Posted by: coachingparents | November 21, 2007

Teen Talk: Enforcing Rules

By the time a child reaches his teen years, time-out isn’t an effective punishment for misbehavior. Parenting is supposed to be a blessing, a wonderful experience of love and purpose. Then why does it seem to force premature gray hair and sometimes a nervous twitch? Balancing the unanswerable questions, like what rules are reasonable for teens, with individualized discipline, can make parenting feel like the ultimate punishment.

My grandmother once told me that when she had four teenaged children under her roof at one time, she reminded herself that she loved them by sneaking into their rooms and watching them sleep. When they were awake, she wanted to kill them.

Psychologist Susan Bartel, author of Stepliving for Teens, explains where parents sometimes go wrong in discipline. Parents should not think of themselves as their teenager’s friend. Instead, [they should] think of themselves as someone their teen can feel close to and can talk to. But not in the role of a friend.”

The word friendship has connotations of being on the same level, like piers. In a parent/child relationship, the parent has to be an authority figure, according to Dr. Bartel. “If you’re too afraid of evaluating them, you end up not setting any rules.”

The love parents have for their children, that deep connection that transcends understanding, can detract from the role of disciplinarian. Yet, parents want their children to succeed in adult society, and for this to happen, general rules must be made and enforced.

Dr. Bartel offers these suggestions for parents of teens:

  • Be clear on expectations and boundaries. Some rules are set in stone: no drinking, no drugs, no sex. Re-evaluate boundaries at the beginning of the school year so that teens know when to expect curfew changes and new privileges. Throughout the year, listen to teens’ requests for changes to boundaries, and respond reasonably. Consider requests for a one-night curfew extension, but enforce your decision, whether or not you decide to accommodate the request. Keep in mind that being unbending may cause arguments, but it’s equally detrimental to be pushed into a decision that isn’t best for your child.
  • Set consequences in advance. Punishment should always reflect the infraction. For instance, if a curfew is broken, a logical punishment would be to bump the curfew to an earlier hour for a predetermined time. If a teen is rude to her parent in public, the parent could leave her home the next time the family goes out for a meal. Do not change the rules or the punishment without notice. Be reasonable with expectations and fair with punishment.
  • Don’t dwell on it. A rule is broken, the event has been discussed, and punishment has been served. Move on. Teens require many new starts.
  • Individualize expectations. Is your child capable of straight A’s? Is he under-performing when he receives a B in school? Consider that a teen balances schoolwork, a social life, and sometimes a job. While poor grades are not acceptable, B’s are not the end of the world. Many parents and children argue about grades during high school years. If a teen is truly underachieving at school, and discussion does not help the situation, look for underlying problems. This could include emotional, social, or medical issues.
  • Don’t give up your rights as a parent. Once a teen has a job and pays for her own car and insurance, she may believe that the car is hers and her parents have no right to dictate her use of it. Truth is, until a child is out on her own, she is under the supervision of her parents. This means if she drives too fast, stays out too late, or abuses the privilege of driving, her parents can take her keys away. Dr. Bartel says,Parents don’t owe their kids anything other than shelter and food. It’s okay to cut off their phone, internet, car, or other privileges.”
  • A bad attitude is unacceptable. Constructive conversation cannot transpire if one party is obstinate. It’s okay for a parent to say that a conversation is over because of how a teen is speaking. When the teen is ready to offer the same respect toward a parent that the parent is offering the teen, the conversation should resume.
  • Serious problems have serious consequences. A teen who has broken the law must face the consequences. To function in society as a well-adjusted citizen, teens have to understand and respect the law. Parents must step back and not run to rescue their child. It’s better to play the role of a counselor and confidant rather than savior. Some parents wash their hands of teens when discipline becomes overwhelming. They allow a 17-year old to move out of the home and start living an adult lifestyle. Dr. Bartel advises against this. A teen who repeatedly breaks the law may need tough love. “But it’s hard to get them back once they’re gone.”
  • Parents should remember that a teenager is no longer a child. “By the time a kid reaches the teen years, it’s give and take,” says Dr. Bartel. Enforcing rules with teens has a lot to do with teaching respect. The goal for parenting teens should be to usher them from childhood to adulthood. Problem is that the Swiss Alps lie between. Parenting is hard, but so is being a teenager. “The worst possible thing a parent can do is give up,” says Bartel. “What teens need are boundaries, rules, consequences.” And they need all of this in love.

About The Author …
Shauna Smith Duty is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother of two in Roanoke, Texas. She specializes in family and parenting articles, including domestic humor, how-tos, and inspirational fiction.


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