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Creating An Effective Behavioral Agreement With Your Teen

Having problems getting through to your defiant adolescent about needed behavior changes? A behavioral agreement may be the way to go. Behavioral agreements are contracts between parent and youngster intended to produce desired outcomes. It may be higher grades, doing more chores, developing a better attitude, or making new friends. Regardless, the process to create a behavioral agreement is the same.

All moms and dads have a wish list for their kids. College preparation may be on the list. Doing more work around the house, or at least keep their bedroom clean makes most lists. Improved attitudes and more respect for moms and dads and other adult authority figures can be big. Pick the changes and plan an agreement that will lead to what you want.

Points to consider before drafting a behavioral agreement:

1. You are unlikely to turn an extremely poor student into the class academic leader with one quick agreement. Pick your battles and put them in writing. Avoid making the agreement sound like an ultimatum if possible. This is a contract reached by something resembling mutual consent. If both of you do not agree on it, it will not work very well.

2. Reducing unwanted behavior should have a reward attached. Likewise, when positive behavior is observed, it needs to be rewarded, too. The trick here is to find out how much change is enough to receive a reward. If you make it too little change, you will see very little progress. If you make it too much change, your adolescent may lose the incentive to try. This can be a little trial and error until you find what works best for your youngster. Your adolescent will probably tell you if it is too hard. It is not likely to be said if it is too easy. Find a system of rewards that excite your adolescent enough to keep her working for it. The reward may be something that you have on your list of dislikes which is really not terrible in the big scheme of things (e.g., a body piercing).

3. Failing to come home on time needs to be part of an agreement if it is a problem. Playing too many video games for too long and too often may need to be considered. For most adolescents, you need to include sexual activity as something to be eliminated. You will have your own list of behaviors to eliminate.

4. Lack of quality communication is what leads to most situations between adolescents and their moms and dads. Use the development of this agreement to establish some lines of communication. Make sure that the changes are not to just make you happy, but are intended to cause long-term benefits for the adolescent.

5. Be flexible when opening the negotiations. Listen to your adolescent as much as you talk. Make sure that it is not just you lecturing your adolescent. Be willing to delay some of your wants to get your adolescent on board with the agreement. Once it is working and your youngster sees the upside, making a new and more extensive agreement will be much easier. Keep this one simple. A mutual agreement that will work is your goal.

Creating the behavioral agreement:

1. First, arrange a time to meet with all the grown-ups who are responsible for enforcing rules and disciplining your adolescent (e.g., biological parent who lives outside the home, stepparent).

2. Discuss the problems that you are having with your adolescent. Allow everyone involved to offer input as different issues may arise with different caregivers. Behaviors that may be addressed include:
  • treatment of parents
  • school performance
  • dating
  • curfew
  • car use
  • cell phone use
  • alcohol and drug abuse

3.  Note ideas on paper as you brainstorm together. Finalize a list of pertinent matters and number the matters in order of importance (e.g., potentially dangerous issues like drug and alcohol use require more urgent attention than the amount of time your adolescent spends on her cell phone).

4. Narrow the list down to no more than 5 behaviors that you want the adolescent to focus on improving. Include these behaviors in the initial agreement and add others at a later date as he progresses.

5. Write a sentence for each behavior that states how your adolescent is expected to behave in a given situation. Format the sentence in first person perspective from your adolescent’s point of view. Utilize positive words and phrases.

6. Decide on a positive consequence that will result when your adolescent fulfills the expectation (e.g., a special privilege). You may also choose to simply list the natural consequences of good behavior (e.g., trust, respect, more freedom).

7. Determine what the consequence will be if your adolescent fails to behave in the desired manner. Consider consequences that are effective with your youngster and appropriate to the behavior, as well as your ability to enforce the chosen discipline.

8. List both the positive and negative consequences underneath each expectation. Establish the period of time for which the agreement will be valid and note the date at the bottom.

9. Create a chart with each expectation listed on the side and the days of the week across the top. Track your adolescent’s behavior throughout the length of the agreement by filling in the chart accordingly.

10. Meet with all the parties who are involved in the agreement. Review the terms of the agreement and clarify any questions that are presented. Allow your adolescent an opportunity to offer constructive feedback.

11. Include revisions as required to the agreement. Have everyone sign and date the final draft. Make a copy of it for each party.

12. Use the behavior chart to monitor your adolescent’s behavior on a daily basis. Enforce the terms of the agreement consistently to achieve positive results.

13. Revise the behavioral contract accordingly upon its expiration date. New expectations can be added as your adolescent displays a consistent ability to make positive choices in situations addressed within the original agreement.

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