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The teen discipline tightrope: A parental balancing act

Published on: May 04, 2011

Patti Skelton-McGougan, Youth Eastside ServicesBy Patti Skelton-McGougan, executive director of Youth Eastside Services.

Disciplining your teenager can be tricky and daunting at times. No doubt it’s one of the hardest struggles that parents face. We often wonder about the severity of the consequences—should they be the same for all teens and scenarios? Where does the balance between positive yet effective discipline lie?

“Using open and honest communication is essential in finding common ground between you and your child,” said Debbi Halela, director of youth & family counseling at Youth Eastside Services. “Good communication involves sharing expectations from the very beginning. Not only does this build trust and accountability, but it also sets the tone for appropriate consequences.”

The art of discipline requires equal measures of parental judgment and common sense. There are multiple factors to consider including age, circumstance of infractions, behavioral history, temperament and parenting values. Whatever your decision, discipline should be about helping your teen learn from mistakes. It should answer the question of ‘how can my children learn and grow from this experience?’

Balancing nurture and structure is the foundation for effective discipline. “Here, at YES, we believe in the value of positive parenting skills. Though discipline is necessary at times, praise should be given to celebrate the child’s strengths and successes,” said Halela.

In any case, the punishment must fit the crime. Make sure that the consequence is related to the issue and don’t let the heat of the moment influence an irrational ruling. For example, a speeding ticket could mean driving privileges are taken away for a set period of time. Missing a curfew may mean no date Friday night for a first-time offense and perhaps a longer period for a repeat offense.

If you need to, take a moment to determine the best possible outcome that will allow your child to grow and learn from their mistakes. It’s better to delay the consequence so it’s meaningful, rather than assign one arbitrarily that may be hard to enforce and/or has little impact. Sometimes allowing your child to contemplate what would be a fitting punishment can be beneficial.

Halela encourages parents to choose their battles. “Rather than arguing about what your child wears or whether they’ve cleaned their room, focus on issues of safety and decision-making.” And she reminds parents not to miss those opportunities to praise your child for good behavior, because chances are you’ll see more of it.

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