"How do I know if I'm being too strict - or too lenient - with my rebellious teenage daughter?"
The purpose of disciplining irresponsible behavior is to teach teens about the real world. There are basically two ways to discipline: naturally and logically. Natural consequences occur as a natural result of behavior and choices without parental intervention (e.g., the teen parks he car in a ‘no parking’ zone – she gets a ticket and has to pay it with her allowance money). However, there are times when allowing natural consequences to occur is much too dangerous (e.g., the teen experiments with drugs – she gets addicted). When natural consequences are too dangerous, it’s time to create logical consequences. In general, these involve some loss of privileges as a result of inappropriate behavior.
Here’s how to structure appropriate logical consequences:
1. The consequence should be delivered assertively. “It’s almost midnight! Where the hell have you been? You know you’re supposed to be home by 9:30!! Get your ass in that bedroom right now!!!” is not assertive. “Since you chose to violate curfew, you’ve also chosen to be grounded tomorrow evening” is assertive.
2. The consequence should be issued immediately. Parents and teens differ in their perception of time. As parents, if we are told a project is due in two weeks, we know we need to get moving right now. For many teenagers, two weeks is an eternity, which equals no motivation. For discipline to be effective, it needs to be closely “linked in time” to the inappropriate behavior. For teens, not being able to go on a trip 2 weeks from now for flunking a test last week is ineffective. Having to spend extra time during the next 3 days studying and therefore losing the privilege of afternoon free time is both immediate and effective.
3. The consequence should be reasonable. “That’s it! You’re grounded until you bring home a report card without and F’s” is unreasonable. ”Your behavior and choices have caused you to lose the privilege of going over to your friend’s house today” is reasonable.
4. The consequence should be related to the “crime” (i.e., the “bad” behavior). For example, if the teenager violates curfew, making her do extra homework or mow the lawn is not related. The temporary loss of the privilege of going out is related.
5. The consequence should be respectful. The disciplinary process should avoid two things: (1) humiliating the teen, and (2) inconveniencing the parent.
6. The length of the consequence should be commensurate with (i.e., equal to) the severity of the crime. For logical consequences to be effective, they need to be relatively short-term for small infractions and medium-term (i.e., no more than 7 days) for larger infractions. Again, this goes back to the issue of time. In a teenager’s mind, 7 days is an eternity (plenty of time to get the message across without creating a situation where the teen simply runs away because she feels like she is grounded for life). For most teens, anything lasting longer than 7 days becomes ineffective. Anything longer breeds resentment, contempt and revenge. Also, anything much over 7 days negates any lessons about life that might have been taught because, by the 8th or 9th day, the teen has forgotten why she is even being punished.
The purpose of disciplining teens is to prepare them for life on their own. Using the tips above will help parents to be in charge while teaching valuable “life lessons.”
Discipline for Defiant Teens: Parenting Course