How Self-Discipline Helps Teens Succeed
By Catherine H. Knott, Ph.D.

When Easter arrives, many children amass a large stock of candy. Does one of your children routinely eat every piece as soon as possible, treating any stomachaches as an inevitable part of the ritual? Does another of your children hoard the candy for months, bringing it out piece by piece until Halloween, using the opportunity to tantalize his or her siblings? Both situations demonstrate an extreme on the continuum of self-discipline and illustrate behavior that could benefit from a healthy dose of moderation.

Moments like these, though humorous and transitory, can give us insights into our children’s behavior. Drug use, alcohol consumption, sexual activity, and eating patterns can become matters of deep concern for parents of teenagers, yet we feel frustrated trying to help them when their self-discipline is utterly lacking or misplaced. Outlined below are three types of teen problems with self-discipline and ways to address them, followed by a simple five-step technique designed to help all teenagers acquire healthy patterns of self-discipline.

Teens Who Lack Self-Discipline

We are all familiar with the exuberant personalities of those co-workers, often charming and extroverted, who seem to talk their way through life and out of work assignments, who buy more than they can afford, party hard, and procrastinate way past deadlines, all the while seeming cheerfully oblivious to the crises they create. It is alarming to see these characteristics in our teenagers, yet most of the time these behaviors are amenable to change and do not develop into permanent character traits, unless we do nothing.

Teenagers and even young adults are in the throes of growth, hormonal changes, and re-orientation to the world as responsible individuals. Hormonal and brain changes mean they may be more oriented to today than tomorrow. Social pressures may cause them to redirect their energies from homework and family chores to responding to the requests of friends, even when they know that is not the best choice. Peer relationships may seem to dominate their lives, overshadowing the healthy patterns of self-discipline we thought we had helped them establish in childhood.

What can we do? Read more to learn how to help teens who are inconsistent with their self-discipline as well as teens who are too rigid with self-discipline >>

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Balancing the Legal Rights of Parents and Teens

Despite how it may seem to a teenager, parents aren’t the only ones with legal rights. Teens have rights, too. The problem is the rights of a teenager often are balanced with the rights of their parents. And in many instances, a parent’s right takes precedence over the child’s right. For example, a parent has a right to discipline her child, which outweighs a child’s right to determine his own conduct. This means a parent can spank a child unless the discipline reaches the level of abuse, and then the child’s right to safety outweighs the parent’s right to discipline.

Similarly, a teen has the right to control her body. But school searches, parental discipline, and tattoos and piercings are limitations to this right. (Teens generally need parental consent before getting a tattoo or piercing.) When it comes to a girl’s body and her ability to choose whether to have a baby or not, the law generally won’t step in to prohibit minors from getting an abortion, though some states do impose a parental notification requirement. This means a teen may have to get parental approval or at least prove she notified her parents. In any case, the U.S. Supreme Court requires that every state provide a judicial bypass procedure. This allows pregnant teens who don’t want to tell their parents to go to court and get permission from a judge instead. According to current law, fathers can neither force nor prevent the mother from choosing to have an abortion. Likewise, parents cannot force their children to have abortions or to give birth.

Learn more about parental rights and how things change when your child turns 18 >>