When Good Teens Go Bad

Our 18-year-old son just got arrested. He’s been in trouble with the law before and never did well in school. His mother and I know he’s responsible for his own actions, but we can’t help blaming ourselves. We feel like failures as parents. Where did we go wrong and what can we do for our son?

Parenting an adolescent isn’t a particularly easy thing to do even under the rosiest of circumstances. Having a healthy, well-adjusted, top-performing, polite, well-groomed, socially conscious teen would certainly make the process more enjoyable for everyone, but what if, despite all the wonderful things you’ve done for him, he turns out the very opposite?
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Single Parent Discipline

Q:I’m a single father and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep my kids in line. When I was married, their mother and I could back each other up. But now that I’m alone, I don’t seem to have the energy to take a stand like I know I should as their parent. What can I do to regain control?

A: At one time or another, all parents struggle with discipline–establishing and enforcing limits, and getting their kids to speak to them respectfully and do what they’re supposed to do. For single parents, though, who are already probably pretty exhausted, anything other than putting food on the table and clothes in the closet may seem like too much trouble to worry about. But this is important. So if you feel yourself becoming more lenient, stricter, or just plain inconsistent, here’s how to stop.

  • Be consistent. Not only on a day-to-day basis right now, but consistent with the way you and your spouse used to do things before you became a single parent. In addition, try to work with your ex to come up with a discipline plan that’s consistent between homes and agree to back each other up on how you’ll enforce limits. If you can’t, you’ll have to be firm in telling your kids that, “in your mom’s house you follow her rules, but in this house, you’ll have to follow mine.”
  • Establish and enforce reasonable limits. No child will ever admit it, but the truth is that he needs to know who’s boss and he needs that person to be you. Setting your expectations too high, though, can also be a problem, frustrating your kids and making them feel bad or inadequate when they can’t comply.
  • Link consequences directly to the behavior. “I’m taking away your hammer because you hit me with it,” or “Since you didn’t get home by your curfew, you can’t go out with your friends tonight.”
  • Don’t worry. Unless the limits you set are completely insane, your child will not stop loving you for enforcing them.
  • Chose your battles. Some issues–those that involve health and safety, for example–are non-negotiable. Others don’t really matter. Does it really make a difference if your child wants to wear a red sock and an argyle one instead of a matched pair?
  • Give limited choices. “Either you stop talking to me that way right now or go to your room.”
  • Encourage your kids to be independent. “When parents do too much for children, to ‘make up’ for the fact that they have only one parent, the children don’t have a chance to develop responsibility, initiative, and new skills,” writes Jane Nelsen, co-author of Positive Discipline for Single Parents. But don’t go too far here. Your kids still need structure.
  • Understand your child’s behavior. According to Nelsen, kids misbehave for one or more of the following reasons:
    • they want attention
    • they want to be in control
    • they want to get back at you for something you did
    • they’re frustrated and they just want to give up and be left alone

    Trying to punish a child without understanding why she’s doing what she’s doing is a little like taking cough syrup for emphysema: the thing that’s bugging you goes away for a while, but the underlying problem remains–and keeps getting worse with time. The most direct way to solve this is to simply ask your child–in many case she’ll tell you. If she won’t tell you or doesn’t have the vocabulary to do so, make an educated guess (“Are you writing on the walls because you want me to spend more time with you?”).

On Not Being A Disneyland Dad

I’m a divorced dad and don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like to. I have the typical custody arrangement – every other weekend and one night a week. I miss them and I know they miss me, so I try to make it up to them by packing our time together with all sorts of really fun activities and trips. By the end of the weekend, I’m completely exhausted and stressed out. I really want to spend some quiet time with the kids, but they seem to want each visit to be more fun than the last. What can I do?

Non-custodial fathers-especially those with fairly infrequent visitation-often feel obligated to make every second of every visit with their children “count.” Sometimes they’re motivated by guilt, the fear of losing their children’s love, trying to make up for lost time, a desire to compete with the ex, or something else. But whatever it is, the result is the same: they buy their kids extravagant gifts, eat out every meal, take them on expensive trips, give into their every whim, forget about discipline, and generally treat them like visiting royalty instead of children. It’s no wonder that a lot of people refer to this kind of father as the “Disneyland Dad.”
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22 Discipline Ideas that Really Work

My three-year-old is a real handful at times. My wife and I have struggled to find the right approach to disciplining our spirited toddler. There are so many different parenting approaches out there, and as his mom and dad, we want the best for our child. We just don’t know which discipline approach to take. Do you have any suggestions?

At one time or another, all parents struggle with discipline-establishing and enforcing limits, and getting their kids to speak to them respectfully and do what they’re supposed to do. But remember: discipline isn’t only about correction. It’s also about teaching kids to control themselves and care about others so they can grow up to be productive members of society. Here are some approaches you can use to help your kids to do just that:
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Different Discipline Styles

My wife and I discipline our children in very different ways. Oftentimes it leads to us arguing in front of the kids. What can we do to prevent this? As parents, how can we get on the same page with how to deal things that come up with our kids, good and bad? And how do we work this out so it’s not causing tension in our relationship?

When parents have different disciplining styles, there’s bound to be dissention and arguing. Tension’s a given anytime two or more people work on the same project but each take a different approach.
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Kids Won’t Do Chores

Q: My kids never help around the house unless I berate them into doing so. I know this is my fault as much as theirs, and it’s not a particularly effective parenting technique, but I want to turn it around. How can I get my kids to carry their weight without me having to hound them into doing their chores?

A: Parents have been complaining that their kids don’t pull their weight around the house for as long as there have been kids. I heard it from my parents who heard it from theirs, and so on all the way back to some Cro-Magnon relative of mine who complained that his children spent all their time drawing on the cave walls and refused to clean up their mastodon bones. And, as in previous generations, today’s parents find themselves saying things like, “Kids these days..” or “When I was a kid.”

Recent research, however, seems to indicate that kids these days actually are qualitatively different than their parents and do fewer chores than we did. But why? Is it that we’re pampering our children because we felt overworked ourselves and don’t want to subject them to the same horrors we experienced? Have children somehow developed an exaggerated sense of self worth and entitlement? Or is it that by the time the kids get home from swimming and soccer and karate and piano lessons, eat, and do their homework, there’s no time or energy left for chores?

Doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that we as parents require our kids to hold up their end of the household responsibilities. It’s good for the household and it’s essential for their own developing sense of responsibility and self-confidence.

Here are a few tips to get the process started.

  1. Start as soon as possible. As with any family habit, starting them young is the easiest way to establish and maintain the practice of helping around the house.
  2. Make your expectations reasonable-then insist that they be met. A short list of daily chores and a separate list of once-a-week jobs is reasonable. Make sure the tasks are age-appropriate and otherwise manageable, then make sure they get done before any privileges are enjoyed. Early and careful monitoring is crucial.
  3. Praise a job well done. Let them know when the expectations have been met-and when they haven’t.
  4. Make your own “chores” visible. Sure, the kids see us doing laundry, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc. But do they understand that those are your chores? It’s easy for our everyday household work to become invisible to our kids. So write your chores down and put them on the fridge right next to theirs. A cursory comparison will quickly silence most complaints and make it clear that everyone really is contributing.
  5. Put systems in place. Designate a specific chore time-the half hour before dinner. Post lists and regularly verify that results are up to snuff..
  6. Don’t tie allowances to chores. Everyone in the family has to pull his or her weight. Paying children for doing basic chores can make them feel entitled to compensation for anything they’re asked to do.
  7. Create rewards and consequences. That said, there are many perfectly appropriate reward systems-a pizza on Saturday night if the week’s chores were done well, a family movie night, or something similar. It’s even more important to have consequences if expectations are not met in a given week or chores will quickly fall into the category of “things I do if Mom and Dad nag me enough.” Creating natural consequences, such as a loss of privileges, prepares the child for the natural consequences and responsibilities of adult life.

So start as soon as possible, be consistent, and make it a priority. By learning to give back to the family, your kids will learn countless skills for the long run.