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Proper Response to Teen Rulebreaking

Late for curfew

When a teen breaks the rules, they need a responsible adult to respond, not react. To respond is to offer calmness, honesty, love, grace and support while seeking to correct the misbehavior. However, to react is to become emotional, angry, hurt, quick to judge, and often harsh.

Knee-jerk reactions are almost always counterproductive. We have all done it. Our teen comes home two hours past curfew. We have been waiting up, worrying about all the possible horrible reasons for him being late; we’re an emotional wreck at this point. Then he calmly waltzes in, and ignores us sitting in the chair. That does it! Our brain seems to turn off. We feel disrespected and start yelling. “Where have you been?” “I’ve been waiting up for hours.” “How dare you!”

An “ounce of prevention” is spending time with your teen on a regular basis rather than force-feeding a “pound of cure” when issues arise.

Reacting to your teen will probably never give you the change you intended or wanted. Responding properly can be difficult and takes lots of practice. Counting to ten is good, but then what? Parents of teens must learn to stop their mouths, think about needs to be done, and only then should they speak or act. So, “Stop, Think, Act” is the plan.

You cannot ignore or overlook inappropriate behavior. You must respond based on what you know is true – your faith, your own beliefs, and what you know is best for your child. You might be dealing with just an ice cube, or you might have just touched on the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on in your teen’s life, so don’t burn bridges with harsh reactions.

Stand your ground concerning the boundaries, and follow through on consequences, but strive to get through it all with your relationship intact. Then your teen will learn to respect the healthy boundaries you’ve put into place in his life, and in the future will continue to come to you whenever he is struggling.

In fact, take advantage of the “opportunity” before you to deepen your relationship. For instance, set up a weekly breakfast or dinner with just him. Be sure to mostly listen, not talk. Begin and end your discussion with making sure he understands that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more, and there’s nothing he can do to make you love him less. Don’t be afraid to ask him the hard questions. Your goal should be to establish a solid relationship and to encourage ongoing discussions; as a result, other things he is struggling with will be revealed.

What I’ve found is that most kids who appear to be spinning out of control are really good kids that are just making some poor choices. Poor because their actions will take them to a place where they don’t want to end up.

If this describes recent happenings with your teen, I’m sure that you’ll get over this “bump in the road.”  And one day you’ll thank God for not only getting you through it, but allowing you to endure it to the point of producing a new depth of relationship with your child.


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Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.