I’m afraid too many parents have indulged and enabled their children to such an extent that they have helped create irresponsible and even narcissistic kids. When we have weak, inconsistent discipline and poor boundaries, kids just aren’t willing to grow up. This doesn’t mean teens shouldn’t be nurtured and affirmed, though. Every child needs parents who can be irrationally positive toward them. Yet at the same time, they need us to express expectations, set high standards, and hold them accountable. In other words, our kids need us to lead.
Leaders are consistent with their discipline and consistently express clear expectations. Discipline is fundamentally a matter of leadership. I have spoken to and studied leaders in all fields of life. One thing they have in common is consistency with their message. They role model what they expect, and then they keep on task. With an excellent leader there is seldom a doubt about who is in charge and the purpose for what they are doing. Even though all parents aren’t business leaders, they are the leaders of their home. The question in many homes of rebellious teenagers is “Who’s in charge?” This question must be settled with everyone in the home, and the only healthy answer is that the parents must take the lead. Inconsistency or poor role modeling or guidance will place your kids in a leadership position that isn’t healthy for anyone.
What does leadership mean? It means a parent must eliminate any power struggle from the relationship. Resolve the authority issues. I tell people almost every week in parenting seminars, “Don’t argue and don’t fight with your kids.” It is way too difficult to mentor and lead if you and your children are fighting and arguing all the time.
We have a daughter who could win most of the arguments in our home. She is dynamic and articulate and can argue either side of an issue. When she was a teenager she liked to argue for the sake of arguing and stretched the boundaries whenever possible. There were times she was just exhausting. Then one day a therapist friend gave us two words of advice: Quit arguing. Cathy and I had to learn to lead. If you think about it, people seldom argue with their leaders. We had to hold our ground and let our daughter know who was boss.
Holding your ground can be wearisome, but it is always worth it (although you probably already know this from your own life experience). To help communicate with our kids about discipline-related issues, Cathy and I came up with what I call “Confident Parenting Talking Points.” I wrote about them in greater detail in my book, Confident Parenting.
- “I feel your pain.” If your children know your expectations and they break them, or if they suffer consequences from their poor decisions, let them know you care and that you feel their pain. You have empowered your teenager to make healthy decisions, but if she doesn’t do that, you can show her empathy while holding her accountable. In a recent HomeWord radio broadcast, John Rosemond shared what he told his kids: “If I was your age, I’d feel the same way. The answer is still no, but you are doing a great job expressing yourself.”
- “Nevertheless.” This might be the most important word in the English language to show our kids who really is the leader. Yes, we do feel their pain and we are listening; nevertheless, the consequences are going to stay. Adapting John’s words to his kids, I’d say, “I can understand how you feel, and I might have felt the same way when I was your age. Nevertheless…”
“Life isn’t fair.” The sooner your kids understand that life isn’t fair, and that whining and complaining won’t get them what they want, they will quit trying the make-it-fair game. Whenever you can, let reality be the teacher for your kids. If whining and manipulating works for a child, even some of the time, it is the parent who has to live with the consequences. Here are some more wise words John Rosemond shared in one of our radio broadcasts together: “Parents should not agonize over what a child fails to do, if the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over it themself.” Whatever your child’s age, it’s about time they learn the truth that life isn’t always fair, but it sure can be good.