My 13 year old daughter had a babysitting job last Saturday night. Sunday evening, the mother of the children phoned to tell me that my daughter had company over, four other friends to be exact, very shortly after the children went to bed and the people left for the evening. This is totally unacceptable, both to my husband and myself, not to mention the family hiring her to babysit. We have decided to ground her for one week and take away her privilege of using her own phone in her room (she can still use the phone in the kitchen—but she would lack privacy). My daughter thinks that we are being totally unreasonable on the punishment although she does realize that she has done wrong. The people have indicated that they will never have her over again to babysit and I don't blame them. What do you think? My husband and I are finding the teen years very difficult and we have only just begun.
Everyone knows, including your daughter, that her behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable. What she needs now is not punishment,but methods that will help her learn from her mistake in ways that will help her change. Punishment only invites rebellion, revenge, or retreat into sneakiness ("I just won't get caught next time").
I have several suggestions. First of all, help her experience the natural consequences of her behavior with dignity and respect instead of blame, shame, and pain. In other words, the natural consequence is that she will not be asked to babysit for these people again. You said your daughter knows she was wrong. As soon as you use punishment, she stops feeling remorse for her behavior and starts feeling angry at you.Instead, help her integrate her feelings by simply listening with empathy. You might even share a time when you made a big mistake and how bad you felt afterward.
The next level is to lead her through a problem-solving process. Do not do this at the time of conflict. After everyone has had time to calm down and cool off, lead her through what we call, "What and How Questions." "What happened? What do you think caused it to happen? How do you feel about the results? What did you learn from this? How can you use what you learned in the future? What ideas do you have to solve the problem now?" Too often parents TELL their children what happened, what caused it to happen, how they should feel about it, and what they should do about it. This creates defensiveness.It is no wonder that lectures go in one ear and out the other. Asking what and how questions (in a friendly manner with sincere interest in the child's point of view) helps the child LEARN from mistakes. Punishment only makes them PAY for mistakes—and invites rebellion, revenge or retreat. Too often parents don't think about the long-range results of their parenting methods.
Warning! Children are usually suspicious of what and how questions at first. They are used to parents using information against them instead of to help them learn. Sometimes you need to apologize for your own past mistakes (punishment and put downs) and let them know you don't want to do that any more. When you get to the last question, "What ideas do you have to solve the problem," teach your child to brainstorm possibilities. When teaching brainstorming, it is fun to make silly and outrageous suggestions to get the creative energy flowing. Also, you can join in and add your own suggestions. One possible solution would be for your daughter to apologize to the people who hired her. This purpose is not to get them to hire her again, but to help her learn to take responsibility for her mistakes. More children would take responsibility for their mistakes if they did not experience punishment and/or disapproval, but instead had adults who would help them learn from their mistakes and find solutions.
Yes, the teen years can be difficult. It is a time of individuation for children—finding out who they are separate from their parents. How can they do that unless they test the rules and experiment for themselves? Too many parents panic and pull out controlling methods. This is not effective with teenagers. I think you would find our book, Positive Discipline for Teenagers
, very helpful. Every suggestion in the book is nonpunitiveand designed to help children learn important life-skills that will serve them throughout their lives.