The power struggles that ensue from the conflict between teenagers’ desire for independence and parental limits need no introduction. However, when teens cross the line, many parents wonder, “How can I up the odds that my teen will take the correction to heart?” Kids Health points out that by adolescence, you have already laid the groundwork and in spite of what your teen may want you to believe, he still needs your boundaries. By teaching your teen to respect limits and solve his own problems, you empower him with the thinking skills to choose better behavior next time and move towards a responsible adulthood.
Helicopters, drill sergeants and consultants are three common parenting styles that impact a child’s self-concept and ability to handle life decisions, explains Janada Clark, a parenting coach with Clear Path Parenting Education in the San Francisco Bay Area. Well-meaning helicopter parents go out of their way to rescue and protect their children from the real life consequences of their own choices. Drill sergeant parents are reminiscent of Captain Von Trapp at the beginning of the Sound of Music, in trying to regiment and order every aspect of their children’s lives. Both parent types unintentionally teach children that they cannot survive on their own without parental help, which is a disadvantage in the teenage quest for independence.
Consultant parents use choices within limits “when the price tag is affordable” to give their teen lots of practice making choices and living with consequences. Meanwhile the parent expresses empathy for the consequences of poor choices and asks lots of questions to guide her to own the problem and learn from her mistakes.
Teenagers will go to great lengths to convince you that your limits are archaic and ridiculous. Nonetheless, without your boundaries your teen is like to feel, “insecure….unloved and will have a very hard time becoming a responsible, happy member of society,” advises the Grey Bruce Health Unit, the public health agency of Owen Sound, Ontario. The trick is to set the limits that matter most to you without going overboard, communicate them clearly and then follow through consistently. Jim Fay, co-founder of and speaker for the Love and Logic Institute, a parenting education organization in Golden, Colorado, recommends using enforceable statements. For example, “I will be happy to discuss this with you as soon as I am feeling respected.” You maintain control because you are not giving orders, only stating what you will do and under what circumstances. Equally important is to grant the agreed upon privilege, reward or favor when your teen’s displays acceptable choices and behavior so he makes a connection between wisdom and greater freedom and responsibility.
Even the best teen will break a rule or two and it can be tempting to take away privileges. But Megan Devine, a licensed clinical therapist and former Parental Support Line Advisor with the Total Transformation Program, points out, “You can’t punish a kid into better behavior.” The Grey Bruce Health Unit explains, “Discipline is a tool used to teach, never to punish.” Stay calm and ask thought-provoking questions to make sure she does more of the thinking, worrying and solving than you do. For example, if she comes in past curfew, explain that you spent that hour worrying if she was alive or dead. Therefore, she can go out with friends again when she comes up with a plan that will make sure you never lose sleep over this issue again. If your teen wants a later curfew, have her come up with a plan for how she can earn it. In short, help her recognize how her choices affect her independence and ability to choose.
The most effective discipline, according to the Love and Logic philosophy, leads with empathy for the pain the poor choice causes your teen and follows with a teachable moment. By allowing consequences to teach your teen without anger, lectures, threats or warnings from you that lead him to blame you for his problems rather than his poor decision, he develops cause and effect thinking that builds his character and competence to handle life’s curves. Make peace with the fact that short-term discomfort for your child is worth the character it will build as he learns to evaluate his choices and wonder, “what can I do differently next time?” and find that he is capable of handling the problem with loving guidance.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
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