Discipline Methods That Make a Bad Problem Worse

D___ is beyond out of control. He is still grounded from his computer until he has completed his 10 day sentence to alternative school (he tries constantly to get them back- just for 1hr cause I am being good type deal). But the real issue is at school. He is in alternative school right now and the teacher today says D___ is being so bad that if he does not stop they are going to have the police write him a ticket!!!! This is up to a 500.00 fine that I DO NOT HAVE OR WILL EVER HAVE and WILL NOT PAY so i don't know what happens then?? !! The teacher asked him to stop talking and D___ says she has no right to take away his freedom of speech, he refuses to do this work, told the teacher she is horrible at her job! HE IS A NIGHTMARE. I got him on the phone and told him he had better keep his &%&)%$(&)^% mouth shut and i mean NOW! So what do I do know that I blew it again? Strip his room to a mattress and make him earn every piece back? Or take everything and give it all back when he is done with this school or what? I still have no idea what the heck I am doing. All I know is he is killing me. I am so upset. 


Hi S.,

10 days is too long. I recommend a 1 - 3 day discipline – not 10. 

For behavior modification to work, the program must have certain properties:
  1. A few important behaviors need to be targeted. Rather than targeting "being good," you might try “no talking in class.”
  2. It must be consistent. There is no bending of rules in this sort of thing: no difference between the mom or dad or teacher.
  3. It should be simple and straightforward so that your child easily understands it. If your child can read, it should be written down. If possible, your child should sign it and agree to it.
  4. The behavior must be clear cut and not fuzzy. Things like "listen when I tell you something" won't work, because it is too unclear. A better idea would be, "If you choose to ______________, then you’ll choose to be grounded for 3 days with no game privileges."
  5. The rewards and punishments need to be geared to the individual.
  6. The rewards should not be money or things that are bought, but rather should be privileges, which you can grant or activities, which the child can do. Behavior Modification should not require a bank loan.
  7. There needs to be an even mix of negative and positive reinforcers. A typical Positive one would be a later bedtime on the weekend or a choice of dinner. A typical negative one would be going to your room or no cell phone.
Here are some examples of good vs. bad behavior modification programs:
D___ talks in class when he is not supposed to. This drives his parent nuts and she would like to kill him when he comes home. The behavior she wants is to have D___ not talk during class.
The Assertive Parent-- The positive reinforcer would be if he does not talk during class for 5 days, he can have a friend stay over and they can stay up late. The negative reinforcer would be that if the parent gets another complaint from school, D___ will be grounded for 3 days with no games.

The Passive Parent --If you don’t talk in class, I will pay you five dollars or you will be able to stay up as late as you want at our house that night. If you DO talk in class, nothing bad will happen.

The Aggressive Parent --The next time I get a call from school, you’ll be grounded for 10 days.

Another important point is to AVOID POWER STRUGGLES AT ALL COST. One of the reasons you continue to struggle with D___ is because you are in a power struggle with him. Kids ALWAYS win power struggles because they have less to lose in the long run. Power struggles create distance and hostility instead of closeness and trust. Distance and hostility create resentment, resistance, rebellion (or compliance with lowered self-esteem). Closeness and trust create a safe learning environment. You have a positive influence only in an atmosphere of closeness and trust where there is no fear of blame, shame or pain.

I have never seen a power drunk child without a power drunk adult real close by. Adults need to remove themselves from the power struggle without winning or giving in. Create a win/win environment. HOW?

The following suggestions teach children important life skills including self-discipline, responsibility, cooperation and problem-solving skills -- instead of "approval junkie" compliance or rebellion:
  • Be consistent with the limits and rules.
  • Determine what the consequences will be before an inappropriate behavior happens.
  • Expect non-compliance. Testing the limits is normal behavior for a teenager.
  • Learn to speak in a calm but firm tone. Keep the lines of communication open. Yelling and screaming never helps.
  • Listen to their feelings and keep an open mind. You still have the ability to say no, so why not listen to what they have to say.
  • Stay rational – you are the adult. If need be, take a 'time out' yourself.
  • Take deep breaths, count back from 100, and remember the goal is to have a happy, healthy young adult when you are done.
  • Use an Action Plan (see below) if necessary.
  • Use natural and logical consequences (see below). Be firm and stick with them.

Here’s an example of an Action Plan. Let’s use the example of Internet use:

Internet Privileges

I know that the World Wide Web is not a toy. It is as interesting, and dangerous as being able to walk down any street, in any town or city, in the world. It reflects all parts of life today, which is fascinating and scary.
  1. In order to have the privilege of using the World Wide Web, I need to follow these rules, so I can keep myself and my family safe.
  2. I will never give out personal information to anyone online, including but not limited to:
    • my full name, or anyone else's
    • my address, or anyone else's
    • my passwords, or anyone else's
    • my phone number, or anyone else's
  3. I will always be polite when chatting online, I will treat them with the respect that I expect to be given. If I am treated unkindly, I will not reciprocate in the same manner. I will leave the chat room if I get too angry.
  4. I will never personally meet anyone I have meet online without the permission of my parents. If this opportunity should arise, I fully expect my parents to come to the meeting.
  5. I will never call anyone I have met online without the permission of my parents.
  6. I will report all incidents in chat rooms to my parents and to the room administrators.
  7. I will not go surfing in areas that are not appropriate including, but not limited to websites:
    • that are of a sexual nature
    • that promote hate
    • that are offensive in language
    • that are of a violent nature
  8. I will not go surfing around looking for new places without my parents permission.
  9. I will follow these rules whether I am at home, at school, or at a friends. If my friend is not following these rules, I will leave.
  10. I will not purchase anything online without permission of my parents. If I do not follow these rules I expect that (here's where you put the consequence, ie... to lose computer privileges for one week.)

Child's Signature:__________________________________

Parent's Signature:________________________________

Deciding Between Natural or Logical Consequences—

When parents want their children to learn from their mistakes, they have the choice of allowing the child to deal with the natural consequences or set up logical consequences. But how do you choose between the two types of consequences? When is one more effective than the other?

When natural consequences are immediate they are very effective. If your teen touches a hot pot, he/she will get burned and is not likely to do that again. Many times, however, natural consequences are not immediate or are too dangerous to allow. Running into the street without looking does not always have immediate consequences. Either does not wearing a seat belt when driving. Both actions, though, could have dire natural consequences that no one wants. Therefore, the natural consequences aren’t what a parent should use to teach their teen the responsibility of their own safety and it is up to the parents to sort out a logical consequence that will promote the desired behavior – in this instance not running into the street without looking or wearing a seat belt.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Another instance of when logical consequences will be more effective than natural consequences is while your teen is getting a high school education. The benefits of good grades in school are so far off into the future that teens do not fully comprehend them. While your teen can repeat what he/she has been told: ‘good grades will get you into a good college and you’ll make more money’, until he/she sees the type of job or paycheck a college education can get, he/she will not understand the difference. Logical consequences, including rewards for good grades and privileges taken for poor grades work best as your teen can fully understand these.

There are times when the natural consequence is the better choice for the parent to make. One excellent example is when your teen is dating or making friends. Finding out what type of person your teen wants to be with and how your teen wants to be treated is going to be his/her choice. Dating or making friends with someone who isn’t his/her type is going to show that to him/her. Barring any mistreatment from a friend or a date, parents will need to hold their tongue and refrain from giving their opinions in order to let the natural consequences – positive or negative – happen.

Discipline choices are never easy. Hopefully knowing the difference between natural and logical consequences will help you make the right choices for you and your son.

Mark Hutten, M.A.



Thanks Mark!

I agree the 10 days is too long and against the programs suggestions - I chose the 10 days more out of pressure from my live in boyfriend that is more of the opinion that my son should be grounded for a month for getting into alternative school with nothing but a bed in his room and not allowed to leave his room other than to eat so the 10 days (the length he is in this school) was more of a peace maker on my own part (yes there are other issues at play here). But since that is what I told my son I figured it better for me to stick to it even though I know its too long rather than backing out of it like I typically have done in the past. I know next time the importance of keeping it simple and the boyfriend will have to deal with it.

Last night I decided the discipline for refusing to do his work at school and talking back and arguing with the teacher would be him losing the privilege of his TV and stereo for 2 days. I told him he can earn those privileges back in 2 days by 1. doing his work as requested in school and 2. not getting into a verbal confrontation with anyone at school (teacher, student- no one!) I did explain to him that if he chooses not to do what is required the 2 days will start over. I then told him he must go clean his room until dinner was done then he could shower and go to bed for the night. He took it very well and before he went to bed he apologized to me for how he acted at school. I told him I loved him and asked him to sit down for a minute. I told him that I wanted him to understand that freedom of speech is a blessing we have in this country and our forefathers did not intend that right to be used as an excuse to be hurtful and disrespectful to people. I let him know freedom of speech was created so people could not be imprisoned for speaking their beliefs however it does not protect those from being punished if they use speech to disrupt the public or harass people. He seemed to really listen - I hope he gets it!!

I emailed his teacher today and told her what his discipline is and asked her if she could please let me know if D___ is doing the 2 things required to earn his tv and stereo back. I guess for the ps4 and computer I need to stick to giving them back after the 10 days is up since that is what I told him???

So I know I have blown it a few times but I am still trying :) I have faith and hope but boy I do get discouraged sometimes. I appreciate your patience with that. I have never really had someone try to help me in a productive way. I have been told "YOU NEED TO BE A PARENT" and "YOU NEED TO GET HIM UNDER CONTROL" and that has been the so called help I have gotten so far. So I thank you!


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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