Question: Dr. Dobson, I would like to hear your views about disciplining a teenager, especially since you say spanking him is neither wise nor productive.
Answer: Your only tool of discipline is to manipulate your teenager's environmental circumstances in moments of confrontation. You have the keys to the family automobile and can allow your son or daughter to use it (or be chauffeured in it). You may grant or withhold privileges, including permission to go to a party. You control the family purse and can chose to share it or loan it or dole it or close it. And you can "ground" your adolescent or deny him the use of the telephone or television for awhile.
Now obviously, these are not very influential "motivators," and are at times totally inadequate for the situation at hand. After we have appealed to reason and cooperation and family loyalty, all that remains are relatively weak methods of "punishment." We can only link behavior of our kids with desirable and undesirable consequences and hope the connection will be of sufficient influence to elicit their cooperation.
If that sounds pretty wobbly-legged, let me admit what I am implying: a willful, angry sixteen-year-old boy or girl can win a confrontation with his or her parents today, if worst comes to worst. The law leans ever more in the direction of emancipation of the teenager. He can leave home in many areas and avoid being returned. He can drink and smoke pot and break many other civil laws before he is punished by society. His girlfriend can obtain birth control pills in many states without her parents' knowledge or permission. And if that fails, she can slip into a clinic for an unannounced abortion. Very few "adult" privileges and vices can be denied a teenager who has the passion for independence and a will to fight.
How different was the situation when Billy-Joe was raised on the farm in the days of old, living perhaps eight or ten miles by horseback from the homes of his nearest contemporary. His dad, Farmer Brown, impressed by his own authority, could "talk sense" to his rebellious boy without the interference of outside pressures. There is no doubt that it was much easier for father and son to come to terms while sitting on a plow at the far end of Forgotten Field.
But today, every spark of adolescent discontent is fanned into a smoldering flame. The grab for the teen dollar has become big business, with enticing magazines, record companies, radio, television, and concert entrepreneurs to cater to each youthful whim. And, of course, masses of high school students congregate idly in the city and patronize those obliging companies. They have become a force to be considered.
Unless teenagers have an inner tug toward cooperation and responsibility, the situation can get nasty very quickly. But where does that voice of restraint originate? It has been my contention that the early years of childhood are vital to the establishment of respect between generations. Without that kind of foundation—without a touch of awe in the child's perception of his parent—then the balance of power and control is definitely shifted toward the younger combatant. I would be doing a disservice to my readers if I implied otherwise.