EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 20, 2014

Parents need to focus on discipline, not power struggle

Family Matters
Dr. Larry Larsen

---- — Dear Doctor,

Because of a really poor report card we have taken video games, cell phone and computer away from our 15-year-old daughter. She can do much better in school than she has been, and we think she needs to know we mean business. The things we have taken away will be off limits until further notice or when grades improve. She says we are unfair and mean and she hates living in our house. We don’t really think it is working, but we also don’t know what to do.

Puzzled

Dear Puzzled,

You are engaged in a classic teen control battle, and you will likely not win.

In fact, winning isn’t the issue. Respecting, teaching and encouraging are more useful objectives. The “until further notice” gambit is always a failure. To a teen of your daughter’s age you have stolen her life and identity. If you use loss of privileges as a disciplinary tool, always have a time limit and a point of restoration. I call it the “reset principle.” That point should be rational and brief. For example, a favorable report from school after five days should result in getting the cell phone back, ten days for the computer and so on. If it is too long she may get in some other difficulty. What will you do then, possibly an ankle bracelet or house arrest?

Much more preferable are techniques which respect her integrity and encourage her to pay her dues. What ever happened to talking, reasoning and simply cutting down on interruptions and distractions? Why would one not use a reward as a tool? How about enlisting teachers and the school for encouragement and limits?

Discipline for teens the age of your daughter should be a form of learning, which is the root of the word. Negative, endless battles for control will almost always result in anger, resentment and the destruction of a positive relationship.

Think before you act.

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. Email him questions or comments at lrryllrsn@CS.com.