Saturday, September 30, 2017

Discipline for Teens

You just found out that your teenager lied to you, skipped school, snuck out, used drugs, etc.  What do you do?  As a parent, how do you respond?  You may be angry at your teen, you may be embarrassed by their behavior, you may be feeling hurt and betrayed, you may feel like a failure, and/or you may want to prevent them from being able to engage in this kind of behavior ever again.  You may feel like expressing your anger or your hurt feelings, or making new restrictions that keeps your teen more under control and supervised.  These are all legitimate feelings and desires; the question is, what are the results that you want?  And more importantly, what do you want your teen to be motivated by, and what motivations are effective long term?  What is your goal as you parent your teen, and what response will cause you to meet your goal long term?

Let’s just assume that your goal as a parent is to instill a desire and ability to love God and obey Him.  And let’s assume that you want your teen’s heart motivation to be a love for God and a love for what is right.   

One response that many parents have, is to get even for the pain that the child has caused by venting their full anger.  They yell at the teen and try to scare and intimidate him.  I think the belief is that the teen will fear facing the same consequences in the future and therefore make better behavioral choices.  There are several problems with this approach. One problem is that the teen only becomes angry at the parent because he feels disrespected, rather than at his own poor choices.  A scape goat is created for him.  Another problem is that even if the teen becomes afraid of punishment, it doesn’t change his heart towards his poor choices.  He will just work harder at not getting caught.  This response will not result in a teen’s heart being motivated by love for God and what is right.  When a person is only motivated by fear of punishment then their outward behavior may be changed for a short time, but if they are motivated from the heart, the behavior is changed for a lifetime.

A second common response is to instill guilt about how the teen’s choices hurt the parents and embarrassed them.  Although this is a good thing for the teen to understand, if it is often the focus of a parent’s reason that he should not misbehave, he may come to see his parent as just being self-centered. He may think that the parent is arbitrarily assigning morality to things that inconvenience her or affect her personally.  A teen’s motivation for making good choices should not be focused on his parent’s feelings about it.  He needs to understand that something is not wrong simply because a parent doesn’t like it, but because there is a deeper moral principle that is true at all times and in every situation.  If the focus is how the teen’s behavior affects his parents, he does not have the opportunity to learn this.  He needs to understand a bigger picture for a heart change to occur.  In general, love for what is good, is a far greater motivator of the heart than guilt.

A third option might be to restrict the teen’s freedom so that he is unable to repeat the offense.  The problem is that this is only a temporary fix.  Even if you could provide your teen with supervision twenty-four hours a day, controlling behavior does not change a person’s heart.  If he still believes behavior that is bad for him is good for him, he will engage in it as soon as he is able.  Again this response does nothing to change the heart.

I believe we should take all three of these options off the table.

One side note is that different phases of childhood require different methods of parenting.  Children in the first five years of life require discipline.  A parent has all of the responsibility for the child’s welfare and therefore all of the authority over him.  As children grow up they gain authority over their lives as they gain responsibility for their life decisions.  They are becoming responsible for their own choices and therefore need to be allowed to make those choices.  They are becoming their own person with their own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, and they have a right to those thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.  They slowly gain autonomy over time rather than on any particular birthday.  This is not just a good principle; it is a reality.  Adults do not have the power to control how a teen thinks and behaves.  Teens know this and parents would do well to acknowledge this truth and come alongside their teenagers to help them to learn and grow rather than trying to control them. Anger, manipulation, and control are all things that cause teens to feel disrespected and therefore mistrust their parent’s intentions toward them.  If a parent has a child’s best interest in mind, then he will treat him with respect his entire life.  Children who are treated with respect grow to trust their parent’s benevolence toward them, and are willing to learn from them as teens.  Relational influence is earned through years and years of treating someone with respect.  In the teen years it is more effective and respectful to use relational influence rather than authority and discipline.  This looks more like a discipleship relationship than anything else.  This honors the autonomous person that the teen is becoming and acknowledges the reality that the days of authority and control are over. And that is a good thing because the teen needs to have the authority over his own life, if he is responsible for the consequences of the choices that he makes.  A teen who feels loved, supported, respected, and forgiven will be more likely to be interested in being taught and helped out of unwise situations. A teen who feels disrespected and intimidated will not feel safe to ask for advice or help. 

So the fourth option would be to come alongside your teen and ask him what he or she needs from you to help them make better life choices.  Talk with your teen like he is a friend that you care about rather than a child that you are mad at.  Think about how you would help a friend that you saw making poor life choices. You would lovingly confront him with a motive of wanting to help him find answers for his problems.  You would want to rescue him from the trap that he has been sucked into.  You would provide the accountability and support that he needed.

Ask your teen what he is struggling with and what he needs.   Is he struggling with depression?  Maybe he would benefit from counseling.  Does he need accountability for something that he is struggling with?  Is there a mentor that you could pair him with?  Does he need help saying “no” to friends?  Does he need to change schools and find a new peer group? Does he need addiction treatment?

If you have relational influence with your teen, share with him the moral reasons for why certain choices are damaging to him and others.  Such as, rules and authority are in place for the benefit of all people.  Help him look for the personal benefit of following rules and authority.  When we don’t follow rules and laws, we harm ourselves (our futures, our bodies).  People have value. When we deceive others we hurt people and relationships.  Emphasize that as a parent you want your teen to follow rules and laws because you love him and want the best for them.  Show your teen the reason to love what is good, rather than to just avoid being bad. 

If you give a consequence make sure it fits the “crime”.  Don’t make it too harsh or too long.  The teen must feel that it is a fair consequence for it to be effective.

You can always point your teen to the gospel.  We all need to live in dependence on God every single day, regardless of how old we are.  God is a God of grace, He is for you, he is not angry when you fail, and He is there to give you strength when you depend on Him.  

Friday, April 10, 2015

Avoiding Power-Struggles at the Table, Part 2

Last time we talked about some principles for preventing conflict around food.  We cannot force a child to eat, but we will develop a strategy that will use our greatest ally, the child’s own hunger, to help the child learn self-control and healthy eating habits.  This will only work if the strategy is not sabotaged by allowing snacking between meals. 

Here are the steps:
  1. Make sure to have 4 consistent, predictable eating times every day (3 meals and a set snack time).  
  2. Serve healthy meals with at least 3 food groups that are age appropriate and let them choose what to eat off the plate.  For young children, simple or single ingredients foods are good choices rather than casseroles or gourmet. 
  3. If they complain or say they don’t like it, simply explain to them, “We don’t say what we don’t like, just put it off to the side, and eat the rest.”  If they continue to complain, then they receive a time-out for complaining.  Make it clear that the time-out is for complaining, send them to their room for the appropriate amount of time, then they can come back and try again.
  4. If they don’t eat anything, that’s okay.  Just make sure you follow the whole process and don’t get into a power struggle: don’t try to convince, beg, nag, lecture, argue or bribe.  If they eat nothing, it’s alright, it will not hurt them if they miss a meal or even two (despite what they say). 
  5. Explain to them that if they get up, it means they are done and cannot have anything to eat until the next meal or snack time.  Again, there is no need for arguing or convincing, just state the facts and then stick to the routine.  It’s not “you-against-him”, he is making his own choice and will have to learn to live with those choices.  This not only gets you out of the potential power-struggle, it is a good life lesson!
  6. If they whine or complain that they are hungry between meals, don’t lecture, belittle, or say “I told you so.”  Just state the facts: “We will be having dinner at 6 PM, that is when we eat next.”  And move on without any emotion.  If their whining begins to infringe on the rights of you or others, they should have a time-out for the whining.

God made our bodies and biology works!  If you follow this process, they will eventually be hungry and learn to eat what you are giving them at a meal time.  But again, don’t make this into a big deal, and don’t shame them by saying, “I told you that you could eat it” or anything like that. 

As you grow together in this area, you will find that meal times together can be an enjoyable and pleasant experience for everyone and even become an important part of building a closer relationship with your child as you get to spend your meal time talking about life and learning about each other! 

Note: Juice and milk between meals are not a good idea because when they fill up on milk and juice (which are low in iron) they aren't hungry for foods with the iron and other nutrients that they need like meat, chicken, and beans.  Children should not have more that 1 cup of juice per day and if they are eating fruit they should have even less juice.  And children should not have more that 2 cups of milk per day and even less if they are eating other dairy.  If they are thirsty, water is the best choice, and it leaves plenty of room for healthy meals.

Avoiding Power-Struggles at the Table, Part 1

There are many times and circumstances in which kids seem to drag parents into a power struggle.  One common area of parenting that is often the setting for power struggles is around meal times and eating.  So in this and the next article, we will cover some principles and strategies for eliminating power struggles around food. 

First, a parent needs to realize that eating is something that a parent cannot and should not force a child to do.  This is a very important foundation for talking about power struggles surrounding food because it means we need to develop a strategy in which the child chooses to eat.  The second principle we need to remember is that we have a HUGE ally in this process … hunger! 

With preschool and elementary age children, all eating should be done on a specific schedule set by the parents.  The child this age does not have the wisdom or the developed self-control muscle to regulate their own eating. 

Kids can learn to eat and even like healthy food if it is given to them on a regular basis at times when they are hungry.  Don’t give up, they will have to try the same healthy foods several times before they get used to them. 

Snacking between meals sabotages hunger (remember hunger is your greatest ally in taking away the power struggle!), so if you let them snack between meals, you are taking away something they need in order to learn good habits!

Make a practice of always sitting at the table to eat.  Not only does this set a healthy pattern, it provides an opportunity to talk around the table, it helps kids learn self-control, it is respectful to others at the table, and will be helpful when you go out to a restaurant or someone else’s house.  This is also very important for the strategy that we will discuss in the next article. 

Next time, we will walk through a step-by-step process of teaching kids healthy eating habits and appropriate table behavior. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Avoiding Rebellion, Inviting Respect

It is a common belief that all teens go through a period of rebellion.   But the fact is, teen-age rebellion can be prevented.  There are two things that parents need to do as they raise their children to prevent rebellion in the teen years.  The first is, always treat your child with respect.  One of the main ingredients in a good relationship is respect.  Respect is essential whether it is a marriage, a friendship, or a parent-child relationship.  People will not trust you, or think well of you, or even like you if they feel like you do not see them as valuable or worthy.  People feel degraded when someone calls them names, predicts a negative future for them, bosses them around like a slave or servant, or uses anger, fear, or intimidation to control them, regardless of their age. When someone treats us with disrespect we feel violated and angry and we lose respect for them. When we are intimidated we see a person’s lack of love and integrity and we no longer respect their opinions or trust their intentions toward us.  Discipline should be aimed at the heart by teaching principles, allowing children to make choices, and providing consistent consequences, rather than using anger, force, or manipulation to control thoughts and actions.  You can keep a child from doing wrong, but forcing compliance does nothing to help the child want to do right; it doesn't change the heart.  You can’t force someone to think differently, you have to show them how thinking differently is better for them.  Respecting someone includes letting them know that you see their value and acknowledge their right to have their own thoughts and opinions.  It also means not causing them to doubt their own worth and rights.  So always be polite and respectful of your child’s value and dignity even while you require obedience or are in the process of administering discipline.  It is possible to be consistent, firm, respectful, positive, empathetic, encouraging, and hopeful, and still be the authority in your child’s life.  If a child is always treated with respect, he will have respect for you and trust in your love for him.  When these things are in place, he will not have a reason for rebelling. 
The second thing that is necessary for avoiding rebellion is settling the order of authority early on. It needs to be made clear to the child from the very beginning that the parents correct, train, and lead and the children learn, follow, and obey.  Young children can easily accept this but many parents allow it to be an ongoing battle by giving in to whining, tantrums and arguing because they don’t see the need to stand strong in their authority.  When children are not sure who is in charge, it is confusing and frustrating.  Parents should have high control in the beginning of their child’s life and very little control at the end of their teen years.  It is a mistake to give kids large amounts of freedom on the front side of their childhood and then take it away from them when they become teenagers.  Too much freedom without a balancing amount of responsibility leads to chaos.  Young children don’t have developed reasoning skills to make good decisions and teenagers do, so we need to walk through every decision with a young child and help him develop reasoning skills and allow the teen to begin using his reasoning that we have helped him develop.  But most parents get it reversed and let a child with no reasoning abilities make all the choices for his life and try to make all of the decisions for the teen who needs to begin to make decisions for himself.  You want it the other way around.  Control should be high on the front side of childhood and low on the back side.  The child’s freedom and responsibility should increase at an equal rate gradually over the 18 years that he lives under your roofChildren need to wait their turn to have the privileges that come with being older.  They need to pass through all of the rights of passage the same way that we did to gain the authority over their lives that we have over ours.  It is not mean or selfish to treat a child like a child, rather than as your equal.  By keeping the decisions and privileges for the adults early on in the child’s life, you have the option to slowly let out the reigns over the next eighteen years.  The parent does not have to take back any authority they previously gave away, in fact they have freedoms and responsibility to give away.  Also they will have to try to manage their freedom and autonomy without the wisdom and responsible character qualities that years of training would have provided, which will result in many poor choices.  However, if you are slowly giving out privileges and decision making abilities throughout their growing up years they will have more appreciation for those privileges, and therefore treat them with the care and respect they deserve and make good choices. If they have too much authority too soon, they will have no respect for the power that they wield, and they have no values or morals behind them. They will use their power to boss you around, get their way, and disrupt the peace and routines of everyone around them.  Children need many years of parent directed options to receive the benefit of your wisdom and training in values and reason.  If a parent has not established their role in correcting and teaching in the early years they are not going to be able to gain the role in the teen years.

Finding the balance between being firm in authority and yet respectful in delivery of expectations and consequences is one of the most difficult challenges of parenthood, but one of the most important requirements of success.  Teens who have been treated with respect throughout childhood accept their parents as the authority and do not see it as a negative because authority has been experienced as fair, loving, respectful, gentle, and serving, so there is no need for rebellion.  They also have no rebellious feelings toward God and His authority because their experience with authority has not been marred.  Also children that are being handed freedoms in the teen years rather than having them taken away, actually enjoy their relationship with their parents because they feel honored  and respected and return that respect, rather than rebelling.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Christian Parenting Handbook book review

I just finished reading The Christian Parenting Handbook by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller and it is definitely one of my new all-time favorites. This book is based on the concept of addressing the heart rather than just trying to control behavior.  It helps the reader to develop a comprehensive, biblical parenting philosophy where the goal is to raise children with internal motivation that reflects moral character and godly values, not just "behavior modification".  This means developing a heart that is motivated to do the right thing because it is right, rather than to receive a reward or avoid punishment.  To accomplish this, it requires creative strategies such as one-on-one discipleship, providing opportunities to practice positive character qualities, and exposing children to those who are less fortunate.  A heart-based approach aspires to see long lasting change take place, rather than just getting things done today.  This approach is both firm and relational.  The focus is on developing and addressing character qualities, values and convictions.  Some components are relationship building, natural consequences, sharing values and reasons behind the rules, using sorrow instead of anger, using Scripture in training, and limiting the use of rewards for good behavior.  This book not only does an excellent job building a biblical basis for parenting, but outlines very specific strategies and tools that can be applied right away, and gives many examples to help illustrate the parenting skills being discussed.  I highly recommend this book.

Click HERE for the Amazon page where you can read more reviews.

Note: we do NOT receive any money for this review or link.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Is Obedience Necessary?

A four year old boy and his mother were visiting at our house.  It was time to go and he was asked to put away the toys he was playing with, and he said “No.”  Not only would he not pick up, but he would not put down the marbles he had in his hand.  His mother asked him repeatedly to put the marbles down, but he just ignored her and held them tightly.  His mom tried asking nicely, reasoning with him, promising she would buy him the same toy from the store, telling him she would tell his dad when they get home, counted to three, told him she would leave without him, etc.  Eventually he did decide to put the marbles down, but after all that, what was really accomplished?  Was putting the marbles down really the only goal in this situation?  If it was, then the goal was achieved.  I’m wondering if that should have been the only goal.  Is there any character quality that he could have learned if this situation had been handled differently?  This wasn't the first time I've seen this scenario.  It was the third time that week, and I see it all the time; parents negotiating with children with the same methods they would with an equal: guilt, threats, reasoning, bribes, debate, persuasion, etc.  I wonder if there is something about our culture that makes parents feel like they can’t physically take the marbles out of the hand or pick the child up and risk him crying or throwing a tantrum, or talk to the child about the consequences that he will receive for his actions.  Are parents embarrassed to enforce obedience because they might be seen as mean?  Or do they think it really is mean to enforce obedience?  Where do these fears come from?   Should parents give in to these fears or is there a worthwhile reason to conquer them?  Is there a positive outcome for the child that results when he is required to follow parental directions?

Ephesians 6:1-4 paints a picture of the parent child relationship in very simple terms. “Children obey your parents…Honor your father and mother…Fathers (parents) do not provoke your children to anger ("exasperate your children" NIV); instead bring them up in the training of the Lord NASB."   This sets up an order of authority, the parent is to train and the child is to obey.  It also gives guidelines for the manner that this training is to be carried out.  “Do not provoke your children to anger (exasperate).”  Exasperate means to annoy greatly or make very angry.  How do you annoy someone greatly or cause them to be very angry?  Treat them unfairly or harshly, spew anger, rub in your authority, overuse your power, intimidate them, etc.  So according to Ephesians, parents are to have authority but not the kind that annoys and angers.  They are to have the kind of authority that is loving and beneficial to the child.  These are the same guidelines that the Bible prescribes for all exercise of authority.  The Bible says to honor and obey leaders (Rom. 13:1-2; Titus 3:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 2:13-14 and 5:5) but it also tells leaders to “be servants” and to not “Lord it over (dominate, control, act as if you are better than) other people" (Matt. 20:25-28; 1 Peter 5:2-3).  The Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands (Eph 5:22), but it also says that husbands should give themselves up like Christ gave himself up, and to love their wives as they do their own bodies (Eph. 5:25-29).  Biblical authority is serving another person in love for their benefit, not for the benefit, comfort or convenience of the person authority.  For the husband, serving his wife for her benefit means to put her needs before his own needs in order to make her holy and blameless by looking out for her spiritual, emotional, and physical well being. 

What is in the best interest of a child in this dance of authority without exasperating?  One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is the ability to obey God, and that ability comes in the form of self –control.  Self-control is the foundational virtue that gives a child the ability to develop all other virtues, love, joy peace, patience, kindness, etc.  He can’t act out these virtues in his life if he does not have control over himself.  Self-control provides us with the power to make good decisions even when they are hard.  It helps us to do the hard things that in our deepest being we want to do, but in a way we don’t want to.  And it helps us to have the strength to not do the things that we should not do, ie: punch someone, yell at someone, do drugs, have casual sex, lie, steal, cheat, etc.  How can we provide this virtue for our child?  Train him to obey so that he can practice right and virtuous behavior.  A coach makes you do what you don’t want to do, so that you can become who you want to be.  As parents we have a similar job, we need to make children practice saying “I’m sorry,”  “please” and “thank you” and using positive communication to get what they want rather that whining, demanding, stealing, or throwing a temper tantrum.  As they grow we begin to explain the moral reasons why they do these things, and then as they gradually become autonomous (self governing) and separate from our authority they will be able to carry out their desire to act on their deepest desires to be a godly, virtuous and moral person with skill and ability that only comes from practice, rather than act on the fleshly, sinful impulses that come free at birth.  We are born naturally gifted at being mean, rude and self centered, but self –control only comes through hard work, and the earlier that work starts the stronger we get.  So a parent exercising their authority in a fair and loving way is in the best interest of the child.  Don’t let the culture talk you into the lie that children should be your equal, children should never cry, children should never face consequences.  You can have authority and be a loving parent, they are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are both necessary.  Stand strong on what you believe and don’t be embarrassed for doing what God has directed you to do.  Don’t worry about what other people think, do what you know is right.  Make your child do things that they don’t want to do so they can become who they want to be and who God wants them to be. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What view of dating will you teach your kids?

Parents of young children … are you developing a comprehensive philosophy of parenting?

Links refererenced in this post ... 
Podcast which includes the blog as well as commentary at:

As parents, we have an incredible responsibility and opportunity to shape not only our child, but our child’s future and in doing so, we also shape the future of our world!  We leave a legacy.  For better or for worse, we will leave a legacy. Ironically, many people will study more for their driver’s test than they will for raising the next generation of human beings that will inhabit and be the caretakers of our world and the expression of God’s Kingdom in our world.  We encourage parents to take advantage of the many resources available to formulate a biblical, wise and well-considered philosophy of parenting.  This includes a view on dating and what you will teach your children about dating and relationships. 

We would like to recommend a blog article by Bryana Johnson called “Underage dating: The Elephant in the social conservative living room.”   Underage dating is the dating done by teenagers who are too young to be considering marriage, but engage in a series of romantic relationships that serve only to “practice” the cycle of attraction, closeness, some form of intimacy, and then eventual breaking off of the relationship.  This practice of teen dating is the number one way that our culture (including Christian circles) chooses to perpetuate the cancer of broken marriages.  “The trouble with underage dating is that it presents an entirely faulty view of what interaction with the opposite gender should be about.  Rather than placing the emphasis on building one, strong relationship with one person at a stage of life when a marital commitment is feasible, dating encourages young people to pour their energies into consistently seducing other young people at a time when neither of them is capable of making any long term commitments, their relationships are destined to fail from the get go because they are founded on unhealthy perceptions of love and not backed by any necessity to stick it out.”  We should be teaching our children that the deep emotional connection between a man and a woman was designed by God to be permanent and to reflect the image of the Creator.  By having many serious dating relationships, each one ending in break-up, we treat that sacred connection, the gift called “romantic love”, and the heart of another individual, like it is a toy, to be used for our own selfish desires, then discarded when it no longer fulfills our wants. 

Bryana brings out some excellent points about the connection between the practice of teenage dating and the wide-spread impact of divorce in our culture.  We recommend her blog as some food for thought as you develop your views on dating and formulate what you will teach your children about this cultural practice that will surround them daily at school and among their peers.  Don't wait.  Kids are getting into the dating scene younger and younger.  If you wait until they are in 5th or 6th grade to begin to teach them a view of dating, you will be abdicating the role of "first teaching on the subject" to others who do not share your values.