Positive discipline might be something you’ve heard of before, or it might be something totally new to you. Either way, it’s a great set of strategies and techniques to begin using in your own home. Originally developed in the 1980s by Jane Nelsen and expanded on over the years, positive discipline is a fantastic way for parents to discourage unwanted behaviors without using punishments that could harm the relationship they have with their children! And the best part, it’s incredibly effective. Here’s a quick overview of what positive discipline entails as well as ways parents can utilize it when dealing with their teenage children.
What is Positive Discipline?
Positive discipline is an approach to teaching and parenting developed and defined by Dr. Jane Nelsen. According to Nelsen, there are five main principles to positive discipline:
- Being kind and firm simultaneously
- Helping children feel a sense of significance
- Working long-term rather than short-term
- Teaching valuable life skills, not only correcting behaviors
- Making children feel capable in their abilities
If done correctly, positive discipline can work wonders. Children who experience environments brimming positive discipline are more likely to feel confident, understood, encouraged, and valued, which is what all parents should want for their kids! However, it’s often hard to find such a perfect balance, especially when dealing with teens.
For the parents of teenagers, it often seems easier to deal with unwanted behaviors with quick punishments. Scoldings, groundings, and taking away car privileges are simple ways to show you disapprove of your teenager’s behavior, but they’re probably not teaching any long-term consequences or encouraging positive outcomes. Rather, they could be turning you into an overbearing police officer in the eyes of your teen, encouraging them to sneak around behind your back and see you as the “bad guy.” These kinds of punishments might also make your teen feel like they can’t trust you or talk to you about serious problems, which can lead to increased instances of teen stress. Considering teenagers often present difficult dilemmas—ones that make it hard for parents to deal with in a positive light—I’ve come up with a list of things parents can do to implement positive discipline for teenagers.
1. Encourage Emotions
If your teenager doesn’t feel like they can open up and express their true feelings in the home, it’ll be almost impossible to fully execute the tenets of positive discipline. A massive part of positive discipline for teenagers is identifying root causes for behaviors, not only addressing the surface symptoms. If your teen is acting out or making poor decisions, there’s a reason for it. They may be facing a serious social dilemma, going through a tough breakup, stressed about an upcoming exam, or feel like they’re falling short in their extracurriculars. You’ll only be able to really help with these if you know how your teen is feeling and what circumstances they’re working through. Encourage emotions in your home by being honest about your own and showing firsthand how processing feelings is a healthy way to deal with life experiences.
2. Communicate Well
Processing emotions is only the first step. Once your teen knows it’s okay to experience a full range of feelings, they also need to know they can come talk to you about whatever it is that’s going on. Check in with your teen routinely by asking specific questions about their life. Asking about their friends, their specific classes and teachers, and what they did at their club meeting is much more inviting than “How was your day?” If your teen is hesitant to open up, share your day with them. Try to have as many open and honest conversations as possible with your teen, and be a good listener. This way, they’ll feel comfortable talking to you about serious matters and come to trust you as more than just a parent, but as a role model.
3. Identify the Bigger Issue
Like I said earlier, the negative behavior is only a symptom of something larger. Acting out or falling asleep in class could be an indicator of a learning disability like ADHD. Sneaking out of the house past curfew might be for a serious reason, and even teen drinking and drug use is probably the result of peer pressures and heightened stress outside (or inside) the home.
According to positive discipline, there are no bad kids. Only bad decisions. And those decisions are made for specific reasons. It’s up to parents to use their open pathways of communication to help identify the problem at hand and solve it in-tandem with their teenager. This approach is great because it brings parents and teens closer together while also ousting not just negative behaviors, but the reasons for it in the first place.
4. Redirect Negative Energy
Even once the problem is identified, negative behaviors won’t disappear overnight. This is where a parent’s patience and creativity comes in clutch. Think of ways to harness your teen’s energy toward positive and constructive activities rather than destructive ones. Sign them up for a new club or sports team to help them blow off some steam!
Also, it’s important to note that a lot of your teen’s behaviors are likely influenced by their friends. If you don’t think your teen is hanging around with a good group, don’t tell them outright. This will only push your teen farther away from you and closer to the troublemakers. Use positive language (my next point) to offer choices of activities they can do with you, your family, and other positive influences.
5. Use Positive Language
This is a simple but extraordinary positive discipline technique. Use positive language to encourage and support your teen instead of negative language meant to discourage them. Instead of telling your teen what they can’t do (like go camping over the weekend unsupervised) tell them what they can do (have a campout in their friend’s backyard while the parents stay inside). Likewise, instead of saying “no” flat out, try saying “yes,” but add conditions.
Mom, can I drive my friends to the music festival this weekend?
Yes, but you have to pay for your own gas, ticket, and be back by 11 each night.
Adding different conditions like this will teach your teen how to stay accountable and is in line with the “firm but kind” pillar of positive discipline.
Putting it Together
To sum it all up, positive discipline doesn’t mean being a passive parent. It actually means that you’re working to identify and address the root causes of your teen’s actions and monitor their behaviors in a positive, encouraging way. As a positive discipline parent, you’re still an authoritarian figure, but you’re not a dictator. You work together with your teen to embellish their communication skills and feel supported in the home, which will yield happy, healthy habits down the road!