How to Punish a Teenager
The challenges that a teenager faces are many, as teen years are a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood. The physical, emotional and social changes that take place in these years are in themselves overwhelming. The teenager also has to interact with a social world outside while dealing with the changes in himself and trying to establish his identity. Often the turmoil inside is reflected in these social interactions. In this period of seeking his own identity, a teenager tends to resist authority and exert his independence by breaking rules and pushing the limits of the set norms. It is definitely a period of strange, unsure and sometimes defiant behaviour on the part of the teenager. Parents could also find this to be one of the most difficult periods of parenting. The changes in behaviour, emotional reactions and the decision teenagers make often cause parent to be concerned about the teenager’s welfare. The inability of parents to exert the same amount of control and discipline on the teenager as before, could push them to find sterner ways of punishing their teenagers in order to obtain compliance.
Areas of Conflict in Disciplining Teenagers
Common areas of conflict between parents and teenagers:
- When teenagers show little or no responsibility towards keeping their rooms or their personal articles clean
- When they oppose restrictions and routines set by parents
- In the area of choice of friends
- When there is a slide in academic performance / when he gets into trouble with school authorities
- Dressing that does not conform to parental expectations / modesty
- Dating - age , choice of person or other issues with dating.
- Safe Driving
Conflict could arise in all or some of these areas because the teenager wants to have the same amount of freedom like an adult without having to assume the responsibilities of an adult. The teenager could also be inclined to push the limits of parental control to prove his/her autonomy as an adult.
Punishments for Teenagers - How They Work
Punishment often appears to be the only means of making the teenager conform to acceptable behaviour. Most popular punishments for teenagers seem to be grounding or revoking of privileges like cell phones, internet access etc. Cessation of allowances, restriction on time spent outside the home or with friends, restriction on the kinds of friends, restriction on dating or social activities are popular methods of punishing teenagers.
Does punishment help bring about a change in behaviour in teenagers?
Though these methods of punishments control and restrict undesirable behavior in a teenager temporarily, they do not seem to be effective in correcting behavior. Often, a teenager would regard these punishments as his parents being mad at him and not as a direct result of his actions. Effective correction should aim at making a teenager responsible for his behaviour by providing him an opportunity to reflect on his mistakes and make amends.
Good Punishment for Teenagers
A better way to correct behaviour would be to discipline the teenager rather than adopt punitive methods for change. (I am averse to using the word punishment here) Punitive methods could backfire and end up making the teenager more rebellious, resentful or angry and could even cause a breakdown in communication between the parents and teenagers. Correction or discipline needs to be directed towards helping the teenager become more responsible. A teenager needs to understand and appreciate why his parents are taking those measures to correct him.
Popular punishments for teenagers do not in any way hold the teenager responsible for his misdemeanor. Grounding or revoking of privileges only puts the teenager in a passive role in which he has nothing to do. Punishment should instead actively encourage the teenager to consider his action, understand and correct, or modify his behavior.
How to Discipline a Teenager
It would help to look at punishment or correction of teenagers from a different perspective. If parents could take the time to understand how or why their protégé is behaving in such a manner, it would help them devise proactive measures, which would put their teenager on the right track. Studies have proved that children who receive warmth and love from parents have higher self-esteem and lesser behavioral and emotional problems.
Research also points out that the lack of clarity in setting of rules for behavior, poor communication of the set rules, along with inconsistent enforcement of rules causes teenagers to take advantage of the situation. It provides teenagers the opportunity to test the boundaries and push the limits to see how far they can get away from the restrictions without getting into trouble.
It would be important to understand that punishment is not the only way to correct your teenager. Research on corporal punishment has shown that it often results in disruptive / anti-social behaviour, poor academic performance, lack of attachment to parents and others and mental health problems including substance abuse. This could be applicable to other forms of punishment too in some ways. Clear communication and reaching out to your teenager should be your first and most effective tool. Most conflicts arise due to lack of clarity in communication between parents and their teens. Be consistent in enforcing the punishment or restitution that is prescribed.
Listen – Hear out your teenager’s point of view, understand why he is behaving the way he is. Active listening could help you understand and appreciate your teenager better. If your teenager is not very communicative, you need find out the best times they are more communicative (for eg: at the dinner table or in the car or a sporting event, etc.) and make the best use of it.
Be non-judgmental – Listen fully without making comments that show disapproval. Show concern for their safety; let your teenager know that such behaviour would get him into trouble. That is effective enough. Help him think of ways to act sensibly in those situations. Being judgmental sends a negative message, while being concerned sends a positive message of warmth and love.
Some corrective action you could consider:
Taking care of a sibling
Helping an elderly neighbour
Some community work
Choose corrective discipline (not punishment) that teaches your teenager to be more responsible. Punishments for teenagers should make them think logically and conclude that they are being asked to do those things because they have fallen short of similar responsibilities. If your teenager does not clean his room and needs to be frequently reminded about it, you could ask him in addition to cleaning up his room, to help his younger sibling makes his own bed and clean his room. This could make your teenager more aware of his responsibilities and appreciate your efforts. Selecting chores that would be in proportion to his misdemeanor is important.
Be fair in the task you assign – Punishment should not exceed the misdemeanor. Over-punishing your teenager could often backfire. Reserve bigger punishments like being grounded for a few days or a weekend for more serious offenses.
Remain calm - Punishing in anger often results in over-punishment and unfair treatment to the teenager. It also evokes similar emotions from your ward. Being calm and firm could show your teenager who is in charge, and you become a model for your teenager to learn to control his anger.
Give your teenager a choice – It is easier to bring about compliance if your teenager is involved in the task of decision-making. You could decide on a few corrective measures and ask your teenager to decide one which one he would like to adopt. This would ensure that your teenager not only complies but also understands the cause and effect.
Respect begets respect – The biggest complaints of teenagers are that they are often ‘treated without respect’, ‘no one takes them seriously’. It would help to make it clear to your teenager that you respect his views, but you do not agree with his behaviour. Avoid shouting matches and arguments, which leads you nowhere. If you find yourself in such a situation, take a deep breath, calm down before you are ready to deal with it in an objective way.
Use logical reasoning – Appeal to their reason, teenagers learn more from logical reasoning, which motivates them to change. Focus on the positive; make it clear to your teenager that you disagree with his behaviour, and would like to see better behaviour. Discuss, brainstorm, ask your teenager to come up with different ways of facing the same situation in the future. Such discussion motivates them to think and consider their actions; it also helps them to develop better decision-making abilities. It also helps provide guidance and support to your teenager without you having to lecture him. Punishment only temporarily prevents such behavior, and is likely to induce fear instead.
Remember; though your teenager may think that he is grown up, research has shown that various cognitive functions, especially those of decision-making are not fully developed until around the age of 25. Though your teenager may look all grown up, he still needs structure and guidance.
Avoid criticism and negative words. As a parent, you need to help build your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem, and not break it. Saying hurtful things and being extremely critical does just that. Teenagers could see this as belittling them or perceive it as emotional abuse. This closes down lines of communication and sends a message that you are hard to please. Your teenager might just give up trying to comply. Praising your teenager for tasks well done is bound to produce more positive behaviour than punishment.
Stay connected, keep trying – You do not have to police your teenager’s every move, but you need to stay connected. Keep communicating with your teenager. It is important to develop activities of common interest so that you could keep communicating with your teenager all the time. It is easier to reach them when you have a relationship and know how to reach out to them.
Positive discipline, setting up a structure and a routine for your teenager could help you achieve better results than punishment. Your most important task as a parent is to nurture and helping build up your child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Being proactive and strengthening, your relationship with your teenager emerges as a better solution for correction than punishing your teenager. Punishment that destroys your teenager’s self-esteem could only make him more rebellious and indulge in socially destructive behavior. Parenting teenagers was never easy so give it your best shot.
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