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Discipline & Boundaries

I'm not speaking to you!

Let's face it, growing up today is tough.  It is much more complicated than it used to be.  Kids are often raised in a social whirlpool and are left to their own devices to make decisions they should not have to make at such young ages.  Many parents are too busy working and supporting their family to pay enough attention to the emotional and psychological needs of their children.  

Discipline is little to non-existent for many children as evidenced by their behavior in public and their parent's inability to control them.  Many parents are oblivious to the fact that their kids disrupt the environment for others in shops and restaurants and public places, and instead, tune them out to the exasperation of everyone around them.  As their children get older, discipline then becomes very difficult and parent struggle to cope.

Let's talk about the basics of discipline, and how to handle those challenging times (especially the dreaded teenage years!).

The Basics of Discipline

When it comes to discipline, aim to strive for a balance between firm and loving support, along with appropriate limits and boundaries.  Being firm with children works best when the firm attitude comes from parents who have a supportive and loving relationship with their children, and who nurture an emotional connection.  

Discipline involves not only getting children on track with the right activities and habits, but also involves keeping them on track and guiding them to develop healthy life goals and values.  It begins with understanding that each child is unique with different genes, different potentials, and different family environments.  Discipline is most effective when parents treat their children as individuals and understand that their schedules are not adult schedules.  Children have their own daily rhythms and respond to their environment as a child does, not as an adult does.

"A study of 90,000 teens concluded that "connectedness" - a feeling of being loved, accepted, understood, and wanted - emerged as by far the biggest protector against emotional distress, suicidal thoughts, and addictions such as smoking, drinking, and using drugs."

National Longitudinal Adolescent Health Study

The older a child becomes, the more they understand, and the more detailed the explanations can be.  They may not be adults, nor have the experience or point of view of an adult, but when a child is disciplined without understanding why, it encourages the build-up of resentment.  The phrase "because I said so" really is a very unhelpful statement that does not serve to teach children why.  Demanding a child be obedient without patiently explaining why does not help encourage your children to think and reason for themselves.  Once a child is capable of reasoning and understanding right from wrong, they are capable of receiving some sort of explanation for your demand.  

Never underestimate the power of praise.  Research has proven time and again the importance of praise when it comes to good habits and behavior.  Children should always be rewarded and praised for developing and following good habits, whether it is cleaning their rooms or doing their homework - or getting exercise outdoors instead of sitting in front of a TV and playing games.

Challenging Times

For many, discipline is a tough part of parenting.  Even when parents follow expert advice and feel confident they are doing their best, children still find ways to challenge and stress.  Sometimes it can feel like we are banging our head against a brick wall, getting absolutely nowhere.  

Our children did not come with instructional manuals and it is natural to sometimes feel overwhelmed and frustrated.  Each child has different needs at different ages as their social skills evolve, and these changing needs can be a struggle for parents adapting to them.  If your child is young, argumentative, and rebellious, the best approach is to work on focusing this energy in the right direction with creative activities and lots of physical activity.  

If a parent feels they cannot control their child without screaming, yelling, or some sort of violence, it is the parent that needs to change their behavior and their approach.  Recognize when you may need help and guidance in understanding how to change your reactions and responses to difficult situations.  Violence, cruelty, anger, and general hostility towards children is never the answer, and often creates the same behavior in children later in life, as well as cause children to become withdrawn and introverted.  

Before blaming our children for their bad behavior, it is important to recognize that children are a reflection of the environment they are raised in.  The problem may stem from activities in school, or may stem from an abusive sibling, parent, or relative.  A little detective work that begins with fostering open communication between yourself and your child can help uncover hidden causes.

Teenage Years

As children grow older and reach the teenage years, their behavior around their parents often changes dramatically.  Most teens are beginning to strive for independence, which involves pulling away from their parents.  They experiment with different friends, different clothes, and make-up, trying on many different faces until they find their own.  They are forming their own moral code, not just based on what their parents have taught them, but based on the behavior of their peers.  The ideas and viewpoints of their peers can sometimes become more important as compared with those of their parents.

As a parent, it is easy to respond by barking orders and restrictions in an attempt to control this new need for independence, but this approach can quickly backfire and cause a budding teen to feel smothered and rebellious.  When teens feel they cannot relate to their parents, they feel even more of a sense of separateness.

There are 5 things you can do to help smooth out the rough times, and also prevent problems before they even begin.

Develop Communication Early

Develop communication earlyDeveloping open and honest communication with your child early in life can help offset the difficulties during teenage years.  The best way to do this is to encourage questions and be open with your answers, and to never chastise your children for their questions.

When talking about drugs and sex, look for spontaneous moments to start a dialogue so that it does not appear like the dreaded "talk."  Ask their opinion on the subject so that you can gauge their knowledge and level of awareness.  If you do not like the answer, instead of reacting negatively, help change their perception with simple facts.  Perhaps use real life experiences of people you know that have suffered the consequences of substance abuse.

For most teens, it is a time of experimentation, and this is normal.  Sometimes that experimentation involves drugs, alcohol, and sex.  The more you educate your children about these subjects BEFORE they become a bigger topic of conversation, the higher the chance they will act responsibly when the time comes.  But educating does not mean militantly banning your child from these things; it involves discussing the subjects calmly and matter-of-factly.  It also does not mean claiming you were a saint.  Sharing some of your own experiences can help your teen realize that you do understand what they are going through because you have been there yourself! 

Be Open-Minded

So your teenager wants to paint their fingernails black, or dye their hair a bright color, or shock you with their funky fashion sense.  They are expressing their individuality, and rather than just wanting to blend in and "look like everyone else" they experimenting with different personas while they find themselves.  Unless this is an issue with school policies (or involves dressing too risque), then work with your teen.

Think carefully before you throw your own tantrum and object.  Consider looking at it from their perspective and encourage your teen's sense of individuality, and make even make suggestions of your own that will make them see that you are not the "old fashioned mom or dad" they thought you were!  If they want a tattoo or piercing, rather than object in disgust, let them know that at 18, they are welcome to decorate their body as they see fit as they will be considered an adult.  Until then, they can have a blast with washable tattoos.  This approach helps build a sense of relatedness and understanding.

Think Before You React

The next time you have a challenge with your teen, before you react in anger, ask yourself the following questions:

  • "Have I put myself in my teen's place?"
  • "Am I being too controlling?" 
  • "Do I listen to my teen or do I shut out words I don't want to hear?" 
  • "Do I allow my teen's opinions and tastes to differ from my own?"

Sometimes when we spend a moment to reflect, we may decide to tone down our approach, or try a different one.

Respect Their Privacy... To A Degree

Even though you may feel your teens are too young to grant them privacy, work on this.  Teens are young adults and DO need some degree of privacy.  The more they earn your trust, and the more you see no warning signs, be more lenient in granting that privacy.  If you notice signs of trouble, then definitely keep a closer watch until you locate the source of the problem and resolve it.  When it comes to the internet, know what they are reading and who they may be communicating with.  A variety of software is available to monitor internet connectivity that is very reasonably priced and easy to use.  For young teens, internet browsing should be done in the family area.

Start with trust, and let your teen know that you respect and trust them, but that if this trust is ever broken, then it will need to be rebuilt.  By the mid- to late- teens, their room, texts, emails, and phone calls should be private.  Trying to monitor your teens every move will cause them to become quickly resentful of the "spying."  Of course, you should always know where your teen is going, with who, and when they are coming back.  Just don't be hurt if they choose not to share with you the details.  After all, did you, when you were a teen?  Not likely!

Make Realistic & Appropriate Rules

Don't be afraid to set limits on how much time your teen spends using technology such as the TV or internet.  A teen that does not get enough sleep will be a cranky teen, and a teen that does not get enough exercise or involved in physical activities is more likely to experience weight issues.  Encourage time spent with family (including fun stuff like movies or other outings your teen will enjoy), but consider whether you really want to force your teen to come to EVERY family event.  Remember how that felt when you were a teen?

Know When to Get Help

Warning signsAmericans have an awful tendency of isolating themselves when it comes to their problems and challenges.  Take the advice of the Europeans and don't hesitate to reach out for the support you need.  If you are struggling, DO NOT isolate yourself.  Finding a therapist or counselor who specializes in working with difficult children can be a lifesaver, not to mention a stress saver!  

Connect with local support groups and parents who can offer you tips and tricks to add to your parenting toolbox.

Warning Signs

A drastic personality or behavioral change can signal a big problem that needs professional help.  Pay attention to these warning signs:

  • The subject of suicide, whether serious or jokingly
  • Lack of interest in things around them
  • Extreme weight gain or loss
  • Sudden low grades
  • Skipping school continually
  • Issues involving the police
  • Signs of drug use
  • Disappearing for periods of time
  • Disturbing behavior due to a sudden change in friends

Do NOT ignore these warning signs.  There are many support groups and professional organizations who have a lot of experience working with teen substance abuse.  Other resources include:




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