Tweens and teens


Appropriate discipline demonstrates love :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.

When your child was younger and reached his hand toward the hot stove, you said "No!" without hesitation. When he bit his younger sibling or drove his bike through the neighbor's roses, you put a stop to it immediately and probably doled out a consequence.

As a child gets older, some parents hesitate to continue regular discipline. Warnings about "ruining your child's self-esteem" and "emotional abuse" cause them to back off, afraid of doing harm or being criticized.

What fosters this fear is a confusion between appropriate discipline and emotional abuse. Healthy discipline involves setting suitable limits on a child's behavior, and, if necessary, giving consequences when the limits are breached. Emotional abuse is a manner of speaking and acting toward a child that is rude, cruel, frightening or otherwise out of line.

Children need regular, healthy discipline from adults so they can develop self-discipline. That should not stop just because they are growing taller or starting to voice their own opinions during the preteen and adolescent years. The guidelines below will help you understand the difference between appropriate and abusive.

Setting limits Appropriate means setting limits on a child's behavior for healthy reasons-to protect his safety, help him develop self-discipline and teach respect for others and himself. For young teens, this may include rules about chores, guests, cleanliness, manners, finances, curfew, choice of companions, staying home alone, dating and substance use.

Abusive means setting limits on a child's behavior for selfish or harmful reasons-not letting a teen socialize because the parent wants the child's attention for himself.

Determining consequences Appropriate means setting consequences that are fair and logically follow the wrong behavior. For example, a teen who fails a class is required to give up one night of socializing each week for an additional night of studying. Or, a child who gets caught smoking cigarettes must volunteer with lung cancer patients for one hour a week. Or, a young teen who borrows her sibling's sweater and loses it must apologize, and use her own allowance money to replace it.

Abusive means setting consequences that are too extreme or unfair. This could include grounding a teen for a month as punishment for coming home a few minutes late or forcing a child to quit the basketball team just because he forgets to take out the garbage.

Using love as a tool Appropriate means continuing to love and support your child even when he has behaved badly. This requires differentiating between the teen and his behavior.

It is critical that you constantly let the teen know that, while you may not like what he has done, it in no way diminishes your love for him.

Abusive is withdrawing love because of a mistake or disagreement. This is telling a child that he is no longer loved or threatening to "disown" him, due to his behavior.

Communicating effectively Appropriate means communicating in a calm and steady manner. For example, if it's hard to stay composed when you're angry, calm yourself before talking with your teen about his behavior or giving out consequences so you can express yourself without losing control.

Abusive is communicating in a frightening or violent manner. Threatening a teen, or approaching him with intent to frighten or do physical harm is abusive. It is possible to tell a child he has done something wrong, or that he is grounded, without screaming or being physically aggressive.

Choosing the right words Appropriate means using language that is respectful. You can comment on negative circumstances without being rude. For example, "Your grades were really low this semester, but I have confidence that you can bring them up again. Let's talk about what you need to do to make sure that happens."

Abusive means using language that is demeaning or hurtful. Words that are humiliating, intimidating, sarcastic, or overly critical are abusive. For example: "I can't believe how stupid you are." "Can't you ever do anything right?" "You'll never get anywhere in life at the rate you're going." "Why can't you be more like the Smith kid?"

Rules show you care Appropriate is continuing to set limits and give consequences. They continue to protect and teach your child, and express your love.

Abusive is letting your teen do whatever, wherever and whenever he wants. This is an act of neglect. Although a teen may boast to his friends that he has total freedom, inside he is wondering why his parents don't care.



Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 20 and 24. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.

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