How to Deal With a Kid Who Intentionally Broke a House Rule

Dear Kid Whisperer,

I worry about asking this question because I don’t know if you will think this is silly or not, but because of my faith, I do not want my children to listen to the radio and listen to popular music without adult supervision. Last week my fourteen-year-old was listening to some music on her clock radio that I do not find to be acceptable. She knows she is not allowed to listen to it, but she did it anyway. What do I do about this? -Rebecca, Solon, Ohio



First, your rules are not silly. They are your rules and your rules are none of my business. I don’t decide what people’s rules should be for their kids. Rules come from your values, which are deeply personal. Other people’s opinions about those values are irrelevant. Where I can come in is to help you set and enforce your family rules without getting angry, or frustrated, or acting in a way that you would rather not act.

So, here goes.

Kids notice action, while they will often ignore words. This is a chance to set a limit through action.

Here’s how I would set those limits with your young one as I walk into her bedroom:

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. (Kid Whisperer unplugs and takes Kid’s clock radio)

Kid: Hold on. That is my means of intaking my favorite popular music tunes.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. As you are aware, we have a rule about never listening to the radio unsupervised. You broke that rule, so I am going to take your clock radio until I see that you are able to be trustworthy during other times.

Kid: That rule is stupid. I need my radio back.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. I will give this back as soon as soon as you show me with your actions that you can be trusted. You are a very trustworthy person, so it shouldn’t take too long.

Kid: Knock, knock.

Kid Whisperer: Who’s there?

Kid: This rule is stupid. Give me back my radio.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. I’m not sure this conversation is helping either of us. Good luck. We’ll see how you do.

Kid Whisperer leaves with the radio and stores it under lock and key.

Whenever Kid does anything that shows that she can be trustworthy, such as showing up for breakfast or coming home from being at a neighbor’s house on time, or doing a chore without being asked, use the following words: “I noticed that you were trustworthy.” Then move on. This way you are encouraging the behavior that you want to see. This is much more effective than nagging Kid when she is untrustworthy. Nagging can accidentally reinforce negative behaviors because it gives attention to behaviors we’d rather not see.

This noticing will be supercharged because you have attached it to a means of getting her radio back.

Of course, if Kid never agrees to use the radio the way you want her to use it, she should never get it back, and you may just decide that you want to take away the clock radio anyway, and give it back to her when she moves out of the house. Regardless, by following this guidance you will be able to set a limit, follow through, and stay true to the moral code that you wish to instill in your home.