My 15-year-old has been in trouble at school for vaping, smoking marijuana, skipping classes, etc. Often we take away her freedom when these things happen, which seems to have an impact at the time; however, the behaviours keep happening. From reading your articles, I have become a big believer in natural consequences, but sometimes I feel like I need to enforce a punishment. What do you feel is an appropriate way to handle these behaviours?
If the school is having trouble with your daughter, then leave it up to the school to deal with. I understand you’re feeling torn between natural consequences and punishment, but this is between her and the school. Let your daughter and the school know that you’ll be letting them sort it out between themselves. Thank the school for their efforts on your daughter’s behalf, then get out of the middle.
Punishment may seem to “work” the short term, but you’ve already learned it doesn’t produce lasting results. And it also doesn’t help our teens to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes:
“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse?” – Jane Nelsen
“I realized that this is what many people in our society seem to want most from children: not that they are caring or creative or curious, but simply that they are well behaved.”- Alfie Kohn
It’s something of a paradigm shift, isn’t it? Perhaps the best thing you can do for your daughter is just spend time with her: watch a movie, go for a walk, go in her room (respectfully, with permission), sit on her bed and tell her about your day. Cook together. Share a joke together. Light up when she walks in the room. This is how you can support her through all this.
If my daughter wanted to go for an overnight at her friend’s house, and if I know that she will be smoking or drinking there, would you suggest I allow her to go? I guess I struggle with wanting to protect her and keep her away from bad influences. Such a difficult task raising teenagers.
So here’s the thing: you can try to keep her safe or you can teach her how to keep herself safe. (By the way, how long do you plan on trying to keep her safe for?!)
You can have candid discussions about smoking. What does she know? What does she think? What about drinking? Does she know what alcohol poisoning looks like and what to do? Do her friends know? Does she believe she and her friends can handle alcohol responsibly?
You can ask her, if she was your mom, would she let you go? Will there be parents home?
You can let her know you’ll agree to her going if she can give you a plan for being safe.
You know her better than I do and will likely come up with better questions than I can suggest. And if you approach it as a conversation, with curiosity and an open mind, you can expect a better night’s sleep.
If you’d like to know more about Choice Theory, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you PDFs of the booklet Who’s Driving YOUR Car? and the handout Six Things: How to create healthy boundaries. And, as always, I welcome your questions and comments.