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Tips for Disciplining a Teenager

Staying calm works a lot better than yelling.  Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Staying calm works a lot better than yelling. Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

It’s hard to discipline a teen.  They definitely have a mind of their own, and are usually pretty good at arguing.  Here are some things to keep in mind based on what I’ve seen work with clients in my therapy practice.

 

1.  The consequence should make them think about what they did and not about being frustrated with you.  Many parents ground their kids or take away electronic devices whenever they feel their teenager needs discipline.  The problem with doing this in every situation is that while your teen is home grounded on Saturday night, it’s unlikely they are thinking about what they did to be home.  It’s much more likely they are resenting you for giving them that consequence.

 

2.  Allow natural consequences whenever possible.  Along the same vein as #1, allowing natural consequences teaches lessons.  It also enables you as the parent to empathize with your teenager while they are suffering the consequence.  Here’s an example: If your teenager gets a speeding ticket, have them pay for it, and pay for the increase in their insurance.  You will get to say to compassionately say to them, “Yah, it really does suck to get a speeding ticket.  I’m sorry you’re facing this.”  Don’t ground your teenager for a speeding ticket.  That doesn’t even make sense.  Nobody ever put you on house arrest for a driving violation.

 

3.  Follow through.  I have seen many, many parents say they will have certain consequences if a given thing occurs, but not follow-through with it.  This tells your adolescent that you can be bargained with.  If they see a benefit in trying to negotiate with you, you’re just opening the door for talking back and other disrespectful behavior.  If you’ve told them being home after curfew means they have to skip the next social event (a consequence that fits the crime), you have to stick to your guns.  It’s hard to do when the next social event is a big deal that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.  It’s really tempting to alter your consequence in cases like that, but you just can’t if you want to be respected.

 

4.  Stay calm.  Once you start yelling they aren’t listening.  Are you giving consequences out of an emotional reaction, or to teach a lesson?  You really have to ask yourself this question and answer honestly.  It should always be to teach a lesson and/or protect your teenager.  Remember, you’re trying to raise a responsible adult and there are bound to be hiccups along the way.  Hiccups are okay as long as you’re helping your teenager work towards being a functional adult.  If you can stay calm they can still hear you.

 

5.  Don’t just focus on the negative.  Disciplining also means giving positive consequences when they’re due.  While your child always has behavior you can correct, they are doing a lot of things right too.  If you want them to keep doing those things, reward them for it.  A reward can be as simple as telling them you appreciate that they are such a loyal friend.  You don’t have to make a huge deal out of things and give them money, or take them out to a special dinner every time they do something good.  You just have to acknowledge what you see.  One of my favorite ways I’ve seen parents catch a teenager being good is when their child has followed curfew respectfully for quite a while, to tell the teen, “Next time you can stay out a half hour later.  This isn’t a permanent change, but I just wanted to let you know I’ve noticed how responsible you’ve been.”  That makes your teenager feel like a million bucks!

 

Yes, disciplining a teenager is a challenge.  However, if you feel like you’ve tried and tried without success, consider whether you’re just trying the wrong things.  When your teenager respects you because you know how to set up appropriate rules and limits, it leaves a lot more room for relationship and love between you.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Stop Arguing- Don’t Triangulate

As a parent I understand the longing to intervene when my husband is disciplining our kids. I often want to change some of his words, or help my kids better react to what he’s saying. I want to explain things more clearly.

Likewise, as a wife I understand the temptation to involve my kids when I’m not getting along with my husband. I get irritated sometimes, and I’d love nothing more than to tell my kids about it so they can be on my side.

As you well know, in both cases I’d be wrong. I would create a triangle out of a situation that should be between only two people. This diffuses the anxiety in the situation, which is a relief. But, it also creates unhealthy patterns of not allowing a person to work through hard things in a relationship without a mediator.

If you want to have a more solid relationship with your family members, stop triangulating! At first the tension will feel worse. Ride out the storm because eventually the dynamics in your household will be healthier.

Disclaimer: This obviously excludes situations where things become abusive. In those cases stepping in to protect the victim is always advisable, whether that is you speaking up, or you calling the police if there is violence.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT

Why Your Teen Daughter Should Play Sports

According to research, girls who play sports make better life-choices.  Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to research, girls who play sports make better life-choices.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Teen girls who play organized sports get into a lot less trouble.  According to a large body of research (http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Not_Just_Another/) conducted in the last ten years, girls who play sports have substantially lower rates of risky behavior.  Girls involved in athletics are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, have fewer sexual partners, and become sexually active later.  There are increases in positive behaviors as well.  Girls who play sports have higher GPAs, and higher rates of graduation.  They have a more positive body image and higher self-esteem.

 

Athletics provide a sense of structure, accountability, and a group of friends.  Exercise is very good for the mind and body, and it decreases rates of depression.  Girls who play on their high school sports teams have a sense of belonging to the school.  They tend to have more school pride, which leads to an increase in caring about their community.

 

Playing sports also reduces overall anxiety.  There are instances where anxiety arises because of the pressure in sports, but for the most part it is helpful for the anxious teenager.  Getting exercise, going outside, being with friends, and focusing on something intensely all helps lower anxiety.  Besides that, sports are fun!

 

If your daughter has been struggling with self-esteem or is tempted by risky behavior, consider signing her up for a sport.  It can make a huge difference.  It gives you both something to talk about too.  If you’re discussing the most recent track meet, you’re communicating.  For many parents, communicating with their teenager is difficult.  Sports provide an avenue for relationship.

 

Be careful not to put too much pressure on your child when they are playing their sport.  There are very few high school athletes good enough to compete at the collegiate level.  There are very few collegiate level athletes good enough to compete at the professional level.  It is okay if your 13 year old daughter isn’t on the top team.  It is much more important that she is having fun and making friends.  Your top priority needs to be her character development, not her athletic career. 

The bottom line is, getting her involved in a sport is good for her mental health, physical health, and social health.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT