Disciplining Older Teenagers
Beer cans in a closet, pot in a glove compartment, groundings or curfews ignored, abusive language… not necessarily all new challenges to deal with but many parents feel powerless when faced with disciplining a son inches taller than they are or a daughter who’s buying her own clothes and gas. This becomes even more challenging in the summer prior to college when the teen invokes the “I’ll be on my own soon” mantra that supposedly negates your authority.
While some aspects of discipline change as your child moves into the 16- to 18-year-old range, it is important to realize that these teens still need the security of enforced limits and that they are still dependent upon you in many ways, despite their adult-like appearance or independence. This process is made easier if you have been able to maintain a reasonable connection with your teenager. The more engaged you are in his or her life, the more likely some of these issues can actually be talked through with positive results. A key to resolving conflicts here, in fact, is treating the teen more as an adult and asking her to reflect on the problem and come up with her own solution.
A 17-year-old daughter was supposed to pick up her younger brother from day camp. Twice she had been so late that the camp had called the mother at work. Thank goodness for cell phones. The mother was able to track down her daughter who claimed (!) to be on her way but had an excuse for being late each time. This mother, who has a history of intimate conversations with her daughter about many issues, simply said she could not get another call from the camp because it was putting her son at risk for renewing the next two-week segment. She expressed the feeling that her daughter was not being responsible here and felt that she should have some consequence for creating this mini-crisis.
Although the daughter still tried to excuse herself, she gradually acknowledged that, at the very least, she was not allowing enough time in case something did go wrong. The mother told her she was old enough to come up with a reasonable consequence for messing up here rather than have the mother simply discipline her. The daughter was able to conclude that she owed a debt to her brother for making him wait and be upset as well as to her mother for upsetting her and having to spend the extra time dealing with this. The daughter’s solution was to agree to take her brother out for a Saturday afternoon, rain or shine (which might mean missing a beach day), which would include a couple of activities of his choice. That would also give her mother some extra free time.
Of course it often won’t be that easy. The daughter might have been belligerent, saying the mixups weren’t her fault and refusing to work out a solution with the mother. In fact, she might argue how she is doing her mother a big favor by picking up her brother and it is really very inconvenient for her to do this each day. This is where some parents feel they have few options and often back down with just a scolding or a grounding that frequently isn’t enforced.
It’s important not to stop being an authoritative parent. When the effort to work out a joint solution fails, then it requires that the parent create a consequence that she has some control over. In this case, the mother was taking the train to work to allow her daughter to have access to the car. This allowed the daughter to go to her job, pick up her brother, and still have the opportunity to spend time with friends during the day. So let’s imagine how this mother might have dealt with an uncooperative daughter.
In response to her daughter’s lack of accepting responsibility, the mother chose to take the car back for a week and make temporary alternative arrangements to have her son picked up. The daughter was shocked at losing access to the car. “How will I get to work? I’ll lose my job.” The mother said that it was up to her daughter to resolve that problem, noting that to use the car brings with it a higher expectation of acting responsibly. Many times parents won’t do something like this because they take on the responsibility of making sure their child can get to work. Once you do that, you have lost too much leverage. And it’s not how the real world works.
A 17-year-old boy, in a fit of anger, punched a hole in his bedroom wall. The parents insisted he pay for the repair and he refused. He was bound for college in the fall and was putting all his money away for personal expenses at school. He didn’t care if there was a hole in “his wall,” conveniently ignoring the fact that it was his parents’ home. They had put money aside to pay for his books. So he was told that the repair money would come from that and he would either have to get more used books or use his savings to make up the difference.