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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Be consistent until daughter 'gets it'

By John Rosemond

Q: The punishments I give my 14-year-old daughter — mostly for blatant defiance of rules — seem to make her more defiant. For example, I recently removed her phone, stereo, most of her favorite clothes and her video game box from her room, only to have her inform me that I'm not her boss and can't mold her into the person I want her to be.

I must not be doing the right thing. Instead of learning her lesson, the consequences I'm using only seem to make her more rebellious. On the other hand, she and I are very close and she talks to me a lot and listens to my advice about relationships. Discipline is where I feel I'm failing.

How do I know if the consequences I chose for misbehavior are making a difference in a positive way, or just adding to the rebellion?

A: You need to understand and accept that your daughter is absolutely correct — you cannot make her into the person you want her to be.

Furthermore, you cannot make her accept that you are the boss, and as long as she refuses to accept it, then you aren't. It's as simple as that. A child has to consent to parental governance in order for that governance to be effective, and your daughter is not ready to give her consent. The good news is she obviously wants a relationship. She wants a mentor. She just refuses to accept that the decisions she makes for herself merit negative consequences.

Like many parents, you are obviously laboring under the misconception that the right consequence will change wrong behavior. Consequently, when you deliver a consequence, and your daughter's behavior doesn't change or gets worse, you conclude that

perhaps the consequence wasn't right. The fact is, the right consequence, consistently applied, will change the behavior of a dog or a rat or a pigeon, but an appropriate consequence may or may not promote a change in human behavior. Unlike dogs, rats and pigeons, humans have the power to choose, and humans have a reputation for making choices they know will result in punishment.

Another way of saying the same thing: If a consequence fails to produce change in a dog's behavior, the dog's handler needs to change the consequence.

But if a consequence fails to bring about change in a child's behavior, it is not necessarily the case that the consequence needs to be changed. Unlike a dog, a child can choose to continue misbehaving in the face of overwhelmingly negative consequences. This doesn't mean there is anything wrong with either the child or the consequences. It just means the child is not a dog.

It's more important for your daughter, at this point in her life, to prove that you aren't her boss than for her to enjoy privilege. So be it. If her misbehavior warrants loss of privilege, then you must take away her privileges, the purpose being to simply illustrate to her how the real world works.

Explain that to her. Tell her that you don't enjoy punishing her; it is simply your responsibility to demonstrate to her that when someone makes a bad decision, bad things ensue.

The fact that she values a relationship with you says to me that someday she is going to "get it" and begin making right choices. But she will do this in her time, not yours. Meanwhile, your job is to love her and be there for her while at the same time being an effective agent of reality. Good things come to those who patiently wait.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th St., Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at www.rosemond.com.