Parenting Super Hero or Not?
- Friday, April 09, 2010
So, what does Scripture say about consequences? In Proverbs it says, "The Lord disciplines those He loves" (Proverbs 3:12) and "Discipline your son, and he will give you peace"( Proverbs 29:17). Discipline is a principle found throughout the Old and New Testaments. So, there is nothing more loving, biblical and godly than to give proper discipline to your children.
Consequences can be the natural result of foolish actions, such as breaking a leg from jumping off a roof, or they can be what employers, parents or authorities use to bring about a positive change in behavior. For parents, the goal of consequences is not punishment; it is to help your teenager grow up. In adult life, we deal with consequences every day, and if we're smart we avoid them, but teenagers still need to learn that wisdom, even though they are capable of being adults intellectually and biologically.
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.
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