Raging hormones, misunderstandings, raised voices, restrictions and curfews come to mind for many when they hear the phrase “teen discipline.” But wouldn’t you rather think of respect, transitioning into adulthood, rational discussions and reasonable behavior?
The recipe for raising children requires a delicate balance of authority and love. And, with teens, that balance becomes even more precarious. How can you discipline your teen without destroying your relationship?
Elizabeth Harrell surveyed teens in Charleston, S.C., to find out what they thought were the biggest mistakes parents make when disciplining their teenagers. Here were the top two:
1. Lack of consistency – While all children need consistent discipline, it’s even more important for teens. They get frustrated when a behavior is acceptable one day and not acceptable the next. The established rules need specific consequences. Realistic and consistent consequences demonstrate a “real world” view for teens. Creating house rules with consequences, then responding appropriately, provides all children with security and direction.
2. Not listening – Parents want to be respected but don’t always return that respect by listening to their teenager. Not listening to your teen expresses that you don’t feel he has anything valuable to say. Even when disagreeing, teens should be given time to express their feelings and thoughts. This shouldn’t give a teen the right to be ugly or behave inappropriately, of course. Modeling and developing guidelines for how argumentative ideas should be expressed is essential. If you want to be heard, learn to listen.
What other mistakes do parents make, according to teens, when disciplining their children?
3. Punishing in anger – Angel, 16, says she “just shuts down” when her father gets angry and starts yelling. Sometimes parents only punish once they have reached the end of their patience. In reality, this allows teens to misbehave for a period of time before suffering any consequences. Not only is this confusing, it can also lead to abuse. Dealing with a teenager emotionally often produces dramatic immediate effects, but ultimately it creates a communication wall in the relationship. Consistent parenting, as described above, prevents punishing in anger. Stepping away from the situation to recover emotionally also proves helpful.
4. Irrelevant punishment – Whenever possible, the punishment should be reflective of wrongdoing. For example, if a teen returns home after curfew, limiting his nights out temporarily would be appropriate. A teen that doesn’t complete school work might be required to miss a social event to complete the work. If the teen misses the social event as a punishment, but doesn’t actually do school work, the consequences don’t make sense and just seem spiteful.
5. Accepting any behavior because of age – While it is a scientific fact that teens undergo traumatic emotional and physical changes, that fact should not be an excuse to be allowed to behave inappropriately. Often, teens who are allowed to behave badly do not grow out of that behavior as adults. Character is character at any age. Behavioral expectations should be related to what is right, not the age of the child.
6. Using guilt rather than reason – Guilt may create an immediate response, but this style of discipline actually promotes internal emotional issues for teens that may not be dealt with until adulthood, if ever. Reasoning with a teenager, providing a basis for your expectations and consequences, does not always evoke an immediate response, but the long-term results are typically more positive.
7. Being a friend rather than a parent – Teens usually have more than enough social outlets. They need boundaries and safe, secure situations in which to grow. You are the provider of both, and when you act like a friend, your teen will lose security. Teens who view their parents as authority figures and providers are more likely to be close to them in adulthood. Despite what appearances might suggest, teens do not respect parents who behave like teens. Relating to your teen, based on your own experiences, can be a successful method of working through challenging situations, but at no time should you lose your parent status.
8. Attack the person rather than the behavior – It’s essential to make sure your teen knows that you love him despite anything he does. Even greater, you love him enough to not let him develop behaviors that may be harmful to him or anyone else. Direct your criticisms and comments at the behavior, not the teen.
If your teen fails a course due to lack of effort, don’t use phrases like “You’re lazy” or “You’ll never do well because you don’t try.” While you may even feel that these thoughts are accurate at the time, they only condemn and don’t solve the real issue. Focus on the behavior that created the problem such as not studying or not asking for needed help. Be sure to express that you’re not only confident that the behavior can change, but you’re expecting it to change. Then work together on specific restrictions and actions that need to take place for the behavior to improve.
9. You become the enemy – At times, you may feel like the enemy, and your teenager might actually refer to you as such. No matter how hurt you may feel, it’s important to remain the one person who consistently stands by your teenager. Friends and teachers will come and go. You will always be the parent. By establishing rules and consequences, you’re the one person in your teen’s life that holds him accountable no matter what. Even if we don’t like authority figures in our lives, they typically establish order and security.
10. Lose your sense of humor – It’s not funny when your teenager messes up, particularly when you’re left to clean up the mess. Losing your sense of humor won’t help.
It may not seem funny at the time, but most challenging situations can eventually be viewed in a comical way. If your teen feels comfortable laughing and joking with you regularly, he’ll also be more likely to listen when you get serious. John Paul, 14, said, “I use humor to deal with a lot of situations. It’s better to laugh than to get angry.”
11. Stopping your teen from failing at all costs – Some of life’s greatest lessons result from failing. Parents who micromanage their teens because they are afraid of their teen failing prevent their child from developing important life skills. As much as you don’t want to have to discipline your teen, letting him fail and living with the consequences can teach him more than your chosen punishment.
Several teens expressed that they want their parents to be parents. When the roles in the household become skewed, confusion and chaos soon follow. Teenagers with younger siblings tended to feel that their parents maintained their essential roles, while the youngest children and only children found their parents more likely to blur the lines between friend and parent.