[Excerpt from Diary of an Angry Father. Yes, there is a book.]
Discipline is critically important in raising a child. All humans need to be taught that there are rules and limits in life, and there are real and sometimes dire consequences for breaking those rules. If your children don’t learn this fact early, you’re going to have one devil of a time trying to teach it later. And if you’re foolish enough not to teach it at home, the culture shock of learning it in the real world may result in your son or daughter living on your couch, broken, depressed, and disillusioned, by the time they reach 25.
Here’s an important test. Do you envision yourself as one of those parents who is friends with your child? Do you consider yourself “cool” and “hip” and “one of the kids?” Do you engage in conversations on their level, and keep up with the latest trends in celebrities, music and fashion? You’re setting yourself up to become a complete failure as a parent. Put your kids up for adoption immediately before you cause any further damage.
Perhaps you are the polar opposite. Some parents would be better prison wardens than parents. Before you force your average kid to play the cello, compete in chess tournaments, or become the next fencing master, remember that kids are just kids. Let them spread their wings a bit and give them an opportunity to express their own interests – rather than forcing them to pursue yours. Otherwise, you run the risk of permanently alienating your children.
You need to find a balance somewhere between the friend and the warden. It’s a difficult task, since each of us is different. You’ll need to consider your child’s common sense, aptitude, and their general disposition.
Your primary job as a parent is to teach your child the difference between right and wrong. Today, our children are inundated with mass media, social media, and marketing messages that have greyed and often obscured the lines between these concepts. Your task, to communicate the difference, is now more difficult than it has ever been before, in the entire history of human evolution. You need to be clever and underhanded for your lessons to be effective. Observe your child’s behavior, and then make predictions about future behavior in certain situations, as best you can, based on the evidence you gather. This will hopefully allow you to plant relevant and timely reverse-psychology seeds in your child’s mind, which will help them make better decisions and consider real world implications and repercussions more objectively.
One not-too-bright mother made all the rookie mistakes. Beverly allowed her daughter to begin dating, unsupervised, at 14. She rarely intervened in her child’s social activities, writing them off as “that’s what teens do.” Beverly gave her daughter a brand new car at age 16. Beverly considered herself a “cool” mom, so she decided against issuing a curfew. Beverly allowed her daughter to stay in a house that she rented the Jersey Shore, for two weeks each summer, completely UNSUPERVISED, knowing that there were older boys bringing alcoholic beverages to her daughter’s parties. Any teen would think this was fabulous. Today, poor Beverly is now the gossip of all her former friends, as the mom who unwittingly created a substance-abusing, irresponsible, unemployable dependent on the state who has ultimately ruined her ex-husband and her daughter’s life, too.
Never forget that until your child is a legal emancipated adult living away from your home, you are the boss. You need to be the boss. Regardless of what he or she says, your child subconsciously wants you to be the boss. Although it’s easier and may seem cooler to be your child’s friend, this is the single biggest mistake any parent can make. When they’re grown and have families of their own, then you can be friends. But for now, your child really needs you to be in charge. Although they’ll never understand or admit it, most children feel more secure when you position yourself as a figure of authority. Authority teaches them to be more responsible. This will help them become better adults and hopefully responsible parents.
There is a trick. You can’t hold the reins so tightly it causes a rebellion. I believe in a progression of freedom. When a child demonstrates to me that she can handle certain gradually more complex situations and responsibilities, and I will allow her graduated incremental freedoms. If she can’t get good grades, keep her room clean, and do the dishes properly and consistently without me nagging her, she’s obviously not ready to get her learners permit and certainly not prepared to party with her unsupervised friends until 1 AM. Communicate this method to your child, and make sure he or she understands exactly what is expected from them. Pay very close attention, test and evaluate frequently, and then punish or reward accordingly.
You will run into significant resistance. Many of your child’s peers’ parents will not enforce any rules, and your child may think your system is abnormal. Naturally, they’ll become jealous. I blatantly tell my kids the truth – other parents must not care about their kids. I ask them, “Wouldn’t you rather have parents who care about you?” They think about this for a while, and usually agree.
Unfortunately, in America, we can no longer apply any sort of punishment. Thanks to several misguided parenting experts and overly liberal judges who have set ridiculous precedents, we can’t even say hurtful words that might elude to the usage of any form of physical discipline, because this too could technically be construed as assault. As a matter of fact, if a child even feels slightly threatened, no matter what kind of havoc that child has directly caused, they’ve been conditioned to call the police on their parents and report domestic violence. And many do. As strange as this sounds, you should be aware of this. It’s quite embarrassing when the local police pull up to your home with lights and sirens to intervene in a silly family squabble.
Make sure that your children are well aware that if they call the police and you are arrested, they won’t get to stay home alone. Standard operating procedure dictates the child will be immediately removed from their comfortable and familiar environment, lose most of the toys and privileges that you pay for, and they’ll be placed in a potentially less attractive foster care situation. Depending on the location, they may have to change schools too. That should make them think twice about calling 911 the next time you punish them for forgetting to do a chore.
In some cases, sometimes through no direct fault of the parents, a child may be too far gone to recover. Instead of attempting to handle a potentially violent situation yourself, call 911 yourself and have them intervene on your behalf. I am aware of many unfortunate situations in which this should have or actually happened. This action by his parent sent a definitive message to her child. A few other strange but real twists later, and things worked out for the mom and her husband. The kid’s out of the house, not breaking down any more doors, and the parents are finally rested and seem quite happy. Little Punkin’ is now in rehab.
When you see parents ask their kids to do or not to do something and the child looks back and sneers, it’s because our society has removed the teeth of discipline. We are now faced with at least two complete generations of humans with no fear of civil or religious retribution. Wonder why our prisons are so over-crowded? Our now largely amended and loosely interpreted Constitution has unintentionally produced a culture of citizens who are ill-suited for civilized society.
Be that as it may, you should strive to avoid these mistakes. Know that even though your disciplinarian hands are tightly tied, there are still quite a few very effective tools in your arsenal.
Always try reasoning first. Tell them why you don’t want them to do what they think they should be doing, or vice-versa. Project the long-term effects of a potentially bad decision. You may have to paraphrase several times before you get their attention. For example, your 16 year-old daughter wants to go to a nighttime beach party or bonfire with a bunch of classmates. You ask who’s organizing the party, and she infers that it may be a student, and not a parent. But she quickly corrects herself, and says a parent. You ask for the parent’s phone number to verify, but of course, she doesn’t happen to have it. And she insists it would be weird if you called. You decline permission on the grounds that it is technically illegal to have a party on the beach without a permit, which can only be issued to an adult. Further, it’s a bad idea to be in the dark with a bunch of strangers. You know from experience that someone is likely to bring alcoholic beverages or worse, which is quite illegal. Further, mind-altering substances tend to lead to generally bad behavior which may include fights, inadvertent vandalism, and the potential arrest of all involved.
She still can’t comprehend the problem, because nothing bad ever happens during those beach parties on any of the teen sitcoms. So you’ll have to delve further into the possibilities. Dark areas could be an invitation for rape – a beach is a public place, and people other than your classmates may be there. Inadvertent physical harm from being in the wrong place at the wrong time during a fight, like being hit by a thrown garbage can or a broken beer bottle, could lead to permanent disfiguration of the face or body, and who wants that? And an arrest on her record could hurt job opportunities or her chances to get into the college of your dreams. Inexperienced teenaged minds are not yet wired to consider all these real-world circumstances, so it’s your job to do the thinking for her.
Listen carefully to her response, if she offers one. Your child may have the maturity to make the right decisions, apply the right care and reasoning, and ultimately offset your concerns. Or her argument might be immature and completely invalid. Still, with this method, you need to offer your counter reasoning as a discussion, not as though you are laying down the law. Remember, it is your job to teach them from your experience so that they won’t make potentially silly or damaging mistakes. Remind them of this fact. You might not have enough information to make an informed decision, but you do have the prerogative to decline permission based on that fact, and leave the burden of proof to your child. The delay in permission may give you enough time to avoid the potentially adverse situation.
If reasoning fails, you have the option to offer a substitute, such as a distraction. Play a game. Go to the movies. Have your own supervised beach party. Whatever. But just be a parent. Don’t simply give in because you don’t think you have a choice – you most certainly do. She may be mad as hell and storm up to her bedroom to fiercely defend her status on the social network of the month, but she’ll get over it. Bring her some ice cream a bit later, and at least attempt to talk with her. Remind her that your decision was made for her own good, and that you love her with all your heart.
In the event that he or she has already done something stupid or disrespectful, you must show some authority immediately, or you’ve just green-lighted such behavior and your child will run amuck from this point forward. Yelling and showing your displeasure is typical and can be moderately effective, but that’s sometimes not enough. You need to invoke immediate consequences. Depending on the severity of the infraction, you should have a predetermined and reasonable punishment ready to deploy.
Most importantly, you need to remember that they are just children, and it’s completely normal for them to make mistakes –as it is completely normal for you to correct them. What’s not normal or acceptable is repeated mistakes. A three-strike rule is a fair and effective method of discipline. The first time, you should offer calm reasoning and steps for improvement or redemption. Strike two means you didn’t make your point clearly the first time, or your children don’t think you’re serious. The punishment should be more severe for a second offense. A third strike, with the same bad behavior, means your child has no respect for your authority. Now it’s time to get serious.
You have the power and authority to take away the things they love. You legally cannot and should never deprive them from basic needs like safety, food, shelter, and clothing – but you sure can make that supply of basic needs seem miserable. It’s your hard-earned money and you’re the boss. These are just a few proven punishments that have enough teeth to show you mean business:
- Ground them from all outside activities except school.
- Increase chores.
- Withhold allowances.
- Cancel the cable TV.
- Cancel the data plan on their smart phone.
- If they need a phone, replace the smartphone with a prepaid flip phone.
- Change the password to the wireless internet.
- Physically remove the cable modem.
- Sell the video game system.
- Hide the car keys.
- Remove the car battery.
- Let the air out of at least two car tires.
- Sell her car.
- Disallow permission to go to the prom.
- Don’t pay for any fringe activities.
- Cancel vacation.
- Drop them off at your parents before you go on vacation.
- Sell the poodle.
- Remove their trendy clothes and shoes from their room and replace them with clean and conservative thrift store clothes.
- Provide bland meals, and avoid eating out.
Punishments, although they should clearly suck, should not be unreasonable in severity or duration. Grounding a child for missing curfew should only last a week for a first offense, but let them know the next time the punishment may go on longer.
Punishments you probably should not dole out include:
- Shooting her laptop on YouTube.
- Forcing them to stand on a street corner with a sandwich sign describing their mistake.
- Anything that has anything to do with duct tape.
Discipline is a love-hate thing. Children must be taught that there are consequences for not doing the right thing. In the real world, you’ve got to compete against everyone else. If you go to work and decide not to do your job, someone else will do it, and the slacker will be fired. If you get fired, you won’t get paid, and no one will hire you because you’ll have a bad reference. If you don’t have a job, it’ll be difficult to pay rent, eat, buy beer, and make car payments. You’ll lose your cell phone, your internet, and you won’t be able to party with your employed friends. It’s hard to realize this fact in the comfort of your childhood home.
Once your unemployment runs out, welfare averages about $300 a month for a single person. To put that into perspective, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is about $550 a month. You’re already $250 in the hole, and you haven’t eaten or bought toilet paper yet. Never mind your car, insurance, gas, the internet, or your cell phone. They’ll all be gone – you can no longer afford those luxuries. What’s that, junior? You want to move back home if things don’t work out? I don’t think so. Make that option as undesirable as possible.
Sorry, punkin, we’ve already moved and downsized. Or, we converted your room into an office. Maybe you could sleep on a couch for a few nights. But we’ll need to charge you rent. And you’ll need to do an inordinate amount of chores to pay for your meals.
Only discipline with teeth will be effective. Make sure those kids can feel the bite. Perhaps that infant circumcision was payment in advance for all the grief some sons will inevitably cause their parents.
It’s a parent’s job to nag their kids. Call it what you want, but every time you attempt to steer your kids straight, you’re nagging them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve mentioned something once, twice, or a hundred times – you’re still a nag. The problem is, all humans have an inner mute button. Repeated exposure to any stimulus causes desensitization. And repeated nags will go unheeded. You’re wasting your breath.
What you need to do is filter your advice. Determine what’s truly important in terms of respect and safety. For instance, a lot of things get on my mother’s nerves. One of her biggies was when we kids didn’t completely close our mouths entirely when we ate, resulting in a strange smacking noise when chewing. She routinely told us to close our mouths, yet we routinely forgot. We didn’t hear her after a while. Besides, it’s hard to eat with your mouth closed, Mom. What’s the big deal?
A very difficult thing for anyone to learn is how curb their advice. Ask yourself if modification of the behavior in question is really important enough to risk activating their inner mute button. Is the offending behavior simply something that’s a pet peeve, or is it something that may directly affect their health or well-being? A better question would be, wouldn’t you rather they hear you when you tell them to be careful crossing the street?
There are better ways to get your point across. One of the most effective I’ve used is to pull my kids into a quiet place when I see something I want to address, making sure I have their complete attention, and then I calmly explain why they should or shouldn’t do a certain thing. I try to make the explanation as relevant as I possibly can, considering the child’s age and level of maturity. Explaining the potential social, physical, or other pitfalls or repercussions of a certain behavior seems to be more effective in curbing future actions than a quick verbal nag. In certain circumstances, a swift and immediate, yet adequate punishment may be necessary to permanently get your point embedded into their memory banks. Remember, they can become desensitized to this and all of your tactics, so use them sparingly and only when necessary.