Setting and Keeping Rules
The use of rules and consequences becomes critical when you are negotiating your way through the late adolescent and young teenage years. Rules, rewards and consequences may change as your pre-teen's/teen's needs and desires develop. Rewards can be used to encourage your teen to follow the family rules and behave appropriately; consequence should be used for breaking the rules and misbehaving. The reward or consequence should match the misbehavior. Hitting and/or yelling at your pre-teen or teen are not effective forms of discipline or communication. These actions will teach your teen that violence and yelling are appropriate responses to anger or frustration.
Disciplining your teenager
- Loss of Privilege: A privilege is a right granted by a parent. Privileges for this age group can be a later curfew, use of the TV/video games, or going to events without a chaperone. If your child misuses the privilege, he should lose it for a while. The loss of privilege should correlate with the misbehavior.
- Grounding: This action should be similar to the action you would take when taking away a privilege. An example would be when your teenager breaks his curfew and comes home late. The “grounding” action should directly mirror the misbehavior. Therefore, an appropriate consequence would be “grounding” your teenager to a week of earlier curfews, or not going out at all.
- Restitution: Restitution means that there is a “pay back” or a logical consequence for a specific behavior. The goal of restitution is to make good of a wrong. It gives your teenager the opportunity to correct his mistake. For example, your child damaged the house while he was home with his friends. Restitution would be requiring your teenager to earn the money to pay for the cost of the damage. This could be through an after-school job, working around the house, babysitting siblings, or doing additional chores until the work would amount to the cost of the damage. This kind of discipline not only gives your teenager the chance to redeem himself, but it is also a direct response to his action. He will be able to see how the consequence fits his action.
- Overdoing Discipline: One of the mistakes that you, as a parent, can make is overdoing discipline with your pre-teen or teenager. It is important to “pick the battles” that will matter and that will create an opportunity for learning and structure. Discipline is not necessary for all misbehaving actions. Sometimes it just takes a discussion with your child, rather than an enforced consequence. Whether to punish a young teenager is left entirely to discretion, but remember that too much of one thing can be harmful. The point of a consequence should be to teach your child an important life lesson and recreate structure, but it should not be a constant mode of parenting.
- Talk to Your Child: It is important to maintain open communication with a young teenager. Your mode of communication should not be only when you are disciplining your teen. It is necessary to remember that your child is struggling with all kinds of peer pressure, academic stress, extracurricular requirements, and physical changes, among other possible unknowns. Make sure you are regularly checking in with your child to see how he is doing. Just making time to ask him once a day “How are you doing today?” can be an important step in parenting. Your teenager needs to feel supported and comfortable sharing his thoughts and feelings.
- Respect Your Teenager's Privacy: At this stage, your child is transforming from child to adult. It is essential to give him enough space to grow and discover things on his own. This will build confidence, independence, and useful skills for adulthood, while still under your protection and guidance. One way to keep you from crossing the line of privacy is to be aware of the common issues that teens are facing today and to look for warning signs.
- Handling “Back Talk”: This age group is generally when parents begin to hear their children talking back to them or challenging their rules and ideas. This is a tricky issue to handle because you don't want to squelch your child's first steps towards autonomy, nor do you want him to think it is alright to be rude. In a serious tone say, “I don't want you to talk that way to me. If you disagree with me that's okay, but you'll have to do it in a polite way.” This sends the message to your child that you've heard what he has to say, that he has a right to his opinion, but that he needs to communicate it in a respectful way. This may allow for better communication in the future.
This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.
Behavior & Discipline