Thursday, September 15, 2011

Punishment VS Discipline

A friend of mine recently posted an article on Facebook by the renown child development expert, Bruno Bettelheim. See good things can come from Facebook. In the article he states:" Discipline has been spoken of as something that parents impose on children, rather than something that parents instill in them. Unfortunately, punishment teaches a child that those who have power can force others to do their will, and when the child is old enough and able,  he/she will try to use such force him/herself. "He was a smart guy, this Bettelheim.

Many parents of teens are actually afraid of their kids. I don't mean physically, but afraid of their wrath, their anger, and the fear that no matter what they tell their teen to do, their teen will stand firm and challenge the parents authority. The ultimate humiliation. The challenge of "make me"  that an angry teen throws in a parents face can turn many of us in to either sniveling babbling idiots, or ranting raving maniacs. Teens are often like the all-powerful Oz, toying with our own confidence as parents.

This is why punishment rarely works. As parents we grapple with how we want our teens to behave, and what we can do to make them act that way. The bottom line is we can't make them do what we want, we have to make them want to want to behave in ways we find acceptable, safe, and that enhance growth. If you continually ground, take away phones, computers, TVs for all transgressions you risk enhancing the "fine, take away my phone, computer, and TV, I don't care. You think that's gonna make me do what you want...HA I'll show you," kind of response.  This kind of punishment doesn't lead to discipline. Discipline is an internal ability to monitor and follow-though on a desired behavior or goal. One is disciplined about getting to the gym every day, or getting homework done, or being a kind person on a regular basis not just when someone is holding us hostage to do it. And that is the goal isn't it? To help our teens get to the point that they don't need us to yell at them to get done what they need to, or to punish by withholding what they want until you get what you want.

So what do you do??? You maintain an air of "reasonableness". For example I have had a rash of calls since school started about cellphone use. Unfortunately many parents have now purchased smart phones for their kids and the ability to monitor and limit use in order for their teens to get their homework done or get to sleep minus the buzz of incoming texts is much much harder. And so the power struggle begins, "give me your phone.... NO..... give me your phone........ No.......if you don't give me your phone, I will take it away for good. (teens know you won't really, since you need to have a way to get in touch with them) FINE, take it away, they say. (there is the challenge that Bettelheim is talking about, they "you can't make me")

Here is how it could go a different way, with the ultimate goal of teaching them discipline about cellphone use rather than disciplining them about their cellphone use. Big, big big difference. " Here is the deal, I get how important and how much you love your Iphone, Droid, and I get how hard it is not to want to return texts you get even when you are trying to do homework and sleep. This is important stuff, sleeping and getting your work done, and we get that you need help. So here is your choice, you can give us you phone for an hour and half of your choosing during homework time and just before you go to bed, with no arguing, or you can fight us on it, and we can choose to discontinue your use of this fancy phone and get you a standard phone with no bells and whistles, that you can still text on, but that we can have more control over turning off and on through our provider. This is your decision and this is the question you have to ask yourself: Is it worth giving up the phone you love for an hour and a half a night and during sleep? Your choice!"

In this example, you are not imposing, but providing your teen with a choice, options and training in making decisions. Their life will be full of should I or shouldn't I's, where the consequences are of their own making.

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