3 Simple Steps to Help Your Teen Stay Honest

3 Simple Steps to Help Your Teen Stay Honest February 22, 2018

Step #1: Choose discipline with their brand of freedom in mind 

One of the most common pleas we heard from teens was for parents to understand them as individuals. And since they are wired to be freedom junkies, the fear of losing ONE particular freedom will likely cause a gut-level, highly emotional reaction in even the calmest teenager.

Which particular freedom? Well, that’s the point: that’s what you have to find out. Is your child’s cell phone their can’t-live-without-it lifeline to a few close friends they are desperate not to lose? Or do they (rather annoyingly) wait hours to check their text messages, but view access to the car as their lifeline to the world?  Or perhaps they could take or leave their cell phone or car, but deeply care about the ability to spend money where they most want to spend it?

Whatever type of freedom your teen cares about most will be their main trigger.

So choose discipline with their brand of freedom in mind. When you need to give some sort of correction, make sure that (in their mind) the punishment fits the crime.  In other words: losing their most important freedom should be reserved for “nuclear bomb” infractions, not day-to-day mistakes.

For example, suppose your child’s brand of freedom is their car—and they get a speeding ticket.  You might be tempted to revoke their car privileges to “teach them a lesson”—and yet because the car is your child’s greatest motivator, taking it away is the nuclear option. You might hear (as we did) anger and fury that seems out of all proportion.  But, you see, to them what was out of all proportion was revoking the car for a 10-mph speeding ticket! For your child, you might find that having to take a safety driving class for four weeks might teach the consequences for speeding without the least bit of resentment!

What does this have to do with lying, you might ask? Many teens, like many addicts, will choose to lie and deceive parents when they feel they are at risk of losing their brand of freedom for a non-nuclear-bomb infraction. Lying is often a teen’s defense to avoid losing freedom, rather than a stand-alone offense or rebellious bad behavior. In the research, we found that even good, godly kids who are close to their parents will rationalize and bend the truth to the breaking point out of fear of losing a freedom-trigger privilege or object, be it a cell phone, being able to go out with friends, or even being able to go to bed when they want!

Obviously, there’s no excuse for deception—but if we’re going to counter it, we need to know what is behind it. So learn your child’s freedom-triggers and choose discipline that will seem proportional to your child.

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