Did you watch the news yesterday? Congressman Anthony Weiner got caught, and decided to apologize for his behavior and his lies about it. While watching the Anderson Cooper 360 show addressing the drama, I was horrified to hear one of Anderson’s guests express how she did not want to have to address such issues as “sexting” with her teen children.
So if you’re one of those head-in-the-sand parents who doesn’t want to address the tough discipline issues with your kids or think your kids don’t do those things, you don’t want to read this article. But if you’re mom to a teen and want to learn the best way to address the hard issues and find effective discipline techniques that actually work keep reading!
When teens do something wrong
This article is not about when teens make mistakes in their process of growing up. Things like forgetting to pick up their room, having a bad day, being moody, or having an occasional blow-up, do NOT constitute “doing something wrong”. I am a firm believer in giving teens the respect they need to make mistakes and learn from them. I’ve spoken with moms who didn’t like their teen’s messy rooms so moved them (rather dramatically) into the garage while the teen was at school. Other moms punish their teens for getting poor grades in school, or for expressing an opinion different from that held by the family. These situations bother me, as they are examples of moms behaving disrespectfully themselves.
However, there is a whole different category of teen behavior. Like Weiner getting caught for sending inappropriate photos in social media, it is likely your teen will test the limits you’ve set and you’ll feel frustrated. Here’s a short list that will give an idea of those teen behaviors that positively demand parental intervention.
- Habitual disrespectful language at home. This includes cussing at parents, yelling, bullying.
- Inappropriate use of social media. This includes sexting, phone sex, and lewd or profane postings on social media sites.
- Habitual lying, about where they are, what they’re doing, what happened.
- Refusal to follow family rules (be careful of this one – if its not defiance, it doesn’t belong on this list! Teens get to have different opinions, and need help practicing respectful ways of expressing them).
- Defiant refusal to follow parental requests. This includes curfews!
The central theme is this: teens are just ‘being teens’ when they try out different ways of doing things, have a hard time controlling their emotions, struggle with depression and wild mood swings (its a hormone thing), and say they don’t want to participate.
Teens are being defiant when they engage in behaviors listed above, or others like them.
What is a mom to do?
What absolutely does NOT work
Here’s the deal. If you’re a mom who has engaged in physical discipline (spanking) with your younger child and you now have a teenager, I sincerely hope you have moved on to other techniques. If you’re still spanking / slapping your teen, STOP IT! Can you tell I’m rather opinionated about this? At the risk of alienating my readers, let me say that I believe that there is absolutely no time that any child, of any age, should be hit, slapped, spanked, swatted, whipped, beaten, or any other similar behavior. With very young children (under 5), picking them up and removing them is about as physical as you should ever get, period. If you need help coming up with alternative discipline techniques with young children, please write to me and we’ll explore what works.
I say this as a single mom for nearly 30 years of four incredibly strong-willed, often defiant, opinionated and verbal and gifted children. I was raised with spanking/beating being the standard discipline technique, so when my children were born I did what I knew. It was wrong, every time, period, no excuses. Just don’t.
What else doesn’t work? Yelling, nagging, endlessly discussing, public humiliation, cussing, threatening. If you’re like me, you’ve done all those things. How’s that working for you?!
What absolutely DOES work
Here’s my list of what does work, every time, no matter what. It takes more time and mindfulness to follow these guidelines. You won’t have a teen who asks how far when you say jump, or who never makes a mistake – sometimes a big one. If that’s what you want, good luck! If instead, you want a teen who learns to think for themselves, to form their own belief system and respect differences, to own up when they make a mistake (sometimes even before they get caught!) and who treats you with respect, practicing these techniques will get you there.
- Have a really short list of expectations for your teen. If you don’t write them down, they don’t exist! And be specific. If your expectation is that your teen keep their room tidy, you’ll need to phrase the expectation in ‘teen speak’. “Make your bed before leaving for school” is better than “keep your room as neat as I keep mine”.
- Have a list of consequences for defiant behavior. If your teen yells or cusses at you, walk away. If you yell back, you just lost. If you were pushing them too hard or trying to impose your own opinions on them, own it and let it go. If you discover your teen posting inappropriate information on social media sites, remove their computer. If they lie routinely about where they are, remove all electronic devices and let them earn them back. And say no next time they ask permission to go somewhere. If they keep getting in trouble at school, allow natural consequences to happen while you’re being gentle with your child’s frustration.
- Watch how you communicate! Disciplining teens is a funny thing. Parents are so often surprised when I remind them that they’re doing just as much yelling as their teen! Come on – do you really want a teen who never disagrees with you? Get really good at saying, “Thats interesting” then dropping the subject. Ask them, “Would you like my input?” then respect their response. Practice using your super calm/quiet voice when you talk. Try asking their opinion rather than giving them ultimatums. It takes a bit longer, but will always be more effective.
- Be absolutely immovably consistent. Teens still have black-and-white thinking. Its a hard-wiring thing, and that means they can’t help it. While their brains are still developing (not til they’re about 25), it makes no sense to expect them to calmly put up with you changing just because they argue. It makes teens super insecure when they realize they can talk their way out of a consequence or argue their way past your ‘no’.
- Drop the ultimatums. They just don’t work, and are the ultimate setup for your teen to fail.
- Be quick to forgive. If you’re working on having calm, quiet discussions about heavy issues and defiant attitudes your teen needs to work on, be the first one to notice a step in the right direction. Don’t ever bring up “all the times you’ve lied to me before!” Stay in this moment, talking about this issue.
- You have 60 seconds. Literally. If you can’t make your point about a consequence for defiant behavior briefly, you might as well not bother saying it. Teens’ attention span is short, and there’s nothing healthy about making them listen to your long paragraphs detailing what they did and giving them opportunity to argue. Just say it calmly, briefly, then walk away.
- Most important of all: Be gentle. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when your teen doesn’t “deserve” it.
Curfew: Your teen is repeatedly late getting home. You’ve tried the yelling, the negotiations, and the removal of privileges. Nothing’s working. Try this: Show up at their school every day for a month to pick them up. Walk right in to their last class. Smile! Ignore any attempts to argue, the eye rolling and snide remarks. Say, “I’m here to give you a ride home.” Don’t say anything else. On the ride home, take sixty seconds to quietly let them know that you’ve decided that since they’re not old enough to remember to get home on time, you will be picking them up after school each day for a month, and they will stay home in the evenings for the whole month. Completely ignore any attempts your teen makes to argue. No matter what your teen says, just calmly keep driving home. When you get home, don’t expect them to be happy! They might even decide to push it and walk down the street. Let them go. Show up the next day at their last class.
Sound ridiculously tough and inconvenient? Sure it is! Parenting teens is tough, and especially if you’ve gotten into some bad habits of the yelling/negotiating routine it’ll be even tougher to break those habits. But what you’ll have in the end is a teen who knows you mean business and who he cannot manipulate.
Sex: Catch your son having sex with his girlfriend (and he’s only 15)? Don’t yell. Walk right in, privacy be damned. Pick up your phone and calmly call the girl’s mother. Remember, you have 60 seconds and your son will be feeling rather defensive! Discover its happening again? Have a sit-down conversation. Keep it short and quiet. Explain your beliefs on the subject, and the consequences of STDs and teen pregnancy (did you really expect the school to give him this information?). Choose an appropriate consequence and then follow through no matter what.
There are as many examples as there are teens and moms who love them but are over-the-top frustrated. If you need input regarding a specific situation, feel free to send an email to me: RJ@jrrsehopecoaching.com. Changing your mindset into more effective parenting is incredibly tough!
There is HOPE
My youngest son has been particularly challenging. Sometimes my interventions worked, and sometimes they didn’t. When I would nearly despair of reaching him, of him turning the corner and letting go of his disrespect and defiance, I would hold on to what I believe in most firmly: all teens deserve my respect, period, even when (perhaps especially when) the choices they are making are completely at odds with what I believe in.
Recently my son had a breakdown of sorts. He called me in tears, having just come to the realization that he had so completely messed up, could I please help? Of course I can, always. Within boundaries that for the most part I keep inside my head (nothing is served by telling him what I won’t do, only what I WILL do). I am watching this boy/man step up and show a level of responsibility and ownership that I only dreamed of. These ways of disciplining a super tough super defiant teen are on this page because I know they work.
I invite you to try the better way.
What points on the list above most bother you? What have you tried? Are there techniques for disciplining your teen that work well that aren’t on this list? Please share! What issues are you and your teen struggling with right now?
Remember, no ones finds recovery in a vacuum. Together, things CAN be better!