Discipline is a touchy subject. Any time that a child “goes off the rails” parents believe that they are the cause. In the early years of their lives, your child learned the basics from you. Teenage years are the time when they test their boundaries, rely heavily on their peers and also learn to face problems in a way that will prepare them for adulthood.
To that end, in adulthood there are consequences for actions, both good and bad. Actually, there are always consequences, but when our children are still under our wing, we shoulder much of that responsibility ourselves.
During the teen years, it is time for our children to learn a bit about that responsibility. Consider punishments. As a teenager, when breaking curfew results in being grounded, your child sits in the house instead of being allowed to see their friends or play their favorite video game. This may work the first time or even the second but your teen will build up a resistance to it eventually.
Before you even pass sentence on their misdeeds they will bound up the stairs towards their room. Next, you’ll hear the loud music and the locked door. What have they learned besides how to tune you out? Their cell phone, iPod and use of the car were privileges in the first place. Denying them these things as punishment changes them from privileges into something they begin to expect as your parental duty to provide.
Try a different tact here that will help both of you to learn. Instead of letting your teen have all that time to stew when they have done something wrong, teach them how to make restitution. It is discipline but a more constructive form that teenagers will understand.
Acknowledge that your teen has made a mistake – All kids make mistakes. You did when you were their age. Telling them not to do it again won’t last for very long. Ever wonder why a teen gets in trouble for the same thing twice? As parents we are ashamed of some mistakes our kids make and take it personally. We accept the consequences in order to keep it secret from our friends. The time for that is over.
Hear their side of the story – This encourages honesty. If you have agreed to a contract or have discussed some of the results for breaking the rules they already know something is coming. But, be calm and let them know that honesty is still the best policy in your home even if it will be hard for you to hear. Judge each situation on a case by case basis. Yes they were late for curfew but if a friend was in trouble, suggest that they call next time to let you know what’s going on. You are still their parent and they must know that you will be there for them in any situation first and foremost.
Allow your teen to accept the responsibility – It is not about pointing fingers but laying blame at the right door. All you have to do is simply ask, “What do you propose to do about this situation?” At first, it will catch them off guard. Usually it is parent’s who dole out punishment to kids for their offenses and they just sit and listen. Now, they have to think about what they have done and how they will repair the situation.
Give them time to think about it – It may take a few hours for them to adjust to what they have been told. Let them be participants in their own disciplinary action. Here is an example that you can suggest to get them thinking in the right direction. Let’s say that you stayed up for an hour waiting for them to come home because they missed curfew. In exchange, they owe you an hour of their precious time. They can suggest to you what they can do to make up the time (do extra chores after school that you usually do, make dinner, help their siblings with their homework and etc.).
This reflects a positive form of discipline. Hopefully the result of this new updated form of discipline is that your teen will learn from their mistakes. By participating in the consequence, they are accepting responsibility. Also, they learn that a slap on the wrist is not how life works when it comes to righting a wrong. To a teen, time out or being grounded on Saturday is a slap on the wrist. They don’t have to think about what they did or whom else it affected.
Keeping Discipline in Perspective
A teen who is constantly hearing about what they have done wrong will begin to see themselves in a negative light all the time. Yes, it is the job of a loving parent to teach but also to provide the support that any young man or woman needs to grow and thrive. Life is not all about rules and discipline and you can help your teen learn that too.
Acknowledge positive actions. Just because they are paying back their time as a form of discipline doesn’t mean that they can’t be afforded some positive feedback for it. Your teen has helped their younger sister finish her math homework. Congratulate them on a job well done. Praise them for being good at math and being willing to put that talent to good use.
Often, teens grudgingly serve their punishment time. With positive experiences as a form of discipline, they can learn something in the process that they can carry with them for a lifetime. Discipline has gotten a bad rap over the years but you can change that in general for your child.
Avoid using “family time” as a punishment. How many times have you said that since they didn’t meet your expectations that they have to spend the day with family instead of friends? It puts a negative spin on spending time with the family unit. Time spent together keeps the family together. It allows you to see each other in a different light and build trust.
Reward responsibility with greater responsibility. We don’t mean that if they do the dishes then they also get to wash the clothes. Your teen has consistently met their curfew of 10:00 on school nights and they are getting good grades in school. Extend their curfew on weekends as both a reward and a chance to stretch their responsibility. If they chauffeur their siblings to school during the week, allow them time to drive the car and meet their friends as a reward.
Discipline is never easy. It will take some getting used to and practice before both of you appreciate what it can do for your relationship and your teen’s future.
Real Life Guidance Guide to Understanding Your Teen This toolkit offers parenting help and help solve the mysteries in understanding your teen.