Spare the Rod…

With mega church Pastor Creflo Dollar being arrested over an alleged dispute with his 15-year-old, the concept of child discipline has been catapulted to the forefront of public consciousness. Serious questions have been raised, such as how to control an unruly child, what forms of punishment are acceptable and how children can manipulate the situation to put themselves into the power position.

Let’s set up a hypothetical scenario. You have a 15 year old daughter who wants to go to a party. You decide that she should not go. You know what might happen at the party. According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey, 28.8% of 10th graders had used marijuana in the past year. According to the CDC, 70.8 % of U.S. minors had at least one drink in their life, and 38.7% had a drink within the past month. There are 367,752 teen pregnancy births each year in the U.S. and 47.4% of high school students had ever had sex in 2011. Of the 33.7% of high school students to have sex in the past month, 39.8% did not use a condom the last time they had sex. You don’t know if your daughter will partake in any of this, but you don’t want to take chances.

Hopefully, this is happening hours or days before the actual party. Setting up limits and open communication with your child is crucial. Having your daughter spring it on you last minute is enough reason to say no in and of itself. But let’s say this is what happens, and so you say no.

Only your daughter says no too. She stands there, staring you straight in the eyes and says, “I’m going to the party.” What can you do? You can threaten her to take away a privilege, like say the phone. But then she ignores you and starts to leave the house. Do you physically restrain her? Do you tell her not to come back? Do you let her go, wait for her to come back and surprise her with a one way ticket to military school? Or do you just cave in and let her go?

Let’s say you do restrain her. She doesn’t struggle and then you get her back into her room. Or she does struggle, and you have to subdue her before getting her back into her room. Either way, once she is back in there, she calls the cops and has you arrested for domestic abuse. What now? In Georgia, the law is a grey area. Corporal punishment is permissible as long as it is reasonable discipline of a child by the parent. However, what constitutes reasonable discipline is unclear and is subject to judiciary discression.

In another scenario, you tell your kid not to come back, and they take you up on the offer. According to the National Runaway Switchboard, between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run away each year in the U.S., and youths between 12 and 17 have a higher risk of homelessness than adults. Of runaway and homeless youth, 47% cited a conflict with their parents was a major problem. Additionally, 54% of runaways used friends and/or relatives as their means for survival.

Military and boarding schools cost money, but can be an option for instilling discipline. There are many types, from boy or girl only schools, to Catholic or other religiously affiliated schools. At this point you are giving the discipline of your child over to a third party, who oftentimes will have better means of setting boundaries. This is a drastic step, however, so consider all your options and do your research before committing to a disciplinary school.

Many parents simply cave in. This might not be as bad an option as it seems. Oftentimes teens need to make mistakes. Often they need to touch the fire to know it’s hot. If your teen is rebellious, then perhaps the focus shouldn’t be to eliminate the danger, but to minimize it. Once you make a hard stand, it isn’t very good to back off or give into a child’s bullying. But before you make the hard stand, you need to decide if this is a fight worth going to war over. Teens tend to be much more willing to instigate a no holds bar fight than their parents, and that is their advantage in it.

The parent’s advantage is fear. If the child has nothing to fear (or loose) then the adult has no pull. If the teenager really believes that she might be sent out to military school or disowned over the party, then the teenager has a lot more to think about. If a teenager knows that you will let them spend the night in jail, they will try a little harder not to get arrested. Most of the struggle is perception, so consistency on the part of the parent is crucial to maintaining boundaries.

Another key is to have you and your spouse operate on a unified front. If it is two vs. one, the child will be much more inclined to back down. The kid is looking for weakness, and an absent or hesitant spouse can provide that. Try and discuss things with your spouse before discussing them with the child. If you can’t it’s better to side with the adult than the kid, especially if things are sprung on you at the last minute.

Additional Resources

Monitoring the Future Survey 2011:

CDC Youth Alcohol and Drug Use:

CDC Teen Births:

National Runaway Switchboard:

Military Schools for Teens:


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