I’ve been thinking about discipline a lot lately. Actually, not for the obvious reason of needing to do some, but because of the relative lack of disciplining that actually goes on in my house nowadays. When my kids were younger, my favorite form of discipline was the think-it-over chair. It was basically the same thing as timeout, but I liked the name think-it-over because it focused on what I believe is the heart of timeout. The errant one had to sit until he had thought over his misdeed, come up with a better way to handle the situation the next time, and suggest a way to repair any damage he had done to the thing, person, or relationship. I’ve always been a sucker for alliteration: retreat, repent, and repair.
What struck me the other day was how little top-down disciplining we do now that our kids are older. It seems like our interactions now revolve mostly around discussion and trust. We seldom ground our kids, and when we do we couch it in terms of their having to earn our trust again. As in, “I’m not comfortable with you going over to Johnny’s since last time you forgot to call and tell me when you left to go to Susy’s. Feel free to invite him over here.” I do take away electronics when I need to get their attention, but I try to tie it to something logical, like “I think you need to lay off TV until your grades improve because you obviously need more time to study.” I have let it be known that I would take their cell phone away if they text during meals or church. We don’t have a set curfew. The child tells us what she is going to do and suggests a reasonable time to be home. Amazingly, they are almost always quite reasonable, although I have been known to suggest going to an earlier movie so they won’t be driving so late. Although trust is at the heart, it doesn’t hurt that we check-up on what they say and stay connected to other parents about what is going on. It’s like the old adage in diplomacy: trust but verify.
We had lots of structure when they were younger and weren’t the type that gave our younger children lots of freedom. Their privileges very gradually increased with age, responsibility, and experience. Our kids don’t get their drivers license until they are 16 and don’t drive alone until they are 17. They don’t get a cell phone in middle school. They don’t have a Facebook page until mid to late high school. None of this is written in stone, and our younger kids are getting some of these privileges sooner than their older siblings, but the general philosophy is to gradually give more freedom as the child ages. It’s much easier to loosen the reins with age, than to try to tighten them when you realize your child needs more structure.
I really think that the most effective disciplining with teens is relationship based. The most important thing we do is continue to stay connected with them by doing fun things together. Although it needs to be something we all enjoy, it is more important that they think it’s fun. That means Peter and I have to do most of the compromising. I absolutely love to go on hikes as a family, but my kids stopped enjoying these a few years ago, so we dropped that as a family activity. I also love to go on picnics in the national forest, but again, these became “boring” a few years back, so we crossed them off our list. Now we have Guitar Hero Tournaments, play Hearts, and have a family TV show that we watch every week while eating pizza in front of the TV. Not exactly Rockwellian, but we all look forward to it. I don’t know if maintaining positive connections will be enough to assure that my kids will grow safely into productive happy adults, but I believe to my core that it’s a big step in that direction.
In some ways, I hate to blog about stuff like this because it makes me seem like I have all the answers. I don’t, and I know it. I also don’t really know how my approach is going to work. The problem with parenting is that it’s hard to see cause and effect and end results when you’re in the middle of it. Are my kids going to “turn out right”? Are my kids doing OK because of what I’m doing, or am I just lucky? Truthfully, I don’t know.
My kids have not been perfect or problem free. We have our share of bad choices, bad grades, and bad attitude. Peter and I have made more than our share of mistakes. I hate know-it-alls, especially know-it-all parents. What propels me to share my parenting thoughts is that I hear from some of you that it helps and is reassuring to hear from someone further along the parenting path. It’s true that most other parenting and adoptive parenting bloggers have young kids, rather than tweens, teens, and beyond. So I humbly (and I really do mean humbly) share my thoughts and journey with you. My kids and I are works in progress, but for the most part, I’m enjoying the process, and that has to count for something.
Image credit: TNT Photo