Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Family Discipline Revisited

April 22, 1996

Some friends commented that the column I wrote on seven surefire ways to produce an angry teenager touched a nerve with them. By the time they finished reading the column they were rolling in laughter because they were doing most of the bad parenting practices written in the column. In their more serious moments, they wondered what they could do differently. They asked for a sequel on what to do instead of what not to do.

1. Really love your children. This means going out of your way for them - meeting their needs and being dependable in your concern and attention. Take time to teach them what they need to know and stay connected emotionally with their lives. This foundation of unconditional love starts in infancy, continues all the way through childhood and can cushion the teenage years for both of you.

Too many parents are too rapped up in their own lives. They don't put in enough energy to get involved as they need to be with their children. Children need a backdrop of loving attention and sacrifice to develop an attachment bond. This gives firm discipline a chance to work without harming the quality of the overall relationship.

2. Give respect and freedom. Another way of loving your child is to respect their individuality and opportunity to make choices for themselves. Parents can be too intrusive, bossy and controlling of children in order for their own lives to go smoother. Not everything has to be done the parents way or to meet parents' needs.

Allow room for thinking, privacy, negotiations and discussion. Be willing to be influenced by reason and allow the child to make their own decisions within basic outside limits. Explain and reason with children instead of ordering or demanding. Help them explore their own interests and talents without taking over and pushing them for your sake.

Be a good listener, recognize their valid points, be willing to explain yourself and negotiate with them. If you are a good listener, your teen will not be as reactive when you don't agree.

3. Be a team player with your spouse. Form a united front when it comes to discipline. Support each other's discipline in front of the children even if you disagree with your spouse's approach. Work through your differences in parenting style, rules and consequences in private. Don't side in with your child against your spouse.

Use your spouse as a resource and a sounding board for parenting issues. You'll need all your eyes, ears and wits about you if you are going to keep up with problems that come up in the family. If you’re a single parent, find a trusted confidant with whom you can discuss parenting issues.

4. Have a system of discipline, not your temper. You are human and are bound to lose your temper occasionally while raising children. However, it shouldn't be a part of the discipline process. Temper outbursts used to control behavior are self-defeating. They usually lead to an escalation of hostility and further displays of temper by both you and your teenager. Don't allow hitting between siblings and follow the same rule yourself. Physical punishment or aggression is wrong for teenagers.

Don't apply consequences in anger. Take whatever time you need to calm down and think through a situation before starting the discipline process. Think through your basic family rules and consequences and discuss them ahead of time with your teens. Allow their ideas to help fine tune a system they fully understand.

With common understandings, your discipline can be matter-of-fact without emotion getting in the way. You don't have to think on-the-spot or allow your emotion to be a part of the punishing process. Tolerate their emotions without escalating the conflict.

Teenagers are inventive and will discover any loopholes and new situations you haven't thought about. When they confront you with something new, take the time to think through the consequences and the new rule before you give any on-the-spot discipline you may regret.

5. Be consistent in your follow through. A rule isn't a rule when the consequences aren't applied Exceptions should be rare or your teen will expect every time to be the exception. Have as few rules as possible, keep them simple but be willing to back up the rules you do have. Don't be afraid to be the "bad guy" and incur their displeasure for a time.

6. Expect courtesy and respect in the way they talk to you. Understand the difference between legitimate expression of feeling and back talk. Have clear understandings that certain demeaning forms of address such as profanity, sarcasm, contempt and name calling will not be tolerated. Follow the same rules of courtesy and respect you expect from them.

7. Have fun as a family and keep the overall tone of the family positive. Make time for the family. Do fun things together. Make memories. Don't save up your interactions for when they do something wrong.

Admire them. Find good in what they do. Encourage them. Compliment them. Take interest in their accomplishments and activities. Notice and thank them for what they do well. Enjoy them as much as you can so that conflict is only a small part of your relationship.

I hope my friends are happy now.