I Don't Punish My Teens, But I Do This Instead

by Kerry Koziell
Mother and daughter sitting frustrated at a table
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I’ve never punished my kids. Ever.

I’ve yelled at them for sure. I’ve sighed passive aggressively to grind my disappointment into their still developing brains. I’ve ignored them or left the living room (or maybe it’s the laundry room based on the mountains of fresh washed clothes piled on the couches) with more heavy sighs for good measure. But I’ve never taken away a precious electronic appendage or canceled a sleepover.

I’ve never made good on the promise of donating beloved toys to more appreciative children or doomed them to their rooms on sunny days. Maybe I don’t have the guts or maybe I’m just lazy. Maybe I want my kids to like me or maybe I don’t like conflict. It doesn’t matter really, the point is, I don’t punish my kids.

I wasn’t punished much as a child. I was the third and only girl, and by then I think thrill of punishment doling had faded for my mom. I didn’t do much in the way of punishment-evoking deeds either or, at least, the attention to my deeds was limited and my mom was tired by then.

My kids do things to annoy me, like leaving their underwear forever tangled in their inside-out pants in the laundry pile (the baskets have been long ago surrendered to cat toys and impromptu sled rides around the foyer). My son leaves the small plastic slivers from the beheaded freeze pops all over the house and removes one sock in the living room and one in his bedroom consistently leaving matched socks a distant memory. My teen daughter is happily chatting with me about pre-algebra and softball in the kitchen one minute and sullenly ensconced in her bed angry about a lack of snacks in the cupboard one minute later. It’s maddening. It’s confusing. It’s exhausting. But, I don’t punish them.

What’s to be learned from abruptly cutting off contact from their friends (lifelines in teenage years and beyond) by snatching away the phone? Does turning off the Xbox somehow equate to an understanding that separating the underwear from the pants would be more efficient and less gross? Does canceling the sleepover drive home my point that the word “sucks” will not be tolerated until you reach the age of acceptable use (which is 16 by the way)? Does forced seclusion in a quiet room full of your own stuff cause repentance to magically happen or grades to improve?

I like to try good old fashioned conversation first — possibly served with a side of guilt. I like to try to get at the why of the behavior and see if there’s some resolution to be had there. Sometimes I can find the reason and it’s valid. I wasn’t mad about the snacks mom, I was disappointed I had a bad practice. Sometimes it’s just goofy. It’s easier to slide through the kitchen with only one sock on and one bare foot for a brake.

Either way, I wouldn’t know the practice was tough or that floor skating requires one sock if I shoved them in their rooms or denied them contact with the general population. I’d have a minute of peace and quiet (maybe I should rethink this) with the inmates in their cells and the Minecraft melody suddenly quelled but nothing would be solved.

The punishments I could dole out are temporary solutions to larger problems. Larger problems need debating and compromise to reach resolution. It’s not often that I mess up on a project at work and my boss sends me to my office to think about what I’ve done. Rarely does she take my laptop away until I can do better or cancel a meeting to teach me a lesson. Those kinds of issues are resolved by conversation.

I’m not naïve, I know that not every problem is solved through a good old-fashioned heart-to-heart on the edge of an unmade bed littered with clean(?) laundry, but I do think it has a better shot at closure than canceling an anticipated, fun event or taking away something that feels important at the time.

I think it drives home the point that when something goes wrong, we address it, seek understanding, offer apologies or solutions, plan to work harder and above all, still love no matter what. Or, you can just take Fortnite away and see if that clears up the swearing problem. You do you and I’ll do me.

It’s really just what works in my world. Now go to your room and think about it.