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Discipline: How to create responsible decision making in your teenager?

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Learn how to discipline and foster responsible decision making in your teenager.  Interview with psychologist John Rosemond, author of eleven best-selling parenting books, including his latest: “Teen Proofing”.

BLOG POST HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED with excerpts pulled from Rosemond, J. (1998). Teen-proofing: A revolutionary approach to fostering responsible decision making in your teenager. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.

What are the main stages of a Parent and Child Relationship?

John Rosemond explains in his book that parents’ relationships with their kids go through the following stages:

Stage 1 Infancy and Early Toddlerhood (Birth to age 2)

During this stage the parent’s job is to be a caretaker and to serve (food, liquid, change diapers, entertain, soothe, comfort).  At age two, the child hits the “terrible” two’s and the parent’s role changes to authority figure, where the primary job shifts to teaching right from wrong, social values, and how a child fits into the family.  During this time, the attention shifts from self-centeredness to parent-focused.  Parents act as teachers, provide for and protect children, while children focus on pleasing their parents.

Stage 2: Early and Middle Childhood (Age 3-11)

During this stage, a parent’s job is to instill good character, self-control, and moral virtue.  The parent teaches the child how to fit in according to societal values and how to behave properly in public.  The three core values are respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness.  Many parents may choose to give their child chores, and teach them about the consequences of their good and bad choices.  While parents shift to more of a mentoring role, they are still needed to stand ready to exercise authority over children when they experience lapses in their self-discipline.

Stage 3: True Adolescence ( 12-child is emancipated)

Rosemond shares that it’s not uncommon for parents’ sweet and loveable child to change overnight into “defiant, disrespectful, disobedient, discourteous, disingenuous – in brief, moody little wretches.”  While Rosemond attributes hormone surges as contributing to changes in emotions and moods, he suggests other changes have to do with peer groups.

“Around age twelve, it dawns on the preadolescent that he won’t be living with his parents from the rest of his life; that his future lies now with them, but with members of his own generation.  And so, he throws his lot — or most of it – in with his peers” p35

Rosemond explains that this is when parents feel they lose control of the parent-child relationship. During this stage, a child puts his peers at the center of his attention and looks to them for cues on how to act.  Peer approval becomes more important for a child’s security than parental approval. During this stage, children require more meaning from their role within a peer group. He offers the following insight:

“Ironically, what happens to parent/child relationship during early adolescence is a mirror image of what occurred some ten years earlier, except that this time, the proverbial shoes are on the parents’ feet.  

When the child was a toddler and his parents rather suddenly changed the rules, thus asserting their authority, the child felt himself to be losing control of the relationship.  He became, therefore, insecure and tried every conceivable means (i.e.- tantrums, defiance, etc.) of keeping things the way they had been, of keeping himself at the center of his parent’s attention.  Now, however, it is the child who initiates the change in rules”. P36

It’s very common during this time of independence that the child wants nothing to do with the parent, as they try to develop a place among his peers.  While parents want to know what is going on and remain involved in their child’s life, the child may prove hard to reach.  The only thing parents can do is back off and let the child assume a greater share of responsibility for the relationship.  Rosemond explains the resulting dynamic:

“As you can imagine- this metamorphosis (moving from parent to peers for approval) generates its share of anxiety and insecurity which explains why the young teen looks worried and troubled.  But to who can he talk? Not to his friends, because to do so would be a tacit admission of weakness. Not to his parents, either, because that would be an admission of continued dependence. The tweenager is having to make a lot of adjustments and outside being understanding, patient and supportive – there’s probably little that parent can do that will significantly ease the process.” P122

While it’s tempting to resort to being a control freak, and micromanage a child during this stage. Rosemond suggests that this is one of the worst things a parent can do.  He draws the following analogy:

“ A micromanagement style breeds not employee satisfaction, but resentment, anger, and avoidance.  The employee, under these oppressive circumstances, is likely to make a habit of showing up late for work, and taking extended lunch hours, and more sick days than is common.  This irresponsible behavior is used by the micromanager to justify his vigilant behavior.” P41

John Rosemond YouTube: Why is parenting so hard?

  • 1:14 Why is discipline so confounding for parents ? John shares his thoughts on so called “parenting experts” and how they have caused today’s parents to lose our own good sense in parenting our kids.
  • 4:03 How do counselors and psychologists help and hurt our parenting?
  • 30:51 At what age does one establish emotional boundaries?
  • 33:16 How do discipline issues evolve over time?

Strategies for common parenting dilemmas

The strategies listed in the below sections relate to the parent’s responsibility as coach and mentor.  These examples shift the responsibility to the child, because when the parent assumes responsibility for a problem that belongs rightfully to a child, they end up compensating for the problem versus really correcting it.  The end result is that the child remains irresponsible. Rosemond shares his philosophy that it’s not about having a democratic relationship, but about accepting a child for what they are, nurturing them into what they are capable of becoming, and having high expectations.

John Rosemond YouTube: Why is setting emotional boundaries is so important?

  • 24:16 Why does parenting amount to good common sense?
  • 25:43 What does it mean that a parent is an enabler?
  • 27:23 Why is it so important to have firm boundaries?
  • 29:30 Why does counseling only work if you are willing to commit to a remediation plan with your teen?
  • 29: 49 Why are emotional boundaries so important?
  • 35:12 Why do great parents sometimes have problematic teens?

In  “Teen Proofing- Fostering Responsible Decision Making in your Teenager” Rosemond shares the process his wife, Willie, and he used to address a number of issues with their son Eric:

What are reasonable curfews to give a teen?

  1. Mom and dad explained that there were giving their son freedom, and that it that comes with responsibility.  If the child acted responsibly, his freedom would grow.  However, if he broke the roles, and failed to put the priorities in proper order, then both parents would have to step in.  They explained that whether the child’s freedom grew, shrunk, or stayed the same was up to him.
  2. They started with a curfew on non-school nights of 9:00 PM. After six months of making the curfew, it would increase by 30 minutes (e.g.- 9:30, 10:00, etc)
  3. They agreed to the “curfew clock” that would be the time all of them would use in determining if a curfew was reached.
  4. Mom and dad defined what it meant when a curfew was missed (e.g.- a violation was walking into the house after the designated curfew” and the consequences if he missed curfew (e.g.- you miss and your six month curfew would  begin anew) and that there would be no excuses (even if valid).
  5. They set some parameters that their son had to keep his parents informed as to where he was and who he was with.
  6. This same process was used for a weekend curfew as well.
  7. If their son agreed to this deal, then when he grew older (e.g.- sixteen), he would be able to set his own curfew.

Should you give a child an allowance?

  1. The first of every month, they deposited $100 into their checking account
  2. They outlined what the money was to be used (e.g. clothing and recreation, such as movies, amusement parks, concerts).  They agreed to pay for essentials (socks, underwear, and any item that needed to be replaced).
  3. They had strict rules on getting advances (e.g.- they refused to give him an advance from next month’s allowance).  If their son needed more money, then he needed to be resourceful and find a job, or learn how to budget his money appropriately.
  4. They did have certain restrictions on what he could use the money for (e.g. no pornography, no motorcycle, etc)

Should I give my child a car?

  1. They bought him a moderately-priced car.
  2. They paid expenses (monthly finance payments, insurance, maintenance and repair) for a limited time (e.g.- three months).
  3. Their son was required to pay some of the expenses at month 4 (e.g. parents paid the monthly payment and their son paid the rest). This required him to get a part-time job.
  4. They stipulated that if the job resulted in a drop in grades, he would be given a grace period (e.g. nine weeks), but if his grades dropped, he would only be able to use the car to get to school and work and not for social activities.  If his grades didn’t get better, then he was expected to quit his job and his car would be put up for sale.
  5. They established rules for if the child found themselves in a bad situation. Even though they made it clear that they did not approve of under-age driving, they offered to come and get him – no questions asked – if he had been drinking (even one beer) or a friend who was driving was drinking.

What should I do if I don’t like my kid’s friends?

If you find that you are unhappy with who your child is hanging out with, Rosemond offers four rules of thumb:

  1. Be willing to let your kids make mistakes.  Social experimentation can teach a child valuable lessons, even when they don’t turn out well.
  2. Hold your child accountable and don’t blame the other kid for your child’s lapse in judgment.
  3. Don’t force or manipulate your child into choosing certain companions, or you risk them going underground with their friendships.

It’s important to keep your opinions to yourself even if you may not like how your child’s friend looks, behaves, or their parents.  If your child’s friends have gotten into trouble, or have parents who don’t provide enough supervision, you can caution your child.  Rosemone suggests explaining the reasons for your discomfort (“I’m going to keep closer tabs on this friendship than I normally would. You can prevent me from intervening by acting responsibly and staying out of trouble”.)   The only time you should set limits on a relationship is when your child’s friend has been arrested, skipped school, or has a bad driving record.   If your child’s friend has a history of juvenile delinquency, is a known drug user, or burglarized someone’s home, then it’s fair to prohibit association all together.

Here is some sample dialogue Rosemond suggests for a family who is at their wits end with their child and considering moving their child to a private school to remove him from peers who drink, do drugs or are otherwise a bad influence:

“You were right. We have been trying to choose your friends.  We’d really rather that you didn’t hang around with those boys, but we’re no longer going to try to prevent it.  Whether you influence them in the right directions or they influence you in wrong directions is up to you.  But hear this! If you get into any trouble with them, not only will you never again be allowed to associate with them but there will also be a significant period of time in your life when you won’t be allowed to associate with anyone.  You have the freedom you want, but you’d better take care of it , because along with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility.  If you get in trouble, we will not give any considerations to such excuses as “It wasn’t my idea” p242

“At this point, I’ve had enough evidence – bad grades, bad behavior, drug paraphernalia.  I have no intention of letting you trash a fourteen-year investment in your future.  Since you have misplaced the ability to make good decisions concerning friends, you’re going to make them for him.  You are forbidden, absolutely and completely to have any contact with any other boys in your group.  I’ll help you as much as possible and we can spend time as a family with other activities and situations that will help you meet a better group of peers.  If we suspect that you have violated this rule, then you will be under house arrest for the entire summer and will go to a new school in the fall” p164

“ We don’t want you using drugs, and we don’t want you drinking. If that means that you won’t be accepted by certain people, then we don’t want you having anything to do with those people in the first place” p 228 

Resource: How do you know if your teen is lying to you?

  • How do you know if your child is lying to you? Check out an interview with Vanessa Van Patten by clicking here.

What happens when a child misbehaves?

Rosemond offers that when a child misbehaves, there is some consequence that is due, and that while punishment is an option, there are other options:

  • A stern reprimand
  • An open discussion of why the behavior took place and how it can be prevented in the future
  • An acknowledgement of the misdeed with a statement of disapproval “I know you got in trouble at school today, and I’m not pleased”.

A lot has to do with the child’s age, the nature of the misbehavior, and whether it’s chronic.

Youtube Video: Teen bad behavior and discipline strategies

  • 11:55 Rosemond shares his own personal story of moving from being an A-student, to smoking pot, getting arrested twice, and almost failing out of college.
  • 14:55 Case Study: Parent who has a teen smoking pot who barely graduates high school.
  • 22:08 Case Study: Kids living at home and smoking pot.

Resources: How to discipline a child?

What should you do when you have an argumentative teen?

One of the hardest things to do as parents is to let our child have the last word.  Instead, we’d rather argue until we get the last word.  The end result is that the relationship suffers.  Rosemond suggests that this approach only leads to further power struggles because teens just become more disrespectful and resentful.  The alternative is to end the power struggle by reasserting your authority.

Rosemond explains that the power struggle is a game that you have decided to play with your child, where your child throws down the gauntlet and you pick it right up.  This works as long as your child feels that they have nothing to lose in fighting. If you don’t move to action, then your child learns that they might as well fight.  Your teen will feel more secure with a parent who demonstrates where they stand and where they want their child to stand.  While your child may not be happy with the decisions you make, they will feel more secure with parents who are resolute when making decisions.

Here is the suggested dialogue that Rosemond has used in his family when reaching an impasse with his son Eric:

“Eric, if I was your age, I wouldn’t agree with this either, but I’ve made my decision.  Right now, you’re angry, and I don’t blame you, but anger and good communication don’t mix.  When you calm down, if you want to talk, I’ll talk.  Not argue, but talk  Meanwhile, the decision stands, and I trust that you’ll abide by it, whether you agree with it or not.” p108

In the book, there is a passage with his son, who wants a motorcycle at age fifteen.  The approach that Rosemond uses with his son Eric is to allow the child to have the freedom to say what he has to say, acknowledge that he has heard their complaint, and then end the agreement.  Here’s what happened when Rosemond’s son Eric requested to have a motorcycle:

Rosemond:  Eric, this is going to be the shortest conversation we’ve ever head.  Because you will never get a motorcycle from your mother and me.  If fact, just to be completely clear concerning this matter, you can’t even – at some future date- buy a motorcycle for yourself and continue to live here. “

Eric: But dad, all my friends are getting them!

Rosemond: Then Eric, you’re going to be the most special kid in your peer group.

Eric: I want to know why you won’t buy me a motorcycle

Rosemond: Because motorcycles are dangerous and you are not old enough to appreciate the danger; nor will you before many years to come.

Eric: I promise to be careful.

Rosemond:  Eric, let me explain something. If I was your age, I’d want a motorcycle. And if I asked my parents for one, they’d say the same thing to me I just said to you.  And believe it or not, I’d say the same thing to them you just said to me.  Furthermore, there’ll come the day when you’ll be standing in my shoes, saying pretty much the same thing to your fifteen year old.”  (And without further ado, Rosemond turns around and walks away pulling the power from the power struggle.)

Eric: Where are you going? I want to talk about this.  We’re not done, Dad.

Rosemond: We’re done.  (And Rosemond leaves)

While this approach may work when you hold the purse strings, there are other times when you and your child will disagree.  Rosemond shares his experience with their daughter, Amy, who refused to do household chores or clean the house for upcoming dinner guests.  Her parents ran out to do errands before their dinner party. Despite their requests to Amy, the chores weren’t done because their daughter went out for the evening with friends.  While they considered grounding their daughter, they didn’t want her sulking around for their dinner party.  Instead, they wait for a consequence that happened a week later.  ( Note: Rosemond dismisses the idea that consequences need to be given immediately to be relevant.).  When Amy wanted to go out with friends again for a dance party, her parents didn’t allow her to go out.  Here’s what they said:

Rosemond: Amy, you can’t go out tonight.  

Amy: Why? I deserve a reason.

Rosemond: Last Saturday, we told you to vacuum and clean the bathroom because of a dinner party and you told us that you weren’t going to do anything that we asked you to do, and you didn’t.  You still don’t understand that disobedience isn’t free.  When you defy someone with legitimate authority – in this case, your mother and I – there is always a price to be paid, sooner or later.  The price for your disobedience has just come due. You aren’t going out tonight because of what happened last Saturday.

Rosemond describes this as a “checkmate move,” which is a consequence that takes a child by surprise.  While most of the above tactics (e.g. reprimands, grounding, taking away privileges) work when a child needs a small nudge to get back on track, the checkmate is used for outrageous behavior that will be memorable.

How to talk about sex?

One of the most challenging conversations we can have with kids is the “sex talk”. (Find out more about the top three conversations to have about sex with your child here) . Rosemond offers the following high-level overview of what you want to accomplish with the sex talk:

  1. An open, anxiety free line of communication concerning anything related to sexuality and the importance of the male-female relationship
  2. Creating a respectful attitude that includes self-respect and respect for the opposite gender.  Rosemond stresses that it’s not about techniques and biology but with attitude and values.
  3. Teach the “politics” of dating that coaches the child on the worries, wishes, and expectations – both explicit and implicit

Rosemond  shares conversations that he had with his son.  Here are some sample dialogues with his son, who had just told him he’d already learned about sex education at school.


Rosemond:  Son, as you get older, you’re going to become more and more interested in girls and you are going to have questions.

Eric: Dad before you go any further, this guy came and talked to our health class last year and…

Rosemond: Yeah, I know he was pretty good and answered your questions. Some guy came to my health class when I was your age.  All I want to say is that when you do have questions or anything at all you want to discuss concerning women and men and sex, I’d like you to ask me. I’d rather you asked me instead of one of your friends, because their answers and opinions might not be correct.  And remember there is no such thing as a dumb question. P193

Another sample conversation between a mother and a daughter, who is dating and kissing her boyfriend, may look like this:


Mother:  What do you think usually follows kissing?

Daughter: Probably touching.

Mother:  And what do you think usually happens after touching?

Daughter: Maybe, lying down somewhere

Mother: And what do you think comes next.

Daughter: I guess that’s when people have sex.

Mother: At what point in this sequence do you want things to stop?

Daughter: I really don’t want to do more than kiss right now.

Mother: And if the boy doesn’t want to stop at kissing, what are you going to do? Page 195

About Speaker, Author John Rosemond

John Rosemond is the nation’s leading parenting expert and provides common-sense advice for raising your children.  John is a nationally syndicated columnist, author and public speaker, (delivering over 200 presentations annually to parents, teachers and professional groups).  His audiences are left feeling empowered, educated and entertained.

A family psychologist by license, John points out to all his audiences that “psychology has caused more problems than it has solved for American parents.” John’s mission is to be a counter-weight to the psychological parenting paradigm that was sold to America in the late 1960s/early 1970s, restore commonsense to the raising of children, and give parents the guidance needed to raise happy, well-mannered children who will, as adults, contribute value to culture and society.

Browse through the Book Store to find some of John’s best-selling books; check out his calendar to see if he’s coming to a town near you; read his columns from the past couple of months; find out how to book John for your next upcoming event in your school, church or community; or, read a little more on his background.