When a teenager doesn’t know what is expected in your home, he does what seems right in his own eyes – and that’s a formula for chaos.
A good way to avoid chaos in the teenage years is to establish a system that outlines rules and consequences, which is a clear and undeniable plan for what is expected in your home. I call it a “Belief System for Discipline” because you have to base it on those dearly held beliefs that includes what consequences to expect if the rules are broken or boundaries crossed. The root of the word discipline is “disciple” – and discipline for your teen is best characterized by positive training or discipling, just as we saw Christ demonstrate with his disciples.
Having a clearly defined Belief System for your home helps everyone know how to act, where the “line” is so they know when they step over it, and what consequences to expect. Teenagers can learn from established rules and consequences, but generally get frustrated from rules and consequences that seem arbitrary or inconsistent.
Why is this so important? Because teens are prone to test their parents in every possible way. It is part of their built-in and growing need for independence, and they need to exercise their own free will. This is why parents need to take time to establish a clearly defined Belief System before their children enter the adolescent years. Doing so will go a long way toward avoiding parenting chaos and helping your teen eventually establish similar beliefs for himself.
A Belief System for Discipline is a set of beliefs, boundaries, rules, and consequences that govern the discipline in your home.
A Belief System for Discipline is the Remedy to Chaos
Relief from the chaos comes when a cohesive Belief System is communicated in advance, and everyone knows what to expect. It lends a sense of security to highly insecure teenagers to know what to expect – especially when it comes to discipline.
In other words, they know in advance whether or not experiencing the consequences is worth it when stepping across established boundaries.
Teenagers quickly learn… don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.
I realize that some parents face insurmountable obstacles that come about when a child spends time on alternating weekends with two sets of parents and two different sets of beliefs. This can be very difficult and confusing for everyone involved. So, even in the case of divorce or separation, caring parents should think about uniting, whenever possible, under the banner of one Belief System, for the sake of their children.
Your teen may not agree with your Belief System for Discipline. He may not like it and try to change your mind, but he cannot justify his misbehavior or avoid the consequences based on a difference of opinion. He knows well in advance what will happen if he transgresses the household Belief System, and can only hold himself responsible for the resulting consequences.
For example, let’s say that one aspect of your Belief System is that you believe that smoking is bad for your health, and therefore smoking is not allowed in your home. Your teenager may not believe the same way – but it doesn’t matter because this is your home, and this is what you believe. The belief will probably not change, even when they are adults. Your teenager then needs to decide for himself whether or not to smoke – and suffer the consequences if he chooses to do so.
What you believe is the cause that eventually produces a desired effect.
Generational Beliefs – Family Background and Traditions
It’s a given that the source of your Belief System for Discipline starts with you and your spouse, and the way you were raised. You will probably not operate your home exactly the same way as your parents. But, you may adopt some of the same basic ideals you grew up with for your own home.
A simple example is the annual family vacation. Yes, that can be a part of your Belief System. If your parents provided for time away with the family on a yearly basis, and it worked out well for you, then you will probably establish in your own Belief System that an annual family vacation is important as well.
Or, if your parents believed it was best to teach you responsibility by allowing you to work for the things you wanted, you may likewise believe it’s best for your children to work for the things they want. These are generational beliefs, or traditions passed down from grandparent, to parent, to child.
Spiritual Beliefs – Character and Spiritual Walk
The next place to identify your beliefs, of course, is your relationship with God. The Bible is full of training on how to live honorably and in harmony with both God and man. The Bible is a good resource for ushering God’s ideals for your home into your discipline structure. These are spiritual beliefs that address your child’s character, spiritual training, and how you’ll manage issues like honesty, obedience, and respect.
Functional Beliefs – Your Unique Likes and Dislikes
Functional beliefs relate to everyday living, like bedrooms need to be cleaned on a periodic basis in order to avert inspection by local health officials. Or, chores are a part of each family member’s duty in the home and must be done before anything else. Or, you believe a good way to encourage your child in sports is to attend as many of their games as possible, so you establish that own expectation for yourself. These are functional beliefs, and they address the daily habits and quirks unique to each individual in the family.
Summary and Assignment
This is your parenting homework assignment for the week: Take time to write down some of your own generational, spiritual, and functional beliefs. Think about why you believe them and why they are important to you. Once you understand what you truly believe about how things should be in your home, you will have the basis for moving toward the next step, which is to create and implement some healthy boundaries, rules, and consequences.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.
His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.