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|How Shall I Punish Thee?
|I think I hate disciplining my teenagers more than just about anything else these days. Being the bad guy is just the worst. Not to mention, it just becomes more and more difficult to do effectively.
I miss those days when I could say, "Go to your room!" and they were simply devastated by being ostracized from the family. But now that adolescence has swept in, am I supposed to say "Get out of your room for the rest of the night!"? We all know that when they are home the teenager's preference is to be in their room - doing basically nothing.
I have yet to find an effective punishment at this juncture of parenting and it is really beginning to frustrate me. I feel like Dr. Doom constantly trying to devise a plan that I think will hit them where it hurts.
Let's start with the obvious...the cell phone. Taking the cell phone as a punishment has basically become a joke of a punishment. In fact, while we were on a family vacation with my parents, while I was dealing with one of my kids, my father would blurt out, "Now give me your phone," and we would all start laughing. Now, yes, when I take their phones their social lives boil down to a slow simmer. But it never fails, that at some point over the next 24 hours I am having to drop them off somewhere that requires them to have a phone so that I can reach them. After all, having four children I am constantly running the gamut of things to do and need to be able to notify my children of the change of plans that will almost assuredly come with the schedule that day. So I can take that phone - but don't I seem like a bit of a weenie when the next day I am taking them to football and I say, "You will need your phone. I don't know what time I'll be back to get you and I think there is a line of thunderstorms on it's way." I've lost credibility with this punishment really. When I take it they aren't worried. It's coming back soon...my lifestyle requires it to be.
Moving on. The next great punishment...you are grounded. Yea. Let's examine this one. Grounding one of my children always punishes others in the family including myself. Here we are on a great day. I've planned a family day out. We are going to go spend time at our marina. Enjoy the pool, the bay, the boat, eat out, get some ice cream. Perfect. But there are various scenarios that can take place here.
There is always the teenager that has an attitude. He really doesn't feel like having a "family day" so he starts running his mouth with disrespect. Now I certainly can't ground him because this is exactly what he wants. If I say, "You are grounded and you aren't going with us," he is pretty much relieved, isn't he? So when I force him to go, my nice day has already become painful. Besides when we parents plan "family days", it is because we really want to be with our families...altogether...not with the missing son or daughter. So to ground one defeats my purpose.
I often think how great it will be when they have their license. That will be some leverage, right? Wrong! Who is that really going to impact? Let's see:
"Give me your license! You aren't driving for a week!"
Tomorrow morning I guess I am getting up to drive them to school because there is no bus for the private high school they attend. Hmm. I guess I will also be picking them up tomorrow afternoon after school. Hmm. I guess I will then be taking them back for football practice or wrestling or the weight room or the Robotics Team or...Yea, who was I punishing again? So how much difference is that license going to make?
You can say, "Give me your iPod." But they still have the computer or the stereo. You can say, "Give me your laptop." But there will always be a research paper or project due that is on the laptop and they need it to be working on it because the next milestone of the project is due tomorrow. You can say, "No Xbox," so then your backyard is filled with 10 teenage guys playing paintball the next day drinking all of your sodas and eating all of your food. So now who has to go to the grocery store again. (And let's be honest, the only mom's who enjoy going to the grocery store are the ones who have alot of really little children and that happens to be the only way to escape for a period of time with a good enough excuse for Daddy to watch for a bit and mother's of teenagers are so beyond that!)
We've been through the giving chores as a punishment as well. But I don't think I can stand to stand over my kids one more time and supervise one more toilet cleaning, or floor scrubbing, or garage clean out, or garden weeded. It is nothing short of a full blown war. They seem to be absolutely clueless what is entailed in doing a job well or correctly. Everything is sloppy or incorrect with very little effort. In fact, there is more effort coming from me bringing them back over and over and over and over to do the job and finish the job appropriately. Bill Cosby used to call it "Brain Damage" in the kids during his comedy routines. He was not joking. I swear the only thing that will result in my kids doing chores for punishments is that I will inevitably have a stroke one day while supervising it.
So lately, my husband and I have tested a new approach. When they have something special they want to do or are asking permission to do something that means alot to them, we preface our permission with, "Well before you go we will expect A, B and C to happen. If these requirements aren't met, then you will not be allowed. One of those expectations always has to be vague using something like, "If you don't backtalk between now and then..." or "If you do all of your chores without complaining between now and then..." But then the third thing is always something that we want them to accomplish that we know getting them to do is like pulling teeth.
For example, my daughter and I were going to be going away alone together for 2 weeks and the boys were ringing their hands with anticipation of the bachelor days that were coming to them when the three of them got to be home alone with Dad. They had started planning a dirtbiking trip out in western Maryland. My husband was more than willing to participate in this excursion and all were looking forward to it. There had been much thought about selling the dirtbikes due to the fact that our family was too busy with too many scheduled activities now. So it would be a "last hurrah" of sorts. However, there would be one condition.
I would not be returning from my trip until the week before school started. I had spent the last 2 weeks of July ordering their books, getting their uniforms, buying their supplies and preparing for school in the middle of my summer when that was truly the last thing I wanted to be thinking about. But I really wanted to be able to relax that last week, enjoying the pool and the freedom of the day. I even considered that we would perhaps get in a last trip to Kings Dominion as a family or something. After all, it's not just that school starts for the 2 older boys. It's that football practice for all three boys starts. The fact that I homeschool 2 of my children during the day starts. The additional time that I teach 8 ballet classes in the evenings and the fact my daughter dances every night of the week again. Truly we would be diving head first into our own little rat race again and I really wanted to preserve that last week for relaxation.
So, at the beginning of July, my husband and I told the boys that if they wanted to go on a dirtbiking trip during the bachelor days, they would need to have all of their summer assignments completed by July 31st. That way we would know that there would not be a cram session the last week of vacation and we could come and go freely for the last time. I'm sure most parents out there have experienced the dreaded summer assignment nag. After all, it is a time that they can easily put more effort into something and have an "A" right off of the bat, setting them on a positive path for success for the school year. I printed out each of their summer assignment directions from the school website. I placed them on their placemats on the kitchen table. I poured over the internet to find each of the ISBN#s and then the cheapest price available for the required books. I enabled each of them to succeed at their summer assignments as best I could.
The days of July came and went. Sunrises and sunsets. They hung with friends, skateboarded, went to the pool, played on the trampoline, went wakeboarding, tubing and waverunning. They watched movies, went to the mall, played guitar, shot pool, played airsoft and paintball. They shot on the lacrosse goal, played badminton, shot baskets, played Manhunt and rode bikes. They got snowballs and Ritas, stayed up all night and slept in late. We even had our family vacation at the Outer Banks of North Carolina where I told them to take their novels that needed reading with them. I never asked to see their work. I would only say, "I haven't seen you do much school work." I would get the typical reply. "Just chill, Mom. I've got this under control. It'll be fine and It'll be done before you go."
The due date arrived. My husband and I asked each son if they completed their summer assignments. Neither one had. My husband informed them they would not be going dirtbiking. They didn't seem to be affected by this. Later we overheard a conversation between them. In their minds, they would get it done and still go. But I explained, I didn't want it done in a rush and with last minute effort, thus the reason for giving them a month to do it with such a big incentive in the end. Yet, they believed they would cram it all in after I left, and still get to go. Once again, doing things on their terms, not the terms set before them thinking they have negotiating room.
Now, you might think that this worked because they are disappointed and they definitely will not go dirtbiking. But here again is the parental dilemma. The youngest of the 3 boys did not have a summer assignment because he is 12 and homeschooled. He worried the entire time that his older brothers would not complete the work. He spoke to his father and myself numerous times about it. I even heard him trying to coerce his brothers into feeling the same urgency that he felt about it. But it just didn't happen.
So my husband tells Son #3 that the two of them will go together without the other two. But Son #3 is disappointed. He doesn't want to go alone with Dad. He wanted to go as a group with his older brothers. That was part of the fun for him. In fact, a huge part of the fun. He has also been robbed of something special now without any doing of his own. So even after all of that thought, planning and effort to lay down the law and enforce something -- it didn't work because there was a perfectly innocent casualty and the ones meant to be picked off stand with their chests out seeming indestructible.
I'm telling you, disciplining teenagers is hard. Someone else in the family always feels the repercussions from it - but it never seems to impact the intended target. The teenagers always seem to miss the lesson that we are desperately trying to teach, perfectly content to lay on their beds and do nothing for long periods of time, unphased by our frustration, wallowing in their own ambivalence. The best I can hope for is to one day be a grandparent and hear them whine about their teenagers and to know that the perfect most effective punishment for their own younger teenage attitudes has arrived. Better late than never! (And by the way...to my Mom and Dad - I feel your pain now. I get it. I'm sorry for those teenage years! Could you please make it stop now? :)
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