A video of a Texas judge William Adams whipping his teenage child with a belt has caused a media furor (this is a link to an article, not the video), and many are calling for a child abuse investigation. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the video- and found it unnecessary when articles described it in detail- but it was brutal, a terrifying depiction of uncontrolled, explosive rage.
It should be obvious to everyone reading this that beating your teenager with a belt while screaming obscenities is not the way to discipline a teenager; it is illegal, not to mention violent and horrible.
Smacking or hitting your teen will only teach them that adults smack and hit to solve problems- and you don’t want them using violence to solve problems for the rest of their life.
I’m not a fan of spanking children as discipline, but it is totally unacceptable to spank adolescents. Once your kid begins hitting puberty, touching them on their buttocks- even in discipline- crosses boundaries that you don’t want to cross, and may have legal consequences.
For that matter, yelling won’t solve anything, either. If you feel out of control and unable to speak calmly, remove yourself from the situation. While it is normal to be angry, and good to let your teen know you are angry, there is no good reason to express out-of-control anger towards your kid. (Although, as we are human, sometimes it happens!)
At the same time, disciplinary techniques that work well on school-age children can be ineffective on teens. Making a teen take a “time out” in their room can be an iPod/ internet holiday for them. Try to create a “star chart” for older teens and they will roll their eyes at you. So what do you do when teens break rules?
Well, you try to offset that question by creating ground rules beforehand, so there are agreed-upon consequences for breaking them. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen- either your teen isn’t interested, or they perpetrate some creative disobedience that wasn’t really planned for.
Your teen is an individual. Taking away car rights means less to a teen whose favorite hobby is online gaming, than it does to a social butterfly who is always on the go. Likewise, an “electronic blackout”- no computer, cell phone, etc- will be devastating to the first teen, but the latter may just shrug and use her friend’s computer for a while. But a loss of privileges- targeted at privileges they cherish- can be very effective.
Perhaps more important than what you do as a punishment is understanding why your teen broke the rule. Let’s say your curfew is 11 pm and your teen comes home at 1 am, after 2 hours of their cell phone going straight to voicemail.
If you’re furious and terrified, it’s probably not a good moment to sit them down and have a long conversation. But when you feel more balanced, it’s good to understand what happened. Did they simply lose track of time? Did they forget their cell phone, or forget to charge it? Were their peers pressuring them to stay out late? Were they having so much fun they decided to turn off their cell phone and ignore curfew? All of these reasons give you and your teen different things to work on.
Disciplining teens is harder than disciplining kids, because they are growing into adult faculties and may have more complicated reasons for breaking rules than poor impulse control or rebellion. But helping your teen explore their reasons for breaking rules can be a valuable learning experience for both of you.
If you find yourself so angry you’re beginning to yell or have the urge to hit, take a few deep breaths and give yourself a time out. Then think about consequences that can help teach responsibility and enforce the important fact that as the parent, it’s your job to make sure your teen grows into a healthy, productive adult.