Tuesday, May 19, 2015


     About a decade ago I asked a family friend—mother of four well-behaved, bright, balanced, friendly, and happy boys—How do you do it?
     “Consistency is the key,” she said.
     Such a simple formula but ever since applying it, I've learned its underlying wisdom:
     To mean what you say.
     To model desirable behavior.
     To stand united as parents.
     To establish a predictable, rule-following, boundary-enforcing household.
     To demand respect, obedience, diligence, and appropriate behavior.
     To enact discipline and consequences for unacceptable behaviors.
     And most importantly, to do so on a day-to-day basis. 
     This sounds tough, but doing so with positive results makes life a joy cruise—especially compared to not doing so and having unruly, rude, disrespectful, stubborn, arrogant, rebellious, disobedient, sloppy, lazy, defiant, rowdy, mean and/or resentful get-in-trouble kids that make life feel endlessly torturous.
     Having worked so well all these years, this simple formula started showing weaknesses when Braden hit his teens and started rebelling and acting up just to “get into our heads.”  I was thus ill-prepared for how difficult things would get, having lived under the impression that “Good parent that put in all the diligent hard work while their kids are still young get their reward when their kids become teens”—so said a pastor I'd heard long ago.
     I understood Braden's acting out—the transition to adulthood is fast and scary—and that it's healthy and normal for him to assert his independence, but it still left me exasperated and near desperate at times because time-outs and groundings weren't working, sending him outside (to the carport) wasn't calming him and neither was having him walk up and down the street or sending him to bed after dinner or talking with him because his torrid temper prevented effective listening or clear thinking. Having him eat alone or outside only exasperated him (and us) as did having him do all the chores. 
     In short, everything that had worked so well in years past suddenly failed. What were we to do?
     I considered corporal punishment, but wisely resisted. (To get through to him would require use of a belt or slap to the face. With rare exception, such violence should be used only for self defense). 
     I considered for a moment seeking for him or us outside counsel. But before doing so, I took stock of the situation in more objective clinical terms and observed:
     With the exception of music class, he was doing well in school (all A's and B's at the time—mostly A's in his academic classes).
     Outside home, his behavior was fine. 
     He was independent, able to handle his daily personal responsibilities mostly without being told. 
     He always attended church with us and actively participated. 
     He maintained his interest in scouting. 
     His misbehavior at home came in spurts of two to three bad days for every three to seven good days (on average). 
     His appetite, weight, exercise, and sleep were all within healthy range.
     He didn't seem depressed or to hate or fear school.
     And overall, his development was tracking fine with just occasional rough patches that needed smoothing out. Thus, we declined seeking outside intervention.
     But then outside intervention came to us in the form of God's silent prompting to allow Braden to attend a JROTC banquet that I'd said he couldn't go to due to misbehavior. By relenting, I contradicted one of my prime tenets to remain firm when it comes to discipline—a rare exception for me. I felt at peace about the decision, though, because he deserved a reward for taking the initiative to take JROTC as an extra credit class and following-through by catching the bus to school every morning by 7:00—pretty responsible for a fourteen years old! I also hoped that he'd feel guilty about going (at my expense) after acting up so much and that he'd make up for it by behaving extra-well.
     It worked for half a week.
     Then, at dinner one night, he mentioned at Deanne's prompting that he desired to sign up for a couple of end-of-year activities that would require lots of after-school practices and missing half a day of school. 

     “No can do”, I said and listed his iffy grades and already busy schedule as justifications. A tornado of fury whipped up within him and unleashed on us all in seconds. Thus, I instituted the aforementioned consequences as deemed appropriate. 
     But none of them worked. His anger didn't abate and his defiant rebelliousness intensified. 
     Two days later at the library, a random book on display about teen misbehavior caught my attention. I read a page that seemed relevant and laughed at its description of typical teen change: “The mind-set of 'I am the center of the universe' returns! Teens typically don't understand why adults expect them to conform to 'stupid rules', and they act as though the world revolves around them.” Another section about typical teen know-it-all attitudes also cracked me up. But then another section about balance and the need for parents to let go and trust overall responsible teens to make their own decisions (and mistakes) made me wonder, Am I hindering his growth and igniting his rebellion by being too strict or inflexible?
     So after discussing it with Deanne, who agreed with my plan, I apologized to Braden for my hasty decision and said, “I recognize your responsibleness in JROTC this past year. If you still want to do those activities, print out your updated grades and let me see them first. If they're OK, I'll approve your activities if you agree to change next year's music class to Japanese.” (See my prior True Expectations essay for reasons why).
     The angry tornado left and peaceful calm returned. The next day, Braden showed me his grades, which to my surprise were quite improved from mid-quarter, and said, “I'd like to sign up for the activities. I'm willing to take Japanese next year instead of music.” 
     I gave him the signed forms and told him, “Take this as a trial. If your grades hold up, next time you ask to do extra-curricular activities, I'll be more inclined to approve. Whereas if your grades drop, then what?” 
     “You won't approve,” he said. 
     I nodded and walked away.
     It's been about a week since the angry tornado's disappearance and Braden and I both feel good about his increased responsibleness, though he still acts up with Jaren at times. We'll see how it goes with his grades and how long his decent behavior at home lasts. Like a tornado, Braden can be difficult to predict. On the upside, life with him is rarely boring.


  1. Praise the Lord, I like the way peace came back and the way you handled it bless you.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. God bless you and yours!