Disciplining teenagers is no cake walk. How do you respond when your teen sasses back, lies, breaks curfew, fails his math class, torments her younger siblings, or gets into a fight? If you respond to these relatively minor behavioral problems correctly, then it’s much less likely that the bigger problems like drugs, teenage sex, violence, shoplifting and so on will ever happen. And if they do, then you’ll be in practice to deal with whatever comes up appropriately.
Here are a few basic principles when it comes to raising teens.
Shift the Sphere of Responsibility
The first principle is to always maneuver the situation so the child has to take responsibility and solve their own problems. You do this by carefully choosing the language you use when behavioral problems arise. Instead of saying, in an accusatory tone, “Why are you hitting your brother?” Say something like, “Hmm, I wonder why you hit your brother.” If your tone is merely curious rather than sarcastic or aggressive, then there is no power struggle involved. Instead, the kid has to consider – ‘Why did I do that?’. The situation is turned back on themselves; there’s no room left for shifting the blame. At this point, your teen will probably sass you or be obnoxious in some other way, largely because they feel rather foolish and want to cover up their confusion with bravado. A good response is, “Yes, I am a very odd parent, but I still wonder why you did that?” Again, the tone of voice is everything . . . keep it non-confrontational. Then make them come up with a resolution to the conflict or problem all by themselves (with the other sibling if a fight was involved).
Tone The Temper Down
When dealing with anger issues, work hard at teaching your child how to deal constructively when their temper starts to rise. Their first teacher is their parent. If you can’t keep your cool, then neither will they. Sometimes it really stinks being a parent. Having appropriate control and responses to our emotions is a lifelong human problem, not just for teens. Having some techniques you use like slow deep breaths, timeouts in your room, relaxing the hands, and so on can help too. The real key is to practice recognizing your emotions and then picking a way to control them.
Whatever the situation with your teen, the point is to make them solve their own problems and make them take responsibility. This is where your brain power and creativity come in. There are a million different situations you could get into with discipline issues and every kid is different. No one can possibly give you a script or make a playbook telling you exactly how to respond with your kids. You need to be thoughtful and creative in dealing with problems.
Give Yourself A Pause
Take some time if you need to ponder about a situation before you respond. Think about the situation and decide how you can use their negative behavior to teach them a principle. It is very important for the parent to stay in control of the situation and of their own emotions. Kids are spankin’ good at pushing our buttons, so you’re going to lose it and mess up sometimes. It’s okay, it takes tons of practice and starting over again and again before you can respond well and keep your cool. (I’ll let you know if I ever master it 100% of the time.)
Keep your cool, force them to take responsibility (and in non-dangerous cases, make them feel the natural consequences), and make them solve their own problems. Kids who can solve the minor problems of the teenage years are much more emotionally equipped to solve adult-sized problems.
The bigger the kids, the bigger their problems become. You definitely won’t be sorry for the time you take now to help them learn to cope and handle those problems, the sooner the better. After all, we aren’t just raising kids- we’re raising future adults.