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Teen behavior contracts are formal written agreements on behavior expectations between a teen and a parent and/or school counselor or administrator.
Behavior contracts have several advantages for teens and their parents. For teens, behavior contracts make both the rules and the consequences of breaking the rules clear and can help develop habits of good behavior. Parents find that behavior contracts help them to be consistent with rules and discipline, and provide an opportunity to talk straightforwardly with their teens about important subjects such as drugs and alcohol, dating, and driving.
Behavior contracts are effective with many teenagers, including those with antisocial, disruptive, or delinquent behavior. Behavior contracts are especially good for teens with past or current behavior problems, as well as for troubled teens with physical or mental disabilities. Bullies, including those who are running into trouble with law enforcement, often benefit from behavior contracts. Behavior contracts have been used successfully with teens who have problems with drug or alcohol abuse.
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Behavior contracts need several components:
- A clear description of the good behavior expected from the teen
- What the positive consequences of the behavior will be
- What the negative consequences of not performing the specific behavior will be
- What the adults involved are expected to do
- A clear plan to help the teen achieve the good behavior
- A place for the signatures of the teen and adults involved
Some areas that may be covered by teen behavior contracts include:
- Performance or behavior at school
- Behavior at home, including treatment of other family members, language, or doing chores
- Driving privileges
- Clothing, tattoos, piercings, and other appearance issues
- Cell phone use or bill payment
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol
- Extracurricular activities or how free time is spent
Consequences of breaking the conditions of the behavior contract should be clearly stated in the contract, and should be appropriate to the situation. Parents must be consistent in enforcing consequences or behavior contracts are ineffective. Consequences could include one or more of the following:
- No driving
- No dating or free time with friends
- No cell phone or phone privileges
- No television or computer
- Loss of allowance
- Writing an apology
- Writing a report about the rule that was broken and why it is important
Parents can make their own teen behavior contracts, get one from a teacher or counselor, or buy them from companies that provide contracts. There are a few sites that have very simple outlines (you do most of the writing) that you can download for free, or some that are complete with minimal fill in the blanks (see sources below for links).
When setting up a behavior contract with a teen, parents should explain what the contract is and why it is important. If the behavior contract involves others, such as a teacher or counselor at school or a law enforcement officer, try to include that person in the meeting as well. Be very clear about the rules and the behaviors expected from the teen, and be sure that you can live with the consequences (i.e. if the teen cannot drive if rules are broken, are you able to change your schedule to take him or her where he or she needs to go?). Have a trial period, perhaps one month, to try out the behavior contract, then reevaluate it with the teen to see if it seems to be working. Always praise the teen for any improvements in his or her behavior.
Behavior Contracts Sources:
- National Education Association, Classroom Management, Behavior Contracts [online]
- Parent / Teen Behavior Contracts, ParentContracts.com [online]
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Stop Bullying Now,” Involvement of Law Enforcement Officers in Bullying Protection [online]
- National Library of Medicine, Health Services/Technology Assessment Text, “Behavioral Contracts in a Treatment Program for People Who Are Deaf” [online]