Many parents struggle with the problem of disciplining teenagers and children, however it is perhaps the teenage discipline that its the hardest to get sorted.
We are all familiar with punishment and know only too well that poor performance or bad behavior often results in our being punished. For example, if you don’t study for an examination then your poor performance is punished by the award of a low score. Similarly, if you don’t perform well at work you’re likely to find that your promotion is delayed or that you don’t receive an expected pay rise. If you enjoy yourself a little too much and end up being discovered drunk and disorderly in a public place then it’s quite likely that you’ll be punished by spending a night in a police cell and then receive a fine from the local court the following morning.
Disciplining teenagers can be likened to court system.
It is simply one side of the justice equation, and the foundation of the justice system, to weight the facts of a case with care and then to render a fair judgment on the other side and hand down an appropriate punishment.
The understanding that every action has consequences and that these can sometimes be unpleasant or painful is a lesson which we have learned and which we need to pass on to our children. However, teaching our children this lesson, especially when disciplining teenagers, can be difficult.
Before you try to tackle this particular problem it is important to realize that it will require considerably objectivity on your part, together with a sense of proportion. The courts have to separate out fact from fiction to get to the truth and then respond in an appropriate manner and as parents we need to approach discipline in much the same way.
It will probably help at this point if we look at an example.
Let’s assume that your fifteen year old son has just come home later than he should have after spending the evening with friends and this has resulted in a heated argument in the lounge. With each of you shouting at the other your son storms off to the kitchen announcing that he is going to get something to eat. A matter of moments later you hear a crash coming from the kitchen and when you enter the room you find your son banging his fist on the kitchen counter and cursing loudly and a broken plate and turkey spread over the kitchen floor. What should you do?
Now you don’t know exactly what happened but, because emotions are running high and you and your son are already angry with each other, your natural reaction might well be to respond based on your current anger. But is this likely to be appropriate?
It is quite possible that your son took the plate of turkey out of the fridge and, in his angry state, deliberately threw it onto the floor. It is also possible that, because he was angry, he was wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing and the plate simply slipped out of his hand. Another explanation could be that, as he was putting the platter on the kitchen counter, he accidentally brushed his arm up against the kettle, which was hot having been boiled just a few minutes earlier when you made a cup of coffee. The plate was then knocked off the counter when he pulled his arm away from the kettle.
The problem is that if don’t take the time to establish what happened before you respond you could well react inappropriately, making an already difficult situation worse. The secret to disciplining teenagers therefore is to stay objective, find out precisely what happened and then act accordingly. So, begin by taking a deep breath, compose yourself and then ask your son quietly and calmly just what happened.
Let’s consider two possible situations.
The first is that your son brushed his arm against the hot kettle. An appropriate response here could be to ensure that he hasn’t injured himself, help him to clean up the mess and make himself something to eat and then let him to go to bed. This would both calm the situation and allow the two of you a bit of breathing space to consider the situation before tackling the problem the following day.
The second is that your son threw the plate onto the floor deliberately. Tempers are already running high and the last thing you want to do is to inflame the situation further by pouring fuel on the fire. The best solution here is probably to tell your son, again calmly and quietly, to clean up the mess and go to bed. You should then leave the kitchen before your son has an opportunity to respond and the two of you start arguing again.
A common trap while disciplining teenagers is to fall into at this point is that of focusing your attention on cleaning up the kitchen. Your son may not clean up the mess and you may well be tempted to see this as a challenge to your authority which must be dealt with without delay. However, the broken plate is not the main issue and it’s doesn’t really matter whether he cleans up the mess or not. If he does then that’s fine but, if he doesn’t, then you should simply wait until he has gone to bed and then clear up the mess yourself. The following morning when you are both calm and have had a chance to sleep on things you can deal with both the fact that he came home late and with the broken plate.
By staying objective and taking the time to discover just what happened and to consider an appropriate response, your son will benefit in two ways. First, he will receive an appropriate punishment for his bad behavior and second he will see that it is possible to deal with situations in a mature and with controlled manner even when emotions are high. Disciplining teenagers doesn’t have to end up in fights or arguments, all it boils down to is objectivity, understanding, fairness and consistency.