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Parenting Super Hero or Not?
When a teenager first misbehaves, parents can nip it in the bud by applying disproportionate first-time consequences. Unless a child learns a memorable lesson the very first time they are caught, each wrong deed can be a stepping stone to more serious missteps. Disproportionate first-time consequences ensure that the child never thinks about making that same mistake again.
For instance, if you catch your teen driving under the influence, you might consider donating their car to a local charity. Now, that's a big deal to the teenager, but it could prevent them from dying in future a car wreck, or from having a lifelong problem with alcohol. Or, the first time they miss curfew, you might require them to volunteer at the local mission every weekend for a month.
In both cases, the first-time consequences I've illustrated are both uncomfortable and memorable for a lifetime. The teen won't soon forget that they lost their car or had to volunteer every weekend for making a stupid mistake, and they'll wonder what bigger privilege they'll lose if they do it again! Compare that to what most parents do today, which is to ground their child. Grounding can be appropriate at times, but grounding is more of a convenience to parents than anything -- at least they know where their teenager is! If you resort to grounding, then couple it with something memorable and decidedly boring for your teen, like several hours of physical yard work with no iPod, no cell phone and no friends hanging around to entertain them.
Don't Waffle on the Consequences
A parent is his own worst enemy when he waffles or makes idle threats in regard to consequences. It takes effort to properly discipline children, and that's why it is easier for parents to warn, warn again, and then resort to yelling angry warnings instead of simply applying consequences. Warnings serve to tell kids that they have multiple opportunities to avoid consequences, and they quickly learn just how far they can exasperate their parent before the parent takes action. So, the house ends up in a constant state of chaos and everyone feels lousy.
If you waffle or don't follow through, it's an empty threat that will teach your teen that you don't mean what you say, and he is not responsible managing the problems he creates. On the other hand, when your teen realizes that he'll be held responsible for his actions and every part of his life, then your life will improve, and so will his.
So, what happens if your teenager holds out longer than expected? In other words, he keeps making the same mistakes in spite of the consequences. My advice is to hang in there. Rather than changing the game plan, continue to apply consequences, even if there seems to be no positive effect. Eventually they will take hold, but only if you don't waver. If you stop or lighten the consequences, you'll be giving your teenager exactly what he is holding out for. You'll lose all credibility and it will undermine your ability to correct them at all in the future.
Rules Require Consequences
Some parents cringe at the thought of applying consequences, fearing it may harm the relationship they have with their teenager. Step-parents and adoptive parents can be especially conflicted on this point. But I've found that young people want rules from their parents, step-parents and adoptive parents. And what good are rules without consequences for breaking the rules? The world makes more sense to kids when they know what is expected and what is not. They feel safer when they know where the boundaries are. And they find comfort in the consistency of parents who stick to their guns, while loving their children just as much no matter how many mistakes they make.
My advice to you is to build maturity and character in your teenager through sound rules and reasonable consequences. Do this consistently, and with a strong and loving relationship, and I guarantee that someday you'll hear your child call you their biggest hero -- a true Super Hero.
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and executive director of Heartlight, a residential program for struggling adolescents (www.heartlightministries.org). Mark's books and tapes can be found at www.markgregston.com.
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