Ep 219: Discipline Without Negativity

Darby Fox, author of Rethinking Your Teenager, joins us to discuss how we can implement discipline without falling into negative cycles with our kids. We also talk about how why we should rethink the sex talk and the importance of teaching kids kindness.

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Full show notes

We all know what it’s like to get caught in a negative cycle with our kids. They break the rules, we crack down, they retaliate, then the whole thing happens over and over again. All we want is to keep the peace, but it feels impossible when teens constantly test our boundaries and nerves!

The truth is, it’s not easy to implement discipline and still maintain a positive relationship with teens. We want to set rules, but we don’t want teens to think we’re suspicious of them. We want to maintain authority without being a tyrant. How can we keep our close bond with teens while enforcing the rules?

To find out, we’re talking to Darby Fox, author of Rethinking Your Teenager: Shifting from Control and Conflict to Structure and Nurture to Raise Accountable Young Adults. Darby is a child and adolescent family psychologist with a private practice in Connecticut. She has over 20 years of experience working with families, and is here to help us take a new approach to our communication with teens.

In our interview, Darby and I are discussing why we need to understand our kids’ mindsets, why parents should rethink the sex talk, and how we can enforce discipline without sacrificing our relationship with our kids.

Understanding the Teenage Mindset

As parents, we have dreams and goals for our kids. We hope they'll get great grades, go to a prestigious university,  become successful adults and live happily ever after. It can be terrifying when we feel like they’re straying onto the wrong path–and our fear can lead us to say some things we regret. We tell them we’re disappointed, that this isn’t how we raised them, and that they should know better….but this only seems to make both teens and parents feel worse in the end.

Instead, Darby suggests that we try to get into teens’ heads to figure out what’s motivating their behavior. She recommends that we stop looking for solutions to whatever problem teens are having, and instead talk to them about what’s causing the problem. Finding out teens’ motivations, fears, worries, and thoughts can open up the door to some great, productive conversations about their behavior, she says, instead of just shutting them down by scolding or yelling.

Teen’s brains are still developing, and this means that they’re often driven towards short-term gratification and excitement. They’re not trying to get themselves into a bad spot, they just want fun and novelty, says Darby. If we really want them to make good choices, we might just have to let them make bad ones, she says. While we can spend all day telling teens why they shouldn’t drink, it might not stop them from blacking out and crawling home. 

When they do, Darby recommends that instead of shaming them, we sit down with them and help them break down what happened. This might help them rethink the situation, and whether or not they really want to touch alcohol again for a while, Darby says. She believes parents should behave like gutters in a bowling alley–there in case things go off their intended path.

Of all the tough conversations parents have to have with kids, the sex talk might be the most awkward. In our interview, Darby and I are talking about how you can take a more accepting approach to “the talk.”

Rethinking The Sex Talk

Darby’s first recommendation for parents heading into a sex talk is to be direct. There’s often a lot of hemming and hawing about what we should and shouldn’t tell kids, if we should shelter them or avoid specific topics. But if we’re just honest and open, the talk can be a lot more effective, she says. She even recommends asking about what’s been going on at school–if they’ve been hearing about what other kids are doing and what they think about it.

Sometimes teens’ feeling about sex can be layered. They might feel a social pressure to start before they’re ready, or a need to seek validation from others that might result in promiscuous behavior. Maybe they have questions that they feel like they’re not able to ask anyone, and this can lead them to feel isolated. All this can make having the talk even harder–but also more essential, says Darby.

When you’re dishing out information to teens, Darby says it's ok if they don’t respond, or run away cringing after. What’s most important is that they listened and received the information, she says. In the episode, we talk about what topics we should emphasize in the talk, including adolescent identity formation, how to notice red flags in potential partners, and possible gendered differences when it comes to first love.

To wrap up our conversation, Darby and I are talking about discipline, and how some parents set their kids up to fail by disciplining too much or too little. Plus, the importance of mutual respect when communicating with kids.

The Key to Effective Discipline

When kids are pushing our buttons, it's easy to let our emotions escalate. But when we’re yelling and pointing fingers, we aren’t really our best selves, says Darby. It’s important to stay somewhat neutral, or at least not let our emotions get the better of us when teens are exhibiting triggering behavior. Darby recommends that we pause when we feel ourselves getting riled up, and take a minute to ask ourselves why we’re feeling so emotional.

When you do lose your temper, Darby recommends taking a second to apologize. Parents aren’t perfect, and it's ok to acknowledge that, she says. It can help to remind teens that you might not agree with them, but you still trust them and understand their way of thinking. Darby explains that a parent-child relationship requires mutual respect, just like any other relationship.

Modeling manners and respect can actually be critical to helping kids develop healthy self-esteem, says Darby. Although most parents aim to teach their kids the value of kindness in a small way, Darby says this should actually be a major priority. Helping kids realize that they're not the center of the universe is essential if we want them to grow up with a sense of selflessness. When they help others, they also build up their own self worth, all while making the world a better place.

In The Episode…

Darby shares so much wisdom with us in this week’s interview. On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
  • How we can change the conversation around substances
  • Why we shouldn’t compare ourselves to other parents
  • How we can approach the topic of divorce
  • What to do when teens get a bad grade
If you enjoyed this episode, you can find more from Darby on her website, darbyfox.com, or on twitter @askdarbyfox. Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to share and subscribe! We’ll see you next week.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Darby Fox
Darby Fox
Darby Fox is a Child & Adolescent Family Therapist. Ask Away Contact: [email protected]
Ep 219: Discipline Without Negativity
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