request it, this is a change that has to be well articulated and well explained. They have to come up with a reason for changing it, but what responsibility do they have to do as a result of requesting a privilege, and what happens if they don’t meet that responsibility. So, they’re really going through a process of understanding that decisions have consequences, not just positive but sometimes negative. 

“What are the consequences? How are we going to handle those consequences as a family?” 

So, through that discussion process and those changes, we are also transferring power to them. We are giving them more freedom, more privilege, and more responsibility, which is the key. The contract really helps us keep things in balance. They shouldn’t have too much freedom and very little responsibility, or too much responsibility and very little freedom. There needs to be a balance. 

And frankly, I’m going to tell you that I’m not a one-for-all type of parent. My kids mature at different phases. They have different personalities, so I take that into account. Maybe one of them will advance in the acquisition of responsibility and freedom faster than the others. I never hear, “But she can do it!” 

The girls know that it doesn’t matter. You’re not her. That just does not cut it. 

We do have to be willing to change the contract as a parent. Not to negotiate but to change it. For example, in the community that we live in the Caribbean, kids can drive golf carts, and what I’ve said to the girls is the following: 

“Right now, you can drive the golf cart as long as an adult is with you, which is usually my husband or me.

And, of course, their response was, “But so and so is already driving the golf cart by themselves.”  

And I said, “Well, tell you what? When you can pass the written drivers test in Florida, I chose Florida because I don’t know how to find a copy of the Caribbean island’s written practice test. I know where to find it for Florida.  When you can pass that, and you can pass the driving test (parallel parking, reverse, stopping at appropriate places without any help), then guess what? You can start driving the golf cart by yourself. But until that point, I’m sorry, you cannot.” 

Look, as an adult, you had to pass your driver’s test, the written and the one with the instructor in your car. You had to do it to get your permit, your license. So, it’s very clearly written in our teen contract; it’s not up for debate. 

On the other hand, when we were talking about curfew, they were like, “Okay. When we go back to the island, we’re going to be fourteen, and we want to have a curfew on the weekends.” 

Now the weekend in our home means Friday and Saturday. It does not include Sunday because Monday is a workday. 

So, I said, because, well, I’m a mom, “You can stay out till eight with your friends as long as you respond to my text within five minutes, and your friend location is on so I know where you are. And if you’re going to change from one kid’s home to another kid’s home, you need to let me know.” 

And they were like, “You’re crazy, mom! Come on! Eight o’clock? We don’t even go to bed at that time. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”  

I started low because I knew they were going to want to negotiate. Okay, so I said, “Well, you’re not even fourteen. So, I’ll tell you what. I’ll say till nine. When you turn fourteen, we can discuss ten.” 

Now, this is a gated and closed community. We know all of the girls’ friends’ parents. They’re going to be fine. I know that. I’m giving them freedom within a contained space. Right? And besides, remember “The Buddy System.” There has to be at least one sibling with them to be at a friend’s house anyhow. And I understand, even as I said this for now, that when they turn fourteen, I will have to move that time post. It is going to have to go up. When they turn fifteen, it’s going to have to go up again, and when they turn sixteen? Dang, it! It’s going to have to go up again, and so on. 

I’m going to have to change the contract because they are changing. But the girls have to be able to demonstrate that they are responsible if they want that change. The teen contract also allows you to negotiate things without turning them into a war. The onus is not on me to make changes to the contract. The onus is on them. And it’s normal, think about it. They are the ones that are going to request more freedom. They want to have more freedom, they have to have more responsibility, back to the balance thing. They know that it’s already there. So, every time they request a change, they will ask for more freedom; they have to come up with a thing they’re going to be responsible for. One does not come without the other. Freedom-Responsibility. 

They’re the ones that need to come up with the responsibilities, the consequences, and it has to be within the family expectations. They just cannot go off the reservoir and do whatever they want. It doesn’t work that way. 

And one of the things that we have incorporated into the contract is that they now have their own credit card. It’s not really a credit. Well, it’s a debit card. It’s called Greenlight. They get an allowance, so they’re basically earning their own money by meeting their responsibilities. And they’re going to have to start paying for their expenses. 

Now, I have a hard time with this. I have to be honest with you because I see a cute outfit, I see a cute pair of shoes, and if I see a good sale, I’m gonna want to buy for them. I already know this. But I’m not going to, because they need to learn to manage their money. They need to learn to earn their money. We’ve hit that stage. It’s important. Independence and self-sufficiency are financial, not just emotional, not just a consequence of maturity. Okay? I don’t care how smart you are if you can’t handle money, you’re not going to have a very happy life. 

I Am So Proud That I Have Raised Three Teenage Girls Who Are Such Self-Sufficient and Responsible!

So, they’re learning about saving, they’re learning about their expenses, they’re learning about investing, believe it or not. I’m going to add a link for the investing course for kids. I think it’s a great course. You should really check it out. And more importantly, they’re starting to distinguish between wants and needs because they have a limited budget to work with. It’s not mommy’s and daddy’s unlimited budget. It’s their limited budget so, if they spend someplace, not going to be able to spend someplace else. Yes, we’re still paying for courses, but pretty soon, they’re going to be expected to pay for at least half their lessons. They want to take a voice lesson. The voice lesson is 30 dollars. They’re going to be expected to pay 15 dollars out of it. 

They have to be able to distinguish between the wants and the needs. They have to learn to balance their own budgets to meet those needs and wants because we’re not going to be around forever to help them figure it out.

So, the teen contract is helping us to transition power. Where the kids get more power, and we get to step back and relax a little more. I mean, after all, that is the ultimate goal as parents. Isn’t it? To help our children become independent, self-sufficient adults that can construct their own happiness.

So, hey! I was just thinking that after all the time I spent delivering you great content, I would really like to know what you think of the show. So, please take five minutes to review and rate our show or write a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you! For links and resources, please visit our website.

If you’re sharing an imperfect journey to motherhood, welcome to the Mamma Crew! Till next time! Embrace the joys of imperfection. Toodles!


Please support our Older Moms’ Blog through our affiliate links or sponsors!

Black and White Checkered Top https://amzn.to/3daupaF
Gray Shirt with Rainbow Printhttps://amzn.to/3daupaF
Shockproof iPad Casehttps://amzn.to/31jQFJm
Buckeye Shirtshttps://amzn.to/3snvO3Y
Black Sneakershttps://amzn.to/3rlrXTy

Dr B.

I began my journey into motherhood at the age of 40 when I became a mother of twins! Today I am a mother of 4! Being an older mom might be a growing trend, but we are still a minority with our own unique blessings and challenges. Join me in this journey! To contact me directly, email me at oldermoms@entrepreneurialdreamers.com