It can be difficult and frustrating for many parents to discipline their teenagers because these growing children are now young adults with more resources and capabilities. When children are younger, they may question rules and requests, but they accept the wisdom and authority of their parents. Teenagers, on the other hand, tend to challenge rules and routines, desire more freedom, sometimes shirk responsibility, and use logic better.
Sometimes it’s hard for parents to shift discipline strategies appropriately. How do you convince young adults that just because some of their friends are allowed to go to unsupervised parties until the wee hours of the morning, that it’s not their right to do so as well? How do you set boundaries that protect them while giving freedom to experience opportunities and possibilities that are good for their growth and maturation?
The following guidelines will help you develop a discipline strategy to help inspire your teenagers toward becoming responsible and compassionate adults:
Respect your Teenager’s Inherent Desire for Meaning and Significance
Contrary to popular opinion, teenagers are not naturally bent on mayhem and destruction. They are people in transition from childhood to adulthood. They want to experience life, to try new things, to belong, to feel loved, to avoid pain, and to be inspired!
Teenagers are full of energy and idealistic thinking. However, their understanding of the world and logical reasoning are limited. Therefore, it’s easy for them to make poor decisions and make mistakes that negatively affect themselves and the people around them (including, and especially, their parents and families!).
Our job is not to restrict the experience of our children to avoid consequences of poor decision making. It’s to provide freedom to learn, grow and explore within boundaries that protect the hearts and minds of our curious and inexperienced youngsters.
In order to do this well, we need to respect that our teenagers are people with desires for meaning and significance even though it’s sometimes difficult to observe those desires.
Focus on One or Two Issues at a Time
With the proper focus on the hearts and minds of our teenagers and the goal to inspire them toward becoming compassionate and responsible adults, we can begin to design a strategic discipline plan.
As you notice patterns of behaviour or attitudes that need to be addressed, stay calm and write them down. If there are many, make a list. Often you will notice patterns and hone in on an underlying cause.
Regardless of how many issues there are, pick the one (or two at most) that are most important to the growth and maturation of your child. Any more than two will overwhelm both you and your teen in the next steps.
Explain your Expectations Clearly
Once you have the issue to work on, get extremely clear on your expectations of your teenager. Think through exactly what you expect and write it out – both obvious and subtle.
It’s easy for us, as parents with years of experience, to forget that what is obvious for us as adults may not even be a thought to our teenagers. Therefore, we need to be clear in our own minds about the written and unwritten expectations we have.
Along with writing out our expectations, we need to think through why. This is the question your teenager will ask, and it’s very important that we are very clear in our own thinking so we can answer honestly and with confidence that it’s truly important for our teen’s best interest in becoming a responsible and compassionate adult.
Getting very clear on the why is vital because your teenager will see through any vague or unclear reasons you may give. You may need to rethink whether your expectations are in the best interest of your teenager and your whole family.
After becoming extremely clear and succinct about the whats and whys of your expectations, it’s time to sit down with your teen and explain what you’ve observed, why it needs to be addressed, what your expectations are and why.
Allow plenty of time for this meeting because your kid will likely have many questions and even take offense to your observations and reasoning. Lovingly answer their questions. Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings, but be clear and firm about what you expect and why.
If your teenager brings up something you hadn’t thought about and cannot answer confidently, tell them you will have to think about that and meet again. This will help your teenager feel listened to and gain their respect. It also gives you time to think through their ideas.
Include your Teen in Determining Consequences
Every decision has consequences. If your teenager makes decisions that fall within the boundaries of your expectations, the consequences should be pleasant. However, choices outside of the boundaries must have consequences as well.
Poor choices in life eventually lead to undesirable consequences in normal, everyday life for everyone. Teenagers, desiring more freedom yet not fully understanding responsibility, often think they can get away with poor choices.
Our job as parents is to help our children grow and mature in responsibility and compassion, so we need to explain consequences, determine what they will be and then reinforce them.
Ideally, the consequence fits the crime. If your children break a window, they should pay for it. However, it’s not always that easy. Including your teenager in the process of determining what the consequences will be for straying outside of your expectations is very helpful.
Your teenager will often choose more severe consequences for themselves than you may have. Whatever you choose, the whole process of working it through together will help your teen understand, grow, learn and feel more valued than being told outright.
Consistently and Vigilantly Enforce Consequences
This is the hardest part. That’s why it’s very important to make sure that the consequences determined in the step above are appropriate and enforceable.
It’s hard because for the first few days after your discussion, your teenager will probably make good choices in the area you were working on. As time goes by, the issues discussed will wane in both your memory and your teens’ memories and then there will be a decision that crosses the boundaries.
It will be hard to enforce the consequence because it’s not fresh on your mind, the explanation your teen gives will be heartfelt and make sense, and you will likely think it’s a one-time occurrence and that it would be easier to let it slide.
As soon as you let things slide, you send a message that the expectations you have are okay to be crossed. Both you and your teen agreed on the consequences and they need to be enforced. This is where the learning takes place – poor decision means undesirable consequence.
Be loving and kind when enforcing the consequence. It’s not you against your children. It’s you working for your children so they can grow and learn.
The pattern of enforcing consequences must be repeated again and again until the issue is no longer an issue. By that time, you will probably need to move on to the next issue and repeat the process.
Give More Freedom as they Demonstrate Responsibility
As your child demonstrates more responsibility, give them freedom within their capabilities. For example, if they consistently come home when you tell them to and they ask to stay out later for a good reason, demonstrate your trust and give your permission (as long as you know what they are asking for and it’s okay with you!).
Another way to look at this is to remember that at the age of 18, your child is old enough to leave home. How can you best prepare them for the kind of freedom they will have apart from you?
The best way to equip them is to give them more and more freedom as they demonstrate their responsibility so that they learn while they are under your guidance and care. This demonstrates your trust in them and gives them confidence.
Giving them more freedom as they are ready for it also allows them to mess up and learn from the experience while under your care.
Everybody needs discipline. Mature, responsible and compassionate adults demonstrate self-discipline. That’s the goal for our teenagers. But they are still learning and need us to teach them. They need discipline from us that helps them learn how to balance freedom with responsibility. Work through these steps and develop your own discipline strategy for your teenager and let me know how it goes!