Q: Generally speaking, what kind of discipline do you use with a teenager who is habitually miserable to live with?
A: The general rule is to use action, not anger, to reach an understanding. Any time you can get teenagers to do what is necessary without becoming furious at them, you are ahead of the game. Let me provide a few examples of how this might be accomplished:
¢ In Russia, I'm told that teenagers who are convicted of using drugs are denied driver's licenses for years. It is a very effective approach.
¢ When my daughter was a teenager, she used to slip into my bathroom and steal my razor, my shaving cream, my toothpaste or my comb. Of course, she never brought them back. Then after she had gone to school, I would discover the utensils missing. There I was with wet hair or "fuzzy" teeth, trying to locate the confiscated items in her bathroom. It was no big deal, but it was irritating. Can you identify?
I asked Danae a dozen times not to do this, to no avail. Thus, the phantom struck without warning one cold morning. I hid everything she needed to put on her "face," and then left for the office. My wife told me she had never heard such wails and moans as were uttered that day. Our daughter plunged desperately through bathroom drawers looking for her toothbrush, comb and hair dryer. The problem never resurfaced.
¢ A family living in a house with a small hot-water tank was continually frustrated by their teenager's endless showers. Screaming at him did no good. Once he was locked behind the bathroom door, he stayed in the steamy stall until the last drop of warm water had been drained. Solution? In midstream, Dad stopped the flow of hot water by turning a valve at the tank. Cold water suddenly poured from the nozzle. Junior popped out of the shower in seconds. Henceforth, he tried to finish bathing sooner.
¢ A single mother couldn't get her daughter out of bed in the morning until she announced a new policy: The hot water would be shut off promptly at 6:30 a.m. The girl could either get up on time or bathe in ice water. Another mother had trouble getting her 8-year-old out of bed each morning. She then began pouring bowls of frozen marbles under the covers with him each morning. They gravitated to his body. The boy arose quickly.
¢ Instead of standing in the parking lot and screaming at students who drive too fast, school officials put huge bumps in the road that jar the teeth of those who ignore them. It does the job quite nicely.
You as the parent have the car that a teenager needs, the money that he covets and the authority to grant or withhold privileges. If push comes to shove, these chips can be exchanged for commitments to live responsibly and share the workload at home. This bargaining process works for younger kids, too. I like the "one-to-one" trade-off for television viewing time. It permits a child to watch one minute of television for every minute spent reading.
Q: Having a child diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) can paint a pretty bleak picture. Is there anything good you can tell us?
A: There are some advantages to having attention deficit disorder. In a sense, even the word "disorder" is misleading because the syndrome has many positive features. As Time magazine reported, "(ADD adults) see themselves as creative; their impulsiveness can be viewed as spontaneity; hyperactivity gives them enormous energy and drive; even their distractibility has the virtue of making them alert to changes in the environment. Kids with ADD are wild, funny, effervescent. They have lots of life."
- James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.