How To Create a Win-Win Agreement With Your Teen

Parenting a teenager can be the best and most challenging time in a family.  Kid’s personality and independence really come out during the teen years in a positive way…and a difficult one, too.

Puberty hits and hormones are going crazy, the pleasure center of the brain is magnified while the decision-making part of the brain is muted.  The result can be moody kids, poor choices and lots of fights.

Of course, it’s tough on families!  Parents, you’re not alone.

It’s normal for adolescents to strive for autonomy and control in their lives.  It’s our job as parents to share power while staying strong on core values.

Naturally, parents struggle with how to handle this rapid change. The tendency when stress hits is to back off and become too loose and permissive or for parents to dig their heels in and become rigid and angry.  Neither is ideal.

The win-win agreement is a great tool to help families find the right balance.

Think Win-Win

The concept of a Win-Win agreement comes from the work of Dr. Stephen R. Covey and his original book on the topic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Thinking win-win is all about the attitude.  A win-win attitude deeply values mutual benefit, fairness and thinks abundantly. You’re sensitive to the needs of others and courageous enough to share your own needs.

A win-win minded person thinks “How can we both get what we want?”  It takes maturity and self-awareness.

Creating a win-win agreement takes things a step further.  It’s an informal or formal agreement that’s considerate of everyone involved. It’s a powerful tool to handle those difficult, stressful issues.

Here’s how it works.

Look at the Issue

Start by looking at the bigger picture of what’s happening.  Let’s say your teen wants more time with his friends but you feel he’s cutting you off.  You have no idea what’s happening in his world.  Not to mention you’re really frustrated with his lack of respect for the house and you’re sick of always nagging.

Ask yourself “How can we both win?”

This can be really difficult.  The tendency is to point out wrongs or to say “I’ve already tried everything…nothing works….he should do this stuff without me asking”  These thoughts are not helpful and they keep you stuck right where you are.

Win-win is about thinking differently.   It’s looking beyond your frustration and looking for mutual goals in alignment with your family values.  Start by involving the other person and talking or writing out a list of wins for both of you.  Here’s an example-

Wins for Mom

Help with the laundry on Saturday afternoons.

Taking off shoes at the door.

Hearing from my son at least one thing about his day each night.

Eating dinner together as a family.

Wins for Son

Time to chill out in bedroom after school.

Not being hassled all week about the laundry.

Being allowed to go to Friday night games.

5 Elements of the Win-Win Agreement

The next step is to start creating an agreement.  Dr. Covey describes 5 elements of an effective win-win agreement

  1. Desired Results– What is it you both want? Stay firm on values and flexible on the little stuff.  This is where the art of parenting comes in.
  2. Guidelines– What rules are going to be set in place? How will you know when each has done what has been agreed?
  3. Resources– Is there help, resources or other support for your child to be successful?  What can he/she do when they run into trouble or need support?
  4. Accountability– When is the timeframe and who’s checking on the results?
  5. Consequences– What happens (good or bad) as a result of the check-in?

So let’s take the issue from above.  In that scenario, the mother and son might decide on and write out an agreement like this:

Son agrees to take care of laundry by Sunday night and have dinner with the family.  He’ll also hang out after dinner to talk and help with dishes.  Additionally, he agrees to keep up his grades, report his current average on Sunday nights and turn in his cell phone each night by 10 pm.

Mom agrees not to nag about laundry until Monday if it’s not done.  She’ll also let him have down time in his room before dinner.  If her son needs support with school work, she’s willing to take him to early morning tutoring and can help him get organized if he asks.  Unless something unforeseen comes up, as a result of sticking to the agreement, Son can go to the game on Friday with friends.

The idea is simple, but don’t be tricked into thinking it’s not powerful.  The best solutions to complex problems are often surprisingly simple (not necessarily easy).   This is an approach that can make headway for real change.

Now, let me be very honest.  The downside of a win-win agreement is that it takes more time and more work.  The tendency is to backslide and go right back into the old patterns.  If we see that our child is has failed we may want to go right back to nagging, giving up, or over-managing our kids and saying “This won’t work.”.

I encourage you to stick with the plan.  Lasting change takes time.  Old patterns are hard to break. This is an investment.

By using a win-win approach, you move from fighting to cooperation.  Trust will grow and ultimately your relationship will too.

One of my favorite videos of Dr. Covey is when he describes his own experience with his son and their Win-Win agreement.

It’s really cute- I think you’ll enjoy it, too.

I invite you to give the win-win agreement a try.  Start with something small.  See how things turn out and build from there.

Wishing you healthy yards, healthy homes, and healthy relationships.


Jenna Fleming, LPC, NCCJenna Fleming is a licensed professional counselor serving kids, teens, and parents in Georgetown, TX.   Her group practice offers counseling servicescourses and classes to support families in getting on track and staying that way.