Does Punishment Really Work with Teens?

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What is the first strategy that comes to mind when your teenager is making you crazy and does something that really wrong and pisses you off? Punish them! Take things away! Ground them for life! Take their phone! Take their car! Am I right? You are really ticked off. You want them to “get it.” You want whatever behavior it is to stop…like yesterday. You want to yell. You want to scream. There is a part of you that wants to evoke some kind of reaction from them that gives an indication that it matters to them that you even object in the first place to whatever they did.

C’mon. Be honest. We have all been guilty of it at one time or another. Well, guess what? I hate to break it to you but the American Academy of Pediatrics says that punishments don’t actually work in the long run. They may stop the immediate behavior at the moment, but really don’t have any long term positive effect. Not to mention the fact that a lot of those punitive actions actually punish you more than they punish the offending teenager. Taking the car potentially means a lot more driving for you. Taking the phone means that you cannot reach them wither when you need them. Etc. Etc. You get what I mean. I am not by any means suggesting that there should never be consequences for poor actions. I am just saying that, as tempting as it is to punish first, it is not as helpful as we think.

Well, if we are not supposed to punish them, what are we supposed to do? What recourse do we have? Do we let our teens walk all over us? The simple answer is no. We just need to consider an alternative strategy that has greater long term benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests discipline strategies instead of verbal or physical punishments to discourage unwanted behaviors.

So, what is the difference between discipline and punishment? Punishments, both physical and verbal, are quick, often knee jerk actions fueled by anger that may stop bad behavior quickly, but do not work over time. Discipline, on the other hand, teaches our teens how to recognize and control their own behavior. Teaching them in this way helps them to learn how to avoid harm later. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends four healthy discipline methods for teens. They are as follows:1) Be a role model for good behavior, 2) Ignore bad behavior or redirect your child away from bad behavior, 3) Set limits and expectations, and 4) Praise good behavior.

I have to say that, while I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics’ concept and the logic behind it, I find it difficult to adhere to 100% of the time. I find that nowadays the underlying intent of the Academy has been somewhat twisted and translated into overly permissive parenting with absolutely no behavioral consequences for children. I think that truly effective parenting must involve some kind of middle ground combination of discipline and punishment, maybe a 80%/20% ratio. At least that is what I am trying at the present.

Dr. Katz

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