How to handle a troubled teen: Using a family contract

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Dealing with a troubled teen is not easy, but a creative family contract could be a solution to your woes.

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Are you dealing with a troubled teen now? Try coming up with a family contract!

A troubled teen is never a ‘sight to behold’ — most of the time, having a troubled teen in the family leads to all sorts of ‘ugly’ situations.

Still, as parents, we don’t have the option to turn our backs on the troubled teen in our lives. Instead, we need to love them, and guide them through their troubled times.

Along with that love and guidance, we need to set expectations on both sides, and work on improving our communication as well.

Of course, if you’ve had all of these parenting ‘skills’ home prior to your child reaching the teenage years, it will be easier to deal with your troubled teen.

However, if you’re still looking for better options and ways, a family contract may be just what you need.

What is a family contract?

A family contract is just what the name implies — a contract between family members that outlines the rules, guidelines, expectations for your home/family and the consequences/benefits of living in or out of the same.

Who should write the family contract?

Every member of the family should give inputs as to what goes into a family contract. But remember, every home needs a leader and you, the parents, should be the leader(s) of your home.

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If you have older kids like tweens and teens in the family, you should include their inputs in your family contract.

Everyone’s opinions and needs should be taken into consideration, but as the parents, you do have the final say.

What should a family contract accomplish?

  • A contract is between two or more people and is meant to serve the greater good for all parties involved.
  • A contract is meant to bring all involved parties into agreement on the matter(s) at hand.
  • A contract involves concessions for all parties involved — give a little, get a little.
  • A contract can and should be amended from time to time, especially as your children reach different ages and stages of development.
  • A contract is meant to make expectations (for parents and children) clear, and should not be filled with trickery and deceit.

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A family contract is a good way to establish rules and expectations with your older children, especially those who are tweens/teens.

What should your family contract say?

The date and the name of all family members involved should be entered into the contract. You might also want to include the following:

Statement of beliefs: 

Your family contract should have a statement of beliefs or principles. This might include basic beliefs with regards to your faith, your commitment to your marriage and a declaration of your love for your children.

It doesn’t have to be anything formal or technically correct. Let it come from the heart and soul.

List of concerns being addressed:

These include grades, jobs, dating, chores around the house, driving privileges and responsibilities, physical well-being, cell phone usage, media usage, money, friends and religious practices. Each of these concerns should be outlined as to what is expected from everyone involved — children and parents alike.

Acceptable methods of accountability:

Care and attention need to be given to respect of privacy vs hiding a serious problem. It should also be clear that there are times when parents have privileges teens cannot have yet.

Take into consideration, too, the following matters: How will family members be held accountable? Will you have regular family meetings? How about one-on-one conversations?

It should also be clear that accusatory confrontations and public humiliations are forbidden within your family.

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Rules and expectations should be defined clearly in your family contract, to avoid causing you or your teen heartbreak.

Punishments and retributions:

Each violation of the family contract must carry with it a punishment or retribution. Otherwise, the contract is completely and utterly useless.

The ability to amend the contract and a procedure for doing so:

Your family contract needs to read in such a way that changes can be made to the contract when needed, following a pre-approved procedure. Examples of items that might need amendments every now and then might be dating and curfews.


A contract isn’t a contract unless it has been signed. The signatures are testimony that those who sign the contract are in full agreement with its contents.

Signing a contract not only makes it morally binding, but it is an important step in making the contract a statement of who you are as a family.

A last resort

If your teenager is already too steeped in negative behavior and poor (even dangerous) choices — including addictions or illegal activity — outside intervention may be necessary.

If this is the case, contact your clergy, professional counselors or healthcare professionals to seek appropriate treatment.

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Don’t give up on your troubled teen! This is the time when she needs you the most!

One last thought — don’t give up on your troubled teenager! Let her know that your love for her is unconditional, and that your desire for her is to get her the help she needs.

What are your suggestions for handling a troubled teen? Have you ever used a family contract to do so? Let us know by leaving a comment! 

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