The plan Dave and I had for discipline during the teen years was fairly simple: Stick around your child as much as you can. And make sure the consequences for doing the wrong thing are so bad that it just isn't worth it.
What we didn't count on was the difficulty of "baby-sitting" a child who's bigger than you and as secretive as the Pentagon, or imposing consequences on someone operating under the slippery logic of this age group. Teens are so convinced that they won't ever get caught, so sure of their skill at sneaking--be it skipping school or drinking or worse--that consequences never enter their mind.
And should they get caught, they figure they'll get smarter next time. After all, what are the chances of getting caught yet again?
No wonder some parents give up, look the other way, hope for the best. But rarely does "the best" follow. And so most of us are reaching instead for advice, for help, for some definitive answers to the impossible question of how to discipline a child who is too old for a time-out and way too confident to be cowed by our disapproval.
Over the years, Dave and I have stumbled upon a few strategies that work at our house and may work at yours.
Accept your new role. By definition, your role as a parent of a teen invites a great amount of tension. We are called on to walk that line of granting greater adult privileges while at the same time watching our child display the dumbest (and possibly most dangerous) behavior imaginable. It's easy to panic and trade in our parent role for the role of either "best friend" or oppressive tyrant.
But we've discovered that neither of these extremes really work. They might relieve the tension we feel, but in the end the lack of balance tips the boat. The teen takes advantage of the "friend," or rebels with a vengeance against the tyrant. We've learned that it's better to cling tenaciously to our tension-filled parent role and face the inevitable storms head on. We can catch up on our sleep when they're grown.
Fight for the relationship. You can always get the car fixed if your kid wrecks it, but qualities like trust, openness, acceptance, loyalty, and respect are hard to replace once they're gone. Work hard to create other conversations and relationship points that have nothing to do with the behavior problem. For example, even if your 14-year-old son is grounded for "borrowing the car" (and crashing it), continue to treat him as someone you like to spend time with.
Setting up these kinds of expectations and consequences puts you in a much stronger position when troubles hit.
Hold up a mirror to character. Try to step back from the immediate conflict and talk about issues in terms of how behaviors show--and form--character: "When you say you were at Bob's and instead you were at a party, I stop trusting you. Is that what you want?"
Rather than focusing only the fact that your child has broken one of your rules, be sure to point out what the infraction says about his values. Incorporate spiritual principles as well. Make sure he realizes that he's not just violating your seemingly peevish rules, but God's as well. For example, if he lied about where he was last night, explain that you're not upset only because he lied to you, but because lying is something God repeatedly warns against in the Bible, and you don't want dishonesty to become part of his character. Help him see that your goal isn't to make his life miserable, but to raise him into a responsible, caring, honest, and spiritually minded adult.
Agree on fair consequences. We've found that our kids have a pretty strong sense of what's fair (probably honed by all those years of sibling rivalry). Let teens be part of laying down the rules and consequences. Their quasi-adult brains are ready for the challenge. The main point you want your memory-impaired teen to absorb is this: His life will change immediately for the worse is he disregards his family agreements.
When we tried this at home, our 15-year-old actually came up with punishments much more severe than we would have implemented, and also more appropriate. Nathan, who spends many hours a day listening to his CDs, decided that if he gets caught "partying," he won't be able to listen to any music for six months.
Get support. My boys really like it when their step-dad uses a one-on-one breakfast to tell them, "I know who you are and who you want to be. That dumb choice isn't the real you." Other adults who can carry a lot of influence during these years are aunts and uncles, coaches, favorite teachers, and your minister or youth counselor. They can bring perspective, love, and common sense without representing an immediate threat.
Don't miss God's message. A recurring theme in scripture is that God uses the problems of life to bring us to maturity, to bring us into closer spiritual relationship with Him, and to do His work in the world. So we shouldn't duck and run when parenting woes hit. Instead, we can pray that we won't miss what God is trying to give us during these times.
Never give up. Dave and I believe in parenting as a resistance movement--Mom as immovable object, Dad as irresistible force. Although we'd like to think that we can completely dam the flow of trouble from our teens' lives, of course we can't. Knowing that, we define our success not by our teen's reaction, but by our willingness to hold our ground no matter what. Deep down, I think our teens are counting on it.