That probably seems lame. Not lame to punish, but lame that I never thought of punishment as a viable option. I decide to do some research to develop my arsenal, and I am surprised to find that when I search “best punishments for teens,” there is plenty to mine!
It’s said that you can tell a lot about a society by their prison system, but I think this search is just as revealing, as are the names of the sites with punishment tips:
Teen Boot Camp
People are actually searching for this stuff, like this person who asked:
What is the best punishment for a teenage dad?
On my own blog, a parent suggests that I do drug testing on my son to make certain he’s clean. While another shares that they use motion sensors in their home to keep their teens in at night.
There’s an elephant in the livingroom.
The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.
Before my search on punishment, I tried bribery; but to my son’s credit, he’s dismissed it. Even a car. (Shocking.)
“I wouldn’t feel right doing that,” he says.
Of course, we’ve simultaneously released every bear we can think of--all the tragic stories of loved ones lost to death or addiction or deadening of dreams.
As a last option, I would use punishment if I thought it would be effective; But then I’d have to spend my days in suspicion in order to catch my son in crime so that I can punish him. That seems like a lousy end to what has been a integrity-full relationship.
So I’m going to keep my eyes there–on integrity; on right relationship–and let that inform the way (though I’m not above mentioning the arsenal of punishments out there or trying a few more times with the car.)
When I posted that my teenager was ready to drink and smoke pot, readers offered all kinds of helpful suggestions, including one adamant woman who wrote: “NO, DON’T DO IT!”
Her clarion call continued:
Be the level headed pure kid who saves the others… the thoughtful clear-headed guy that makes the difference. The one who is sober and can be the designated driver, the one who does CPR on their friend when they have stopped breathing because they have overdosed on something they didn’t realize would affect them LIKE THAT… and be the one who has enough wits to figure out how or when to call 911 so their friend doesn’t die this one time because you were smart enough to notice that something just doesn’t or didn’t seem right and that something is life-threatening!
Other readers complimented my teenager’s honesty and our family’s openness; while professionals shared the statistics and the risks and the undesired outcomes. One mother took us in a completely different direction with hard-earned wisdom:
“Let go, and trust.”
A lone father chimed in suggesting that we explore both the dark and the light side of partying in order to get after, what my son was after, in making these choices.
Our family’s practice of non-violent communication (NVC) allowed us to do just that. Months ago when he made the proclamation that he was thinking about drinking, NVC enabled us put aside our agendas–to explore each of our needs.
I so clearly felt his need for fun and connection and exploration that I almost ran out and bought the booze myself.
He so fully heard my need for safety and responsibility and respect that he appeared defeated in his desires.
It was then that I realized how important this was to him. Not just the partying, but the relationship.
As the months passed and his desire to explore intensified, I noticed that his need to stay in right relationship with us was competing with his need to stay in right relationship with himself.
As far as I can tell, we are approaching the break. The place where he chooses self over family so that he can move on to create his own life.
As a parent, I have to support that drive. The tricky part will be managing right relationship with myself as he begins to make choices without me.
What’s new is our son. He’s changed. He turned the corner on sophomore year and sprinted into his junior year, and he knew. He wanted to join in. He wanted to drink too. He wanted to get high. (Not everyone is, but his friends are, and he’s missing the fun.)
“Do you want me to hide it?” he asks. “Or do you want me to tell you?”
“I want you to wait,” I say, and he does. Until he says he doesn’t want to anymore.
“I need some time to figure this out,” I say. “How much time do I have?”
He estimates 7 or 8 months, but a few months later, he presses me:
“What are we going to do?” he says. “This is stressing me out. Nothing is changing. You just keep saying wait, and I know I’m not going to.”
I try threats–Military school.
I try thinking outside the box of culture–Moving abroad.
“Well then, be a part of the 1/3 or even the 10% or even the only one. Be different.”
“I don’t want to be.”
His father and I partied long before we were of age. 300 bars in 1 mile at the Jersey shore (our hometown) kind of lends itself that way. If there were people who weren’t drinking back then, we didn’t know them, and didn’t want to.
Neither of us recall our parents saying anything to us about it–before. Of course, the drinking age was 18 which was a dramatic difference. Seniors could go to a bar at lunch time if they wanted.
21 is so unrealistic, and as a parent I can’t hold the course that long.
“Is it just the legality?” my son asks.
“It’s important,” I say. “No matter what, you’re putting someone at risk–some parents’ home, some kid who is driving.”
He tries to hedge around that, but I don’t let him. There’s no arguing this starkness of this truth.
“I want to be safe,” he says. “That’s why I want to be able to tell you so you can help me.”
Where is he getting this stuff? Online? Where’s my stuff?
“It’s also the other kids,” I say. “Maybe you’ll be smart, but someone else won’t. And then there’s the other kids for whom your choices will set the norm. What about their risks? What about that responsibility?”
He doesn’t have an answer. He looks as defeated as I am. We are sitting on his bed. I reach out and caress his shoulder.
“If I thought alcohol or pot were the answers you were looking for,” I say, “I’d go out and get it for you because I want you to have fun. I want you to experience your wildness.”
“I know,” he says.
When I return to the internet for some kind of support with this conversation, I find two extremes–Be clear with your kids about your expectations; OR when they’re heading toward rehab–encourage them to be candid with you.
What about the in between? What about a son who wants to remain in right relationship with his parents, and yet wants to explore the world in ways in which we can’t legally or logically approve?
The devil is in this dichotomy, and neither my son or I can live with that.
‘What about emancipation?” I say. “Then you can make your own decisions.”
“I’m not ready to be on my own,” he says.
“Then save these decisions for when you are.”
“I still need your support,” he says. “Even with this.”