Direction and Discipline; Be a Parent, Not a Pushover

By Maryann Rosenthal

The truth is, there are a lot of wimpy parents. They don’t trust their own judgment. They treat their kids as if they are delicate crystal that might shatter with even the gentlest handling instead of fairly durable glassware that’s designed to hold up pretty well if not abused.

But here’s what you’ve got to keep in mind: you know more than your children—and you’re supposed to tell them what to do. You weren’t created to be their pals, their playmates, their servants. You’ve got more experience and better judgment—use them!

What’s more—and trust me on this—all kids know they need guidance from their parents. In fact, they want it. They’re probably not going to admit that. To do so would be too much of a concession, too big of a blow to their youthful egos. They like the reassurance that comes with knowing there’s somebody who cares for and looks after them.

But, understand, it takes strength of will to set and stick with rules. One of the reasons so many parents wimp out and set weak rules, or none at all, is because they lack courage in their convictions. They know they’ll get pressured. Teens, especially, will push for a relaxation of the rules without having earned that. Other teens will lobby them to ease up because “all the kids” are doing something or other. Other parents may suggest that the stricter parents are out of step. Even society itself may seem arrayed against them. But if the parents have thought through the rules and those rules fit the plan, they should stick with them.

Another reason parents waffle on setting realistic limits is that they want their kid to love and admire them. That’s a worthy goal, but it’s wrong to think that leniency is going to achieve it. In fact, there’s some reason to believe just the opposite. Some kids, very quick to perceive weakness, may counter with, “If you loved me, you’d let me stay out till 4 a.m., like Jamie’s folks allow her to do.” Or, “I hate you because you’re so strict.” Parents need to have enough self-confidence to see through such fleeting—maybe even contrived—anger and stick to well-reasoned rules.

Maybe you didn’t have a very good relationship with your own parents. Perhaps they were too strict, and you suffered as a result. Maybe you or they, or both, have some guilt at not having gotten along, of not having come up with a division of power that worked for both parties. But that was then and this is now. Don’t repeat their mistake by going to the other extreme. Give your kid a reasonable structure: tough at first, then progressively more liberal as his or her behavior dictates.

My advice? If you know you’ve been fair and reasonable in setting limits, then gut it out. After all, you’re the grown-up here. And this, too, shall pass. Your child eventually will come around to see the logic of some rules, even if he or she doesn’t always agree with the specifics.

You’ll likely forge a better long-term relationship with your teen if you come up with strict rules and enforce them, than if you don’t. Sure, there may be some short-term grumbling. But over the long haul, the teen will know you really care and will respect you for investing time and effort in the rule-setting process, especially if you are calm, consistent, and give positive feedback.

About the Author:

Dr. Maryann Rosenthal is a highly respected clinical psychologist on family dynamics and best selling author of Be A Parent, Not A Pushover, recently selected as a book of the year on effective parenting. She is a featured authority on regional and national television and a global keynote speaker. She has been selected by Yahoo! Health, to be a family relationship expert. For more information visit

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