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Discipline for the Long Haul

Teenagers still need the guidance of parents. Here's how to stay the course.

Morgan came home from a party where she had been drinking. Morgan's parents had made it quite clear that if she ever drank and then drove, they would immediately sell her car. That night there was very little discussion and the next day the car had a "for sale" sign on it. Morgan wasn't very happy with her parents and having one less car inconvenienced the whole family. However, her parents did the absolute right thing.

There are plenty of changes that come along with the onset of the teen years. But one part of child rearing remains constant no matter how old your children are: all kids, whether they're 5 or 15, need loving, consistent discipline.

But disciplining your teenager comes with all kinds of unique challenges. Not only is he bigger, more verbal, and able to get into a whole lot more trouble than his younger self, he is emotionally preparing to become an adult and that means he's more likely to challenge your authority and push the limits of the laws you've laid down.

The Bible offers a wonderful model for parents struggling to discipline their teens. Scripture talks about the "rod" of discipline (Prov. 13:24; 23:13-14). "The "rod" used in biblical days was a staff shepherds used to guide their sheep. It wasn't a tool of punishment, but rather a way to lead the sheep down the right path. Here are four practical "rods" of discipline to consider as you guide your teen down this final leg of path to adulthood.

Quit fighting and arguing. You can't effectively guide, disciple, or mentor your teenager if you are fighting and arguing with him all the time. When conversations get heated, agree to walk away until you've both calmed down. Some parents don't like hearing me saying this, but the responsibility for creating a parent-child relationship that is relatively relaxed and respectful, rather than tension-filled, rests primarily on the parent. The best way to stop constant negativity, nagging, fighting, and yelling is to not allow it or engage in it.

Clearly express your expectations. Children, regardless of their age, feel more secure when their parents are perfectly clear about acceptable behaviors and attitudes. Proactive parenting—where you explain rules, consequences and rewards— takes more time than reactive parenting—where you figure out how to solve a problem after it's happened—but is so much more effective.

Be consistent with consequences. Our job is not to always prevent our children from making mistakes but rather to make certain they learn from their mistakes. We so badly want to be liked by our kids that we sometimes let them off the hook when their actions call for tough consequences. That tends to produce confusion and mixed messages; kids have a hard time figuring out which rules you're serious about and which ones you'll give on when pushed. Like Morgan's parents in the story above, we all need to be prepared to do what we've said we'll do when our kids go against the rules we've set up.

Don't expect to be thanked for your discipline. I recently asked a group of parents, "How many of you really liked your parents when you were a teenager?" Only a few hands went up. Parents are the most influential force in a child's life. Your kids will thank you after they have had their own kids but rarely in the heat of the battle.

For discipline to be effective for teenagers, we parents have to be willing to make unpopular decisions and dole out consequences for irresponsible actions. Far too many parents try to be their child's best friend through the teenage years, becoming more lenient and giving a child more freedom than he can handle. But teenagers don't need more friends, they need parents who are willing to stand firm in their God-given role of guide and protector.

—Jim Burns is an author, speaker, and the president of YouthBuilders. Learn more about his work at youthbuilders.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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