Dr. Jane Nelsen self-published her book, Positive Discipline, in the 1980s, and its effect on the world of parenting and teaching children has been substantial. The techniques she outlines have been further developed in the decades since the book’s publication, and it’s agreed that positive discipline works across the spectrum to help foster confident, well-behaved and supported teens.
A quick web search will reveal positive discipline is a widely used concept, but essentially, it’s the parenting (and teaching) approach used to describe encouraging kids for positive behaviors without punishing them for negative behaviors. Being a positive discipline parent doesn’t mean being overly permissive, but it does mean going a step beyond typical punishment methods to help kids grow in other ways. Here’s a quick breakdown of the technique, along with my top reasons for parents of teens to give it a try.
Positive Discipline in a Nutshell
Positive discipline maintains that there are no bad kids, only bad decisions, and those decisions are made because of underlying reasons. Think of it like an iceberg: The fact your kid took the car without permission is only the tip, and their reasons for doing so remain unseen. Positive discipline works to make kids feel like they can open up about their underlying emotions and motivations, thus becoming closer to their mentors. In turn, this makes it easier for mentors (parents, tutors, coaches, and the like) to understand where kids are coming from and work to make positive change.
This technique focuses on being kind and firm at the same time. This helps kids feel like they truly belong, instills long-term lessons and life skills, and encourages them to recognize their potential. All of these goals are realized without verbal, physical or psychological punishments. Instead, they’re met by techniques like using positive language, offering alternatives instead of limiting choices, teaching emotions, and open communication. It’s a child-first approach to parenting that still disciplines unwanted behaviors without instilling mistrust, anger or resentment. Here are my top three reasons why parents should consider trying positive discipline for teens.
1. Teens Feel Supported
When positive discipline is done right, teenagers will feel like they’re truly being encouraged to pursue their passions. Supporting teenagers with positive language, like praising their efforts instead of lamenting their failures, will make them feel like they’ve always got someone in their corner. In turn, this will make them feel more confident and strive to reach their maximum potential instead of playing it safe.
2. Curbs Unwanted Behaviors
While positive discipline might seem a little soft to some parents, it’s actually an incredibly efficient way to get rid of your teen’s nastier behaviors. If you aren’t having any luck grounding them, taking away privileges or loading them up with extra chores, don’t immediately look for the closest teen boot camp. Chances are, your teen is acting out because of the punishments you’re using. If they can get a reaction out of you, they’ll be more likely to rebel and break the rules of your home. Harsh punishments also diminish the trust between parents and teens. This will make teens feel less guilty about breaking rules, and more likely to do so.
By focusing on rewarding positive behaviors and searching for the roots of negative behaviors, positive discipline is actually very effective in curbing some teens’ unwanted behaviors. If your teen is consistently acting out, consider rewarding them for the good they’re doing instead of punishing them for the bad. It might be just the kind of support they need to make a lasting change!
3. Positive Discipline Doesn’t Hurt Parent-Teen Relationships
This is one of the wonders of positive discipline for teens. Parents often feel bad or awkward about punishing their teen, especially considering harsh punishments can have lasting negative effects on the relationship parents and teenagers have. Grounding a teenager for a long period of time, not allowing them to see certain friends or keeping them from attending a big event like prom might teach teens a lesson, but it might also backfire by seriously hurting the relationship between teens and their parents.
Positive discipline works to eliminate this. Since it isn’t a punishment-first approach to parenting, it actually focuses on building the relationship between parents and teens rather than wearing it down. Parents who use this technique work together with their teens to face problems and find solutions, rather than acting as a know-all dictator.
If you’re worried about the long-term consequences of punishing your teen, you should definitely give positive discipline a try!
About the author
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.