When I recently asked 3,000 parents what they would change if they could start over again in their parenting, the number one response was, “I’d be more consistent.”
I suppose these parents now realize that their inconsistency led their teen and their family to a place they really didn’t want to go. Whether rooted in misplaced love, or from being distracted by the hustle and bustle of life, or by not wanting to be the “bad guy” all the time, they made a habit of giving in, and now they are sorry for it.
Based on my work with teenagers, I’d have to say those parents are justified in their remorse because I see a lot of kids today all mixed up by inconsistent parents. Teens left to themselves will naturally get into trouble. That’s the nature of adolescence. The path they’ll go down is the one of least resistance or the greatest pleasure. And that’s why they need structure — but it needs to be consistent to make any sense to them. Most teens thrive when clear and unmovable boundaries are in place, because it’s the one anchor in their otherwise turbulent life.
Without consistency a teen will feel like they are living on a seesaw, where certain behaviors are okay one day and not the next. Not knowing which will happen next can be stressful, and that can lead to anxiety, anger, depression, irritability, frustration, over-reaction to everyday problems, memory loss and a lack of concentration. Does that sound like your teen?
I’ll Never Be Like My Parents!
Many parents don’t discipline their children because they’re afraid they will become like that military father or the domineering mother they swore they would never be like. Others don’t discipline because they’re afraid of losing something with their child that they have worked years to attain… a good relationship. But everybody in the family loses when the parents are inconsistent. It hurts the misbehaving kids, it hurts the marital relationship, and it hurts the kids who are being obedient. Why? Because when one parent is less concerned about upholding the rules, the other parent invariably gets exasperated and feels they need to go overboard with rules.
More often than not, moms tend to want more rules, while dads tend to be too lax in regard to rules. When one parent becomes the “heavy” and the other becomes the “easy,” the relationship between the teen and the parent, and the parents to each other, can suffer. If the mom is the “heavy,” she is constantly battling her kids (without her husband’s help) and that will strain the relationship she has with her children and her husband. If the dad is the “heavy,” his efforts to discipline can be undermined by a wife who tends to let her children off the hook too easily. So the dad is seen as mean and uncaring by the child and even by the wife. It’s only when parents participate equally that relationships throughout the family are balanced and able to flourish.
To be consistent, mom and dad need to come together to agree on the basic household rules, based on their own beliefs. As in everything else in life, there may be a need for some compromise. Mom won’t get every rule she wants, and dad will have to be more concerned about the rules than he has been. Both parents will have to work as a team, and not usurp each other’s authority by adding rules or not enforcing the ones they’ve agreed to.
So Step Up!
I realize that some parents don’t want to discipline. But they need to step up and realize that their child needs rules and boundaries and consequences to correct and strengthen their character. It’s not because the child needs justice for doing something wrong, but because they need patterns molded into their life that will determine how they will engage with people in the future. It can literally determine if they’ll be successful in life or not.
The focus of teen discipline should be aimed at critical character values like honesty, obedience, and respect. Honesty is a character issue that will help them in their relationships in the future. Obedience will help them gain direction and insight into life. Respect is the bedrock of all friendships and interpersonal relationships. You correct their lapses in these areas so that they will have the type of relationships that they really want… and to keep them from destroying or impeding relationships with their foolishness.
Remember this… discipline isn’t about you and it isn’t about getting back at your kid. It’s about helping them. Your child will continue in their selfish, immature behavior patterns until the pain they receive is greater than the pleasure they receive from it. They’ll continue in those negative things until someone holds them accountable. We are the ones, as parents, who must do that. It cannot be left to anyone else. We are the ones who need to say to our children, “You cannot do this.” We need to set the boundaries and establish the consequences. We need to make it clear that we’ll walk along side our teen in life, but we’ll move to stand in front of them when they start down the wrong path. Why? Because we know that if they go that direction, it will lead to their unhappiness.
Here are some things to remember about discipline.
- Rules without relationship cause rebellion. If one thinks that discipline is nothing more than a list of rules posted on the refrigerator that line out how everyone is supposed to act, they are greatly mistaken. It is important that time be spent with your child building a relationship, or the discipline will have no effect.
- Look to their interest. Don’t hand out a consequence just because your teen made you mad. Hand it out because, if they continue in the inappropriate behavior, the result will be something that is harmful to them, and will take them somewhere they really don’t want to go.
- Discipline means confrontation. Confrontation is never easy, and is never really that enjoyable. To avoid confrontation is only postponing the inevitable to a time when things will be worse.
- Don’t be afraid of seeing your child go through the pain of consequences. Parents are, at times, too quick to rescue a child from their discomfort, thus keeping them from learning from their mistakes or choices. Your rescuing just might allow them to continue in their plight. There are many words for this: denial, enabling, equipping. Rescuing is usually done with the wrong motive, and invariably the wrong results.
- You can’t be consistent with everything, so pick your battles wisely. If I was determined to correct every issue that a child presents, I would spend all my time correcting, and very little time building any relationship at all. Your child is not going to be perfect this side of heaven, and there’s plenty of time to correct things along the way, so focus on ten things versus one hundred, and be consistent with just those ten. Remember, even God had just ten commandments.
- Discipline is training. Discipline is helping your child to get where they want to be and to keep them from a place they don’t want to end up. Practice discipline in your own parenting even as you discipline your child, and you’ll get them there.
Teach What You Know to Be True
In your discipline, stick with what you know to be true and you know to be right. Think back to the basic principles your parents or grandparents taught you, and pass those forward. They are tried and true. Focus on rules and boundaries that build character. They’ll create a foundation for your child to base every decision they make in their life.
Periodically review the rules in your family. If you determine that some are simply unnecessary or too confining, don’t just stop enforcing it. Make it clear to your teen that you have both thought it through and the rule no longer applies, or they will think you are being inconsistent. And be sure to accentuate the positive — when your teen gets it right, congratulate and reward them.
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.