Almost overnight your baby became a gangly, hormone-addled teenager who only speaks to you to complain that you’re out of cereal again. Yeah, me too. And if you’re like me, you’re now often at a loss when it comes to discipline. How can you keep a strong attachment to your teenager when they seem to want nothing to do with you? How can you maintain effective communication when they argue with every word that you say? How do you empower them and trust in their capabilities when the stakes are so high?
We’re not talking first steps and riding a two-wheeler here, but first jobs, driving, peer pressure, stepping out into the world entirely on their own. Shouldn’t we take a harsher approach, then, more punishment for these much more complex behaviors? A new study says no.
Positive disciple is needed now more than ever for your child in their teen years. The study found that adolescents focus on rewards and are less able to learn to avoid punishment or consider the consequences of alternative action.
“Unlike adults,” said lead author Dr. Stefano Palminteri, “adolescents are not so good at learning to modify their choices to avoid punishment. This suggests that incentive systems based on reward rather than punishment may be more effective for this age group. Additionally, we found that adolescents did not learn from being shown what would have happened if they made alternative choices.”
Of course, it’s a fine line from rewards to bribes, but the difference seems to be positive feedback: Instead of taking away privileges for unwanted behavior, grant rewards for the actions and behaviors you do want like extra gaming time for doing the dishes without being asked versus taking away video games for a messy room.
“When people go to work they get paid. We don’t consider this a bribe, just that hard work gets you rewards,” according to Joseph Allen, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “Very few teenagers are intrinsically motivated to clean their rooms. So if she cleans her room for the next two or three times and it becomes a lifelong habit, reward the habit.”
So what is positive discipline? Parenting Beyond Punishment says: “Peaceful parenting supports a strong parent-child relationship based on mutual love, trust, and respect. It focuses on long-term goals by helping children develop the critical thinking, social, and life skills they need to conscientiously engage in life. Peaceful parenting focuses on solutions rather than punishments, which gives your child the opportunity to learn from mistakes and equips your child to listen to their inner guide.”
And the same basic approaches to positive parenting for a younger child still work for a teenager, just with a few tweaks and little more patience: Stay connected. Communicate. Listen. Support. Encourage. Teenagers need kindness and compassion just as much, or even more than, kids at any stage. I’ve always wanted to be a safe harbor in a stormy, difficult world for my children, and I have to remember that my teen still needs me to be that—and to take a positive, encouraging approach instead of a punitive one, even when he’s just as stormy and difficult!
image via Tyrone Daryl