Discipline and Teenagers

A few years ago my mother said, “You know, you boys weren’t disciplined a whole lot growing up.”  I looked at my brother and he looked at me.  For a brief moment we wondered if Alzheimer’s was setting in.  That’s sure not the way we remember it!

Now I’m not saying we didn’t deserve it…in fact we probably deserved more than we got. But while there was indeed discipline, the style of discipline that we received from our father made it less effective than it could have been. His style was to simply whack us when we got out of line. Along with it came a lot of anger and yelling, and the whole family got upset.

As was common when I was growing up, Dad approached discipline like he was taught in the military. His militaristic approach was not just with discipline but with parenting in general. He didn’t dare talk back to his drill sergeant, nor should we dare to talk back to him — or say anything.  His drill sergeant hadn’t been concerned about his feelings, so why should he consider ours? He was a good man who worked hard to provide for his family. But his military training also shaped his style of parenting and discipline.

Today, parents are much more relational, and that’s mostly a good thing; however, when it comes to discipline, relational parenting can pose some obstacles if discipline is set aside. It’s hard to discipline someone who looks at you through tear-filled eyes and says, “I love you. How could you do this to me?” But for kids, if breaking a rule doesn’t have consequences that hurt worse than the pleasure they gained from it, they’ll likely continue that behavior.

Teens today both need and actually desire discipline (although most of them would rather die than admit it). Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful; later on however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” In other words, your kids will someday appreciate that you held the line, and more so if you did it in a way that maintained your relationship. And they’ll end up passing down to their kids (your grandkids) the right way to discipline. So, let me answer some basic questions about discipline and hopefully give you a better grasp on it, particularly when it comes to disciplining teens.

What is the purpose of discipline?

Discipline is helping your child get to a place where they want to be and keeping them from a place where they don’t want to end up. Sometimes we struggle with discipline because we lose sight of that underlying purpose. If your child understands that you are disciplining them for their own good, they will ultimately understand. They won’t like the consequences, and may get upset with you temporarily, but they will come to realize that they are bringing the consequences upon themselves, and that’s when their behavior changes.

I’m very upfront with the young people I work with at Heartlight about our rules and how things are going to be done. I know going in that most of these teens are not happy to be living with us in our residential program. So, from the very first day I strive to build a relationship—to let them know that everything that happens is for them, not for me. If I can convince them that the rules and punishments are in their best interests and for their own good, we’re a long way down the road to success. And to offset any thought that discipline is a quick and easy solution for us, our policy is that if the teen has to do extra chores or is grounded to the house, the staff are there right with them, shoulder to shoulder. It is as inconvenient and painful for us as it is for them. We use it as a time to build relationship, and we find that the kids often open up and deal with some issues in their life even as they are being disciplined.

Why do some parents punish in anger?

Kids want most of all to have a good relationship with their parents, so parents can get the wrong idea to use that as a means of punishment, but it is never advised. I’ve seen it firsthand when I was growing up. My father would correct us boys by blowing his top. Again, Dad was a good man, but his discipline in many ways was selfish. He felt better after exploding because he had a chance to get over his frustration, but because it was done in anger, it didn’t serve the purpose of helping me get to where I needed to go. It just taught me to avoid him and never get caught.

It is never effective to use negative emotions, to make idle threats, or to hold your relationship hostage as a means of changing your child’s behavior. I’ve learned it works best to try to do just the opposite with the teens I work with. I make light of their error and I use it as an opportunity to talk. It breaks the tension and they learn that their error doesn’t affect our relationship; but they also learn pretty quickly that I never back down on the consequences, no matter how much they bargain, shift blame or plead.

So, keep the anger out of your discipline. If you are harried or upset and cannot deal with a problem without anger at the moment, ask your spouse to deal with it; or tell your teen that you will talk about the consequences for their behavior at a later appointed time (then don’t forget to keep that appointment).

What do I do if I’m afraid to discipline my child?

This is really two different questions. First, if you’re afraid to discipline because you’re afraid of losing your relationship, let me encourage you—you won’t. Proper discipline won’t destroy a relationship, it will strengthen it. Here’s a piece of counsel I often give to parents: “They’ll get over it.” I’m not saying they will like the discipline process (nor should they), but they will not be driven away by it as long as it is fair, reasonable and expected.

On the other hand if you’re afraid to discipline because you’re afraid of your child or what they may do, I suggest you get outside help immediately. Do not allow your child to physically or emotionally intimidate or abuse you…ever. Backing down due to a teenager’s intimidation is teaching the exact wrong lesson, and it sets them up for failure in life and other relationships. If things get physical or threatening, something is seriously wrong. Sometimes it can be a sign that either drugs or alcohol is involved. If the threats take the form of a child claiming they’ll commit suicide, take it seriously and get them admitted to the hospital. If they threaten to run away, there’s ultimately not much you can do about that, so backing down will only cause them to use that as their intimidation again and again. A child should never be allowed to intimidate or threaten a parent.

How should I view pain in the context of discipline?

Pain is very difficult to experience, and it is also very difficult to impose on someone else. But pain plays a vital role in forcing someone to re-evaluate their conduct. As I’ve said, “Your child will continue on the path of inappropriate behavior until the pain of those actions is greater than the pain they get from them.” You have to attach consequences to that behavior so that they realize it isn’t the path to where they want to go. Of course I’m not talking about physical pain (not for teenagers), but there needs to be painful consequences tied to wrongful conduct, such as losing freedoms or privileges for a specified time, and adding chores.

What would other parents tell you about discipline, if they could do their parenting over?

Probably the number one error I hear from parents of teens who are spinning out of control is simply this: “I failed to follow through.” If you threaten consequences but don’t deliver, not only are you effectively lying to your child, but you are giving them the worst of both worlds. You may think you are building a relationship that way—to let them off the hook—but in reality you are tearing it down. They will lose respect for you, and they’ll fail to learn a critical lesson as well. In a world that has fewer borders than ever before, teens long for the stability and structure that enforced rules provide for their lives.

God has called us as parents to play a crucial role in the lives of our children. There are many wonderful and happy times in that process, and some difficult ones as well. If I could leave you with one last word of advice, I’d encourage you to view the discipline process as a vital investment rather than an unpleasant event to be avoided if possible. If done right and without anger, it can build relationship, not tear it down. Develop and communicate your rules and consequences so your teen knows what to expect, and then make them stick, without wavering. You—and your child—will be eternally glad you did.

We talked about this issue in-depth on our radio program last week called “Teens and Discipline.” To listen online, look for the program dated June 4, 2011 at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org,

 or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.



Establishing Family Rules

When I was growing up there was one major rule—don’t make mom or dad mad.  If we broke that rule, we got whacked when Dad got home.  It was a “My way, and there is no highway” kind of arrangement.

I remember once “borrowing” the motorcycle without permission.  Of course, I wrecked it.  Dad responded with serious consequences.  Rather than fixing the bike that we loved to ride, he donated it to the school for their shop class.  But he went a step further; he withdrew from our relationship.  Our relationship wasn’t the best in the world anyway, but he basically didn’t speak to my brother and me for a few weeks.   I had disappointed him and he cut me off as a result.

That was the only way he knew how to deal with problems, but that kind of militaristic approach just doesn’t work today.  We live in a more relational culture.  Most parents today have better relationships with their children than parents did when I was growing up…but while that’s largely a good thing, there is a downside as well.  If our teens don’t “buy in” to the rules, the relational approach makes enforcing those rules difficult.

We have horses at Heartlight.  I love the way a teen opens up when you get them on a horse—or even just around a horse.  It’s almost like magic.  But because we have horses, we also have fences.  The fences keep the horses safe while they also allow them to run freely within their limits.  Rules in your family serve the same function.  Though it may seem contradictory, when they have specific limits on their behavior, your teens actually have a greater degree of freedom.  The difference is that we don’t talk to the horses about where the fences should go!  Unlike fences, rules cannot be touched or seen, so they need to be pointed out and understood in order for them to corral behavior.

So, let me share some ideas for successfully creating rules for your household.  The earlier you start this process the better.  If there’s still time for you to do this while your children are still tweens, it will be easier than if you wait until they’re old enough to drive.  If yours is already in the teens, start today.  Preferably before the sun goes down.

Have your teenager help you establish the rules and consequences.

If you establish the rules unilaterally, especially if your home has been relationally focused, you’ll probably face significant push back from your teen.  They aren’t going to understand why they have no say in the process and they’ll be less likely to follow the rules as a result.

Sit down together and discuss what you think behavior in your home should look like.  This is a time to turn off the cell phones, the television and the laptop and focus on what you’re doing.  Talk about how your family expects to deal with issues like dating, driving, cell phones, church, school work, friends, media . . . the list can go on and on, but be sure to major on the majors.  Discuss (don’t dictate) what kinds of behavior fits with your family’s values and which don’t, and include some rules for the adults in the family as well, so the kids don’t think this process is just targeting them.  Talk through the reasons behind the rules that you are establishing and get everyone’s opinion about what consequences should be applied for breaking the rules.  You’ll be surprised how tough your kids will be on themselves when consequences are being discussed, so you might have to lessen them to be realistic.

In working with thousands of teens over the years, there are some warning signs that point to great trouble ahead.  Disrespect and dishonesty are two of those for which violations should have clear and steep consequences, so that your teens know what to expect if they cross one of those lines. So, tackle those first.  Never bend on character or moral issues, but allow some slack in other areas so your teen feels there is some give and take.

The point is this, by getting their input in drawing up this document, you are giving them a sense of ownership of the rules and foreknowledge of what consequences to expect. It allows them to weigh the consequences against breaking the rules.  So, as you work through this process over several weeks, have the final document typed and printed out so that it is clear for everyone to see.

If you need more help and to get some examples of such a document, see the kit (workbook and CD), “Our Family Belief System” here. (or go to www.heartlightresources.com).

Allow the consequences to play out.

Once you have laid down the rules and the consequences with your children, don’t back down when it comes to enforcing them.  Teens are masterful at trying to get exceptions made “just this once.”  Parents are often afraid that if they enforce the consequences that have been set they will damage their relationship with their child.  The truth is just the opposite.  Kids actually want their parents to be consistent, and they can live with the consequences, so let them be involved in setting those consequences.  I’m not a big fan of, “I told you so,” but it’s appropriate to remind them when they step over the line that they chose the consequences and will now have to live with them.

Proverbs 19:19 says, “If you rescue [an angry child] once, you will have to do it again.”  It’s far better for the consequences to teach them; you don’t want all the teaching of teenagers to come from you.  Don’t give in, but don’t give up either. Your child will push against every rule you have  and even violate each one at one point or another.  So keep at it.  Keep letting the consequences work in your favor.  And keep giving them unrelenting love as you go through that process with them.

Beliefs and values never change; rules do.

Don’t think of your rules as written in stone.  That’s one of the nice things about having them on your computer; they can be easily adjusted over time.  So check your rules every six months to make sure they still apply to the maturity of your child.

Sometimes parents don’t adjust the rules and they make the mistake of holding a sixteen year old to the same exact rules they had for him as a twelve year old.  This can be exasperating for an older teen.  I’m not suggesting you let him do things that are wrong.  But some things that are procedural can be relaxed as they mature.  For instance, bedtime and curfew can be moved to a later hour, more independence and decision making can be transferred, and more responsibility can be added.

There are obviously limits, however.  One of the things that I believe pretty strongly is the old saying that nothing good ever happens after midnight.  So when our kids got older, we moved their curfew, but we never moved it past midnight.  It’s a very positive thing when you show some flexibility.  The problem some parents have is that they aren’t willing to change on anything.  The world has changed, and we want to be sure we’re only holding on to the things that are worth holding—and not holding on to things just because “that’s the way it was when I was growing up.”

Above all else, I encourage you to work diligently to keep your relationship strong.  As you can probably tell, I think rules are really important, but the relationship you have with your child is even more important.  Take the time to involve them and help them take ownership of the rules.  I think you’ll find the fights decreasing and the relationships and harmony in your home increasing.  It’s worth the effort!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school

 located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org

, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.




 Lately I have struggled so much with distractions in my life, from the telephone, to face book to dealing with children and life in general, and to be honest it is all driving me a bit batty!

 Why you may ask?

 Well I know that there are certain things that I want to do in my life, places I want to visit, and people I would love to minister to and most importantly of all I want to develop a deeper relationship with God. However, some times I feel like there is an invisible army bent on me not achieving any of those lofty goals.

 I actually snapped at my poor husband yesterday because he came to repair my computer, I told him to leave me alone and let me finish what I was trying to do as I was in the last stages of up loading an article onto my site. That does not sound bad, but my attitude stunk, therefore I needed to go to him and ask him to forgive me for my bad attitude, which I did.

I have come to realize through all of this that even though there are many distractions in my day that come between me and what I feel that I need to do, I am my own worst enemy, I allow these things in and don’t say no when it is appropriate. I feel that sometimes I need to be there for everyone all of the time and my schedule is not that important.

The truth is that my schedule is important, because God has plans and purposes for my life. He tells us in his word that we have been created to do good works while we are here on this earth. He prepared those things in advance for us, so that when we did them, we would bring him glory, we would get great satisfaction out of it, and joy and know that we are impacting the world for him.

Ephesians 2:10

 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

The lord reminds me of this fact that he has indeed placed me in this time of history to fulfill his plans for the furthering of the kingdom and that in order for me to be a part of that, I need to learn self control, boundaries and obedience to his leading.

I need to set aside my agenda and ask him to show me his. I have discovered that his plans and purposes for my life are way more extravagant than I could have dreamed up. His will for my life, will probably hold some pain and sorrow, but through those things I will learn to turn my head and eyes to him for my comfort and joy. He will use those times to build me up in his character.

Therefore, even these distractions that I feel are trying to come between me and what God has for me, is training ground, training me to recognize what is important in my life, what is not, what to pursue and what to walk away from. It has shown me that I am to cling even closer to him, so that he can help me manage these distractions and therefore learn to walk in victory with him.

If you are finding that life is passing you by at break neck speed and that you are barely holding on, stop!

 Ask God to help you remember the dreams that he has placed in your heart, the desires that you have long since buried due to busyness, commitments, over commitments, work or whatever else.

He placed those dreams there, so that you will one day see them fulfilled.

 When we are diligently seeking the lord, we can trust him to give us his desires to walk in, the enemy might try to convince us that they are sinful, or stupid or to crazy, but the truth of the matter is this, if God placed them in your heart, he did it so that it would benefit his kingdom, that people would be blessed as you walk in your sweet spot with God.

 Stop running today, slow down, smell the roses and ask the Lord how he wants you to prioritize your life today.

 I am sure that there will be many new articles written by me, due to having the right priorities.

 I pray that God will bless you today as you seek to walk in his will and not let the distractions take you away from accomplishing it.

 When Teens Reject Their Parents

We want our children to become independent; to be able to take control of their own lives. A natural and essential part of that maturing process is to make choices for themselves. Every decision they make is another step along the path from total dependence at birth to maturity and independence when they leave home. But their choices won’t always be in line with ours; and that’s when we can feel rejected.

Not every choice teenagers make is going to seem “right” to their parents. But there is a process they go through to establish their own beliefs, and that often includes rejecting our beliefs, and even us, for a time. So, when they make a choice with which we don’t agree, we have two options.  We can step in and assert control over them (treating them like a child again), or we can work through the process with them; taking time to understand why they made the choice they did. I suggest you do the latter.  Let me give you some tips to help you work with your teen through this sometimes painful process.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love. – Psalm 103:8

Stay Positive…Compassionate…

When your child is doing things and making choices that are against your values, it’s easy to blow it all out of proportion.  But rather than immediately condemning and preaching, position yourself in the role of a coach and mentor.

If you have done your job instilling values in your kids in the earlier years, they already know when they’re doing wrong as teenagers.  You don’t have to tell them again and again and again.  That badgering will wear out your welcome in their increasingly independent life.  They are already struggling with feelings of guilt and confusion, so they need a positive, encouraging voice in those teaching moments.

Please note that I’m not saying you should approve of what they’re doing or forsake your role as a parent.  What’s right and wrong doesn’t change, and consequences still need to be applied.  What I am suggesting is that you maintain your relationship in such times in a way that you will be able to continue to speak truth into their heart and be heard. Start by talking through various options that were available to them, until they can identify for themselves what would have been a better course of action.  This process promotes independence and good decision making skills.

Allow Independence to Grow…

It’s common to hear a teen say, “I don’t need you anymore.  I can do it on my own.”  There’s something in the heart of parents that doesn’t want to hear those words (sometimes delivered in a loud and angry tone), but those are good words.  They show a drive for independence that your child will need to launch into life on his own.  Now, in reality you and I both know that if you shut off the electricity to his room he’d find out real quick that he does still need you, but don’t let those words drive a wedge between you.

Instead accept those words for what they are and work to find ways to promote independence.  Along with their desire to be independent in their decisions, make them responsible for their own daily life, like getting out of bed in the morning, managing their own finances, and getting a job for a few hours a week.  This is a great way to show them the responsibility that goes along with being independent.

Pick Your Battles

One question that I often hear from parents is about church attendance.  This can be a real flashpoint issue in the home.  If a teen says, “I don’t want to go to your church anymore,” that can feel like a real rejection and a threat.  I know about that feeling, not just from talking to other parents, but from being a parent.  When my children were older teens they didn’t like the church we were going to, so Jan and I decided to move to a church they did like.

But I hated it.  The pastor and I didn’t connect, the music was too stale for me, and I just couldn’t see us ”fitting in,” so Jan and went back to our church and the kids kept going to theirs.  It kept our kids in proper fellowship with other kids their age, and it reduced the tension on Sunday mornings.  Our solution may seem a little radical, and it may not be applicable to others, but it worked for us.  Jan and I went to the church we liked; the kids went to the church they liked.  We then met for lunch afterward and shared what we had heard in our separate churches.  It let us focus on what mattered most—that they were active and involved in church, not that they liked the kind of worship service we liked.  I’d far rather them go to a different church–one they like and teaches the same biblical values–than to abandon church altogether. The point is this…maybe there is a creative compromise you can come up with that solves the more important issue.

Identify What’s Going On

There’s a difference between struggles in the home that occur due to outright rebellion and those due to hormones and the normal growing process.  A rebellious teen will end a fight with a slammed door and a feeling of satisfaction.  A teen who is trying to process a changing world and find her place in it is more likely to show up with an apology a few minutes later (or at least act apologetic).  Full blown rebellion is an intentional rejection of parents and their values—a deeper hatred for the parents and their values–and it’s actually pretty rare.

If we respond to the hard times and struggles our teens are having as if they are rebelling, we run the risk of alienating them and damaging our relationship at the time they need it most.  I encourage you to try to get beyond the surface to understand exactly what you’re dealing with…and remember the transfer to independence that’s underway throughout the process.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. –Galatians 6:9

Don’t Ever Give Up

I say this a lot, but it bears continuous repeating,”Don’t give up!”  Just because a child rejects you, at whatever level, don’t give up or walk away.  And don’t take it personally.  We’ve had more than 2,500 teens come to stay with us at Heartlight.  More than once I’ve wondered if we could make a dent in the pile of troubles that a young person brought along with their luggage.  But what I’ve learned is to keep going—keep talking, keep praying, keep loving.  We’ve seen wonderful transformations, and usually the worst kids turn out to be the greatest and most appreciative ones once they get on the other side of it.  When I’m tempted to give up, I often think about the hundreds of weddings I’ve conducted for kids who lived with us here.  Many of those cases seemed difficult; even hopeless, but they turned out just fine because we didn’t give up on them.

We talked about this issue in-depth on our radio program last weekend titled “When Teens Reject the Family.”  To listen online look for the program dated April 23, 2011 at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.