Contracts and Parenting

Parents often ask me if I think parenting contracts are a good idea. I have posted about cell phone use contracts with teens before, but recently read a fascinating study on the importance of getting people to write their goals, ideas and promises down. In this study, participants had to estimate the wait time of lines. Group 1 had to make a guess on a blank piece of paper. All they had to do was write down the number. Group 2 wrote their number on a magic pad and then covered it so no one could see. Group 3 wrote their guess down, signed the paper and turned it in. Group 2 (with the least commitment to others) had the most wrong and often wanted to change their answers later. Group 1 and 3 were more committed to their original estimate regardless of what others said and got it right more often.

This study is a great indicator of human behavior. When we write things down we are more likely to stick to our goal AND be more correct. This can absolutely be used in our daily lives. When promising goals to ourselves, our spouses or kids, we always want to commit it to paper.

Here are Some Ideas for Parent-Kid Contracts:

-Driving Contract- driving with friends, hours at home, driving siblings.

Cell Phone Contract– Hours, who to call, minutes, texts, games, calling during family time

-Drinking and Smoking Contract- substances, partying,

-Dating Contract- Age limits, dating times, locations,

-List of Family Traditions, morals and values

-Chores Contract- A fridge board is always good for this.

-Electronics Contract- when to use TV, videogames, computer, hours etc.

-Family Time Contract- no cell phones, amount of time together, activities.

-School Contracts- Academics, Homework time, studying, grades,

-Curfew Contracts- after dances, parties, sleep-overs, what happens at friend’s houses

-Money Contracts: Allowance, summer jobs, spending money.

Tips to Set Contracts Up with Your Family:

1) Explain to your kids why you are setting up the agreement: You do not want to have to nag anyone about rules and consequences and this is a way to just write it all out. Also feel free to share the study, they might find it interesting!

2) Make sure you can live with the consequences in the agreement you make (can you really stand having to entertain them if they cannot watch tv /talk on the phone/ or play videogames for a month?)

3) Have a clause for ‘updating’ and how often you can make changes to the contract.

4) Have everyone sign it and put it up somewhere…it makes it feel more official.

This is part of our Science of Family series. If you would like to read more articles on the scientific research and studies behind relationships, families and teens, please visit our Science of Families page for tips and updated research.


Morton Deutsch and Harold B. Gerard, (1955) “A study of normative andinformational social influenes upon individual judgment.” The journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology Vol 51(3), 629-636.

4 Responses to “Contracts and Parenting”

  1. Shannon Smith
    March 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    Well said, Vanessa! I am a mom who has been following your website and reading your books for a few months now. You do a great job pointing out potential problems facing teens and some ways to avoid them. What I would love to see are articles, blogs, books, etc. to help parents and teens who have already made unwise life choices get back on track. You might want to read “Parenting Teens with Love and Logic” by Cline and Fay for starters and share their main points with your readers. It would be great for at-risk teens and their parents to have a source of hope that they can communicate better. Here is one gem from the book: when things get tense, the calm one can say, “I love you too much to argue with you right now. Let’s take a break and discuss this calmly in a little while, ok?” Anyway, keep up the great work!

  2. Vanessa Van Petten
    March 3, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    Thanks Shannon! I so so so appreciate the support, and even more I am happy that our articles are relevant to you. Let us know if you wan more on a specific topic.

    PS I do like Parenting with Love and Logic!

  3. Marta Perrone
    May 26, 2011 at 9:39 am #

    I love this idea of parenting contracts; it is similar to the need for nannies and parents to have employment contracts forming parameters and making official their promises to each other. Boundaries are crossed in every relationship…and that is when it begins to fall apart.


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