Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My daughter is 16 and a very good kid. The problem is that when she occasionally does something wrong and needs to be punished, I don’t know what to do.
Her two favorite things to do are to read and be active outdoors, and I’m not keen to ban her from those activities, as I think they are important. She doesn’t drive yet, so there are no car privileges to take away. She has just one close friend, but the friend plays on a traveling soccer team, so they don’t get to hang out after school much – maybe once every two weeks. So I can “ground” my daughter for two weeks, but that means she misses just one hang-out session with her friend, which doesn’t seem like enough. I don’t want to ground her for a month because that feels excessive.
I’ve taken away her allowance, but since she rarely goes anywhere, it doesn’t faze her. I’ve tried giving her extra chores as punishment, but she always seems happy to do them.
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There’s basically nothing I can punish her with that feels like enough. Any ideas? Her main problem is that she can be fresh with me and her father sometimes and nothing I’ve tried so far as punishment has stopped it.
I Don’t Know How
How about not punishing her? It sounds as if you’ve raised a thoughtful, hardworking, active kid, and that great kid happens still to be at an age where she’s pushing against you to achieve escape velocity. That’s her job – she needs eventually to get away from the parental gravitational pull and to stand on her own.
So when she’s “fresh” with you, instead of punishing, reveal to her the consequences of her actions: “That hurts. Please don’t talk to me like that.” Or, calmly: “I won’t talk to you when you’re acting like this. When you’re calm, I'll be happy to pick up the subject again.”
If it helps, think about when she’s … 25, let’s say. You’re not going to ground her then if she says something harsh to you, right? Or withhold her allowance?
No — you’re going to say what you would to any other adult, and either ask her not to talk to you like that or point out how gratuitous it was to say X or Y.
Your daughter is all but at that threshold, so you might as well start implementing a new approach now. The futility of the old toolbox is a pretty compelling hint.
If there are other aspects of raising her that you haven’t updated to reflect her current age and responsibility level, then attending to those might actually help you in a different way.
Specifically, show her you recognize that you don’t have to discipline her much anymore — because she has admirable self-discipline now. That kind of respect will reduce her emotional need to push away from you — which ultimately will mean fewer bouts of “fresh”-ness that you feel the need to correct.
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