Practical Dad

Unpleasantries:  Discipline and Teens

One of the most difficult aspects of raising a child is discipline, at whatever age.  That said, disciplining the child becomes even harder as she ages and in the teen years, it can become a damned unpleasant thing for which  parents can be unprepared.  Teens are affected by their peers - some of whom have little or no parental discipline - and frankly, the media.  They're affected by their own bodies, which are producing a complex and potent hormonal chemistry regardless of gender and they're affected by their own sense of growing independence and competence.  

We're almost three generations removed from the bestselling parent books of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was mistakenly believed to have taught that it wasn't in the child's best interests to be disciplined, discipline being equated with punishment.  Parenting experts say that we should be firm and in control with the intimation that voices should never be raised and that if we handle it correctly, then the teen will desist and all will be well.  And somehow, the belief has seeped in that we should be our childrens' friend first and foremost and friends simply don't treat one another in a nasty way.  The final result is, I believe, that there are many parents who will defer to the teen who pushes the limits and boundaries in the belief that what's required to keep them within them is not acceptable as portrayed in the popular media.  And the inmates wind up running the asylum.

Discipline is ultimately rooted in the notion of teaching and learning, which is a far cry from simple punishment.  If you have just a quick, quiet conversation to point something out to them, you're actually engaging in discipline and it's frequently enough to keep things in order.  The difficulty is that as they age, all of the factors already mentioned come into play and make correction more difficult; if you haven't already been quietly covering things with them, then it's going to appear even more onerous than it would otherwise. 

Even if you've paid attention and had the ongoing conversations through all of the previous years, handling discipline with teens will become testy for all of the reasons proffered above.  While the teens are motivated by whatever they want - most likely short-term or short-sighted - you're the one with the sense of the larger picture and that's fine except that the pressing teen doesn't see it that way.  There will be pushback and questions and even when the questions are answered, the rationale will be challenged and it can happen persistently.  Because the kids are now older, any number of issues will be thrown at you in sometimes forcible short order and in the moment, you have to determine the wheat from the chaff and move accordingly, all the while keeping the end goal in mind.  You have, in a sense, been ushered by your teens into Hogwarts, where the staircases move while you try to reach where you need to be. 

These exchanges aren't easy as sometimes frustration seeps in amongst both generations and voices are raised against one another.  It isn't a pretty scene and if you've consumed the popular parenting media, you'll feel like a failure because it isn't as calm, controlled and easy as it is made to appear.  When the time is less tense, you can re-evaluate what's been said and even go back and revisit the issues with your teen; communication is an ongoing process.  When these instances occur, it doesn't mean that you're a failure as a parent.  What it means is that you're having to grapple with the change that occurs with growing kids and change isn't easy.  What makes a failure is simply taking the easy road, acceding to the demands of frequently irrational teens because it means a few moments of peace.

 

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