Menifee Mom: What Works Best When Disciplining Teenagers?

By Karen Thomas

Don't you wish that disciplining a teenager was as easy as putting them in time-out? I'm sure all parents of teens have longed to return to the days when the biggest challenge was figuring out how to get the kid to actually stay in time-out until the punishment was up!

Back then, my problem was usually that the phone would ring or another kid would demand my attention long enough that I'd discover that I had forgotten all about the time-out and the child had already moved on.

But now, my challenge is figuring out what kind of discipline will not only feel like enough of a punishment to make them not want to repeat the wrong, but that will also provide some kind of learning experience along the way.

Natural consequences are always the best. Like when they stay up too late and are tired the next day, or when things get lost in a messy room.

But how do you provide consequences for less tangible things, like disrespect?

We had just a situation last week. One child was certain that everyone else in the family was to blame for her problems, and was quite angry that we didn't see it that way too. It was classic failure to "own up" to her own mistakes and take responsibility for her actions.

We are constantly telling our kids that no one "makes" us act a certain way or respond in a certain way. We choose our behavior and we are held accountable for those choices, even if someone else might have prompted them. Our choices, ultimately, are ours alone.

So anyway, this child was getting a bit more vocal than we would like and nothing we said would put an end to it. What started out as a sibling issue turned into an argument between parent and child. So finally, my husband said, "OK then, because of the disrespectful way you have spoken to us, you will not be allowed to wear make-up tomorrow."

You would think that we had just threatened to drop a grenade in her bedroom. The entire attitude from this child changed like night to day. Suddenly she was tearful and apologetic and ready to talk about what was REALLY bothering her. (Considering that all she wears is mascara, I was shocked!)

Did it solve all problems instantly? No, but at least it did cause something positive to come out of the situation that could have just ended in an argument.

Discipline, I think, often isn't so much about the punishment as it is about sending the message that we are serious. It gets the child's attention and causes them to pause and think about their choices. In this case, it led to a long discussion between my husband and my daughter.

Though it took a lot longer to get to that point than a simple time-out used to take, I think they both felt they were heard. For me, that's a win-win. Although, since she still didn't get to wear make-up the next day, I'm sure she didn't see it that way. So I guess this time at least, we found an effective punishment after all!

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.


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