Some aspects of parenting are relatively easy, while others present us with more of a challenge. One area which often causes parents some difficulty is that of discipline and, in particular, teenage discipline.
As adults we are familiar with the concept of punishment and accept that poor performance or bad behavior frequently results in our being punished. If you don't study for your professional examination then your poor performance in your exam is punished by awarding you a low score. If you don't perform well at work you're punished with delayed promotion or the withholding of an anticipated pay rise. If you're found drunk and disorderly in a public place you'll probably be punished by spending a night in a police cell and receiving a fine from the local court.
In simple terms, punishment is nothing more than one side of the justice equation and the purpose of justice is to carefully weight the facts of a case and then to render a fair judgment and, where necessary, to hand down an appropriate punishment.
Just as we have learnt through our own experience that every action has consequences and that these can sometimes be unpleasant or painful, our children also need to learn this lesson. But teaching them this lesson is not always easy and this is especially true when it comes to dealing with teenagers.
Before you can attempt to handle this thorny problem you have to realize that it will take considerably objectivity on your part, as well as a good sense of proportion. Just as our courts have to make an effort to separate out fact from fiction to get to the truth and then respond appropriately, so we as parents have to operate in much the same fashion when it comes to disciplining our children.
Let's look at an example.
Your sixteen year old son comes home later than agreed having spent the evening with friends and this sparks a heated argument in the lounge which ends in your son announcing that he's going to get himself something to eat. A moment later you hear a loud crash coming from the kitchen and entering the room you find a broken platter and the leftover turkey spread across the kitchen floor and your son banging his fist on the kitchen counter and swearing loudly. How should you react?
The problem here is that you didn't actually see what happened and there are several possible explanations for the scene in front of you. However, you and your son are already angry with each other and your natural reaction is to respond based on that fact.
On the one hand, it is possible that your son took the platter out of the fridge and, in an expression of his anger, deliberately smashed it on the floor. On the other hand, it is possible that, because he was distracted by your recent argument and wasn't paying attention to what he was doing, the platter slipped out of his hand as he was taking it from the refrigerator. It is also possible that, as he was setting the platter down on the counter, he accidentally brushed his arm up against the hot kettle, which you had boiled just a few minutes earlier to make yourself a cup of coffee, and that the platter had been knocked to the floor when he instinctively pulled away from the kettle.
The danger is that if don't establish just what happened before you react you may well take the wrong action and make an already difficult situation even worse. The secret is to remain objective, discover exactly what happened and then act appropriately. So, start by taking a deep breath and a moment to compose yourself and then simply ask your son calmly and quietly what happened.
Let's look at two possible scenarios.
The first is that your son brushed against the hot kettle. Here an appropriate response might be to make sure that he hasn't injured himself requiring medical treatment, to help him clear up the mess and get something to eat and then allow him to go to bed. This will calm the situation and give both of you a bit of breathing space allowing you to sort out the problem which sparked the original argument the following day when you've both had time to consider the situation.
The second is that your son deliberately threw the platter on the floor. Now tempers are already high and you're certainly not going to get anywhere by pouring more fuel on the fire. Possibly the best answer here is to tell your son, again quietly and calmly, to clear up the mess and go to bed and then to leave the kitchen before he has a chance to respond and start the argument up again.
At this point he may or may not clear up the mess and a common trap to fall into is that of focusing you attention on this as the main issue. It would be all too easy at this point to turn the mess in the kitchen into a battleground and to make a stand in order to assert your authority. The broken platter is not however the main issue and, at this point, it's not really important whether he clears up the mess or not. If he does then that's fine but, if he doesn't, then simply wait for him to go to bed and clear up the mess yourself. The following morning when you've both calmed down and had a chance to sleep on things you can then deal with both the original argument and the broken platter.
By remaining object and taking the time to both find out exactly what has happened and to consider an appropriate response your son will benefit in two ways. First, he will receive a punishment that is appropriate to the action he has taken and second he will learn that it is possible to deal with situations maturely and with self-control even when emotions are running high.
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