I asked one of my mom friends recently what she thought of her 15-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend. “He’s fine, I suppose. We really worry more about Natalie than about him in terms of behavior.”
When I asked what concerned her about daughter’s behavior, she proceeded to tell me how Natalie had recently stolen alcohol from her parents and had been caught sneaking out of the house to meet the new boyfriend. “Wow,” I replied. “What did you and Brad do about it?”
“What can we do?” she replied. “We did bad things like that when we were teenagers—what can we say?”
Lots of parents feel like my friend: that it’s almost impossible to discipline teenagers. But it’s not just possible—it’s crucial. Teenagers are prone to taking real risks. Real parental consequences for teens discourage bad choices and protect them from themselves. So when it comes to providing guidance and discipline for your teen, remember these things:
Teens are not as grown-up on the inside as they are on the outside.
When your son has a deep voice, shaves, and you have to look up to make eye contact with him, you may be tempted to think of him as an adult. And while he is in the physical sense, he absolutely is not in the emotional sense. The human brain doesn’t completely mature until the early 20s, placing adolescents at risk. While teens are fully equipped intellectually, they don’t possess the self-control to avoid risky behaviors and make wise choices every time. So don’t be dazzled by your kid’s ability to argue his case or his imposing physical presence. He’s still a kid who needs good parenting.
While teens are increasingly independent, you still hold some important cards.
Many teens have a car, a phone, and cash in their pockets. Those three things are very empowering. If handled with maturity, they can be benign or even positive. If handled foolishly, they can help your child destroy herself. And 90% of the time, we parents purchased and handed over these powerful tools. When our teens are off course, we must have the backbone to rescind any of these privileges at a moment’s notice. Sometimes taking the car keys or the phone is just a means of getting your child’s attention in some other area of life, such as academic performance or respect. Other times, it’s the car or the phone itself which is being used in a dangerous or damaging way. So don’t believe the lie that there’s nothing you can do.
Parents of teens must be willing to be inconvenienced.
All discipline is hard work and, in the years of parenting small children, we seem willing to accept this. But when our kids begin to drive themselves around and put themselves to bed, we can become spoiled to the idea that “my work here is done.” But it’s far from done, Mom. I can still remember my father sitting in his recliner at 11:00 pm after a long day at work, waiting up to see that I made it home by curfew. Could he have gone on to bed and listened for the door? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have been the same as being up and having a conversation with me when I returned home. In those conversations, he asked about the evening’s events and—now I understand—looked for any sign that I might have been dabbling with drugs or alcohol. So when you’re driving the teen who has a license because you took away his driving privileges or waiting up when you are so tired you could cry, remember: Being inconvenienced is one of the hallmarks of good parenting. You’re probably doing something right.
Let’s Talk: Which consequences make a real difference in your teen’s behavior? What have you tried that didn’t work?
Dana Hall McCain writes about marriage, parenting, faith and wellness. She is a mom of two, and has been married to a wonderful guy for over 18 years.