Disciplining a 12 Year Old

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They are bigger, mouthier, tougher and seem to be at an age where they should just plain know better. You may look at your pre-teen daughter or son, seeing someone as tall as you are and wonder what in the world is making him or her act like such a child. Looks can be deceiving and the reality is that they most definitely are still children! Disciplining a 12-year old is definitely not as easy as disciplining a younger child, however this is one of the most pivotal ages where proper discipline, high expectations, boundaries and limits must be set and adhered to, or else parents risk out of control teenage years.

Most 12 year olds are in 6th grade. Both the boys and girls are hormonal and are subjected to a new form of education that includes far less hand holding and nurturing. They are switching classes, have numerous teachers, loads of homework and are experiencing all the manic social conditions of a life filled with peer pressure. This is the time when some parents are letting go, returning to work and offering a dangerous sense of freedom to their children; while others are still clinging so tightly to discipline and supervision as if their life depended on it. Not only are you fighting against your children, you are also trying to rationalize the behavior of other parents and adults – something that can make parents question their own style. Stick to your guns. Realize that you know your children best – their strengths and weaknesses and that works for you and your home will be different from what works for your neighbors. Your child is now somewhere in the middle of childhood coveting what some of the kids are able to do and wishing that you only understood how hard things were for them. And let’s be honest, while you may remember this turbulent time in your life – you don’t really know how it feels anymore to be a pre-teen. This being said, parents should cut their kids a little slack at this age (just not too much).

One tip to disciplining a 12-year old is to allow them to have an outlet. They can’t explode on their teachers or friends at school. They can’t run all of their frustrations out on the playground. The only “safe place” they have to release mixed up and tangled emotions is at home, with you. While this means you may have to endure rants and raves, slamming doors, eye rolls, and exclamations of how unfair life is at every turn; it is important that your child feels you are both listening and remaining compassionate. The child that doesn’t release their frustration or is so bound by political politeness at home will only suffer from withheld aggression. No, they shouldn’t be calling you names, using curse words, or being physically aggressive – but parents should be willing to listen and ignore a certain degree of their behavior.

The next key to effective discipline of a 12-year old is to set firm limits. They should already know right from wrong and good from bad. The key is having rules and regulations that clearly govern behavior which will be accepted and wont. Give them something very clear to work with that has no gray area and don’t allow any of it to be compromised, argued, or negotiated at any given time. The rules are the rules. If one is broken – punishment (again something they are familiar with) should be handed down every time. If they have a big game on Saturday and are grounded for not doing their homework – you can’t constantly be making amendments. If you allow them to go to the game out of mercy, you are teaching them that all things in life are negotiable. While you may feel like a heel, you have to do the right thing, every time or else a 12 year old will manipulate this parental weakness to a breaking point. Yours.

It is also important to remember that dealing with a 12-year old cannot be about trickery or bribery. When they were 6, it may have worked just fine. All you had to say was “Santa Claus is watching” and you had immediate adherence. Fear or guilt based discipline does not work on most 12 year olds and you have to be honest and forthright. Talk to them as if they are adults realizing of course that they aren’t. Be explicit. If you are willing to engage in debates or arguments with your 12 year old about behavioral or disciplinary actions, you are opening a can of worms that won’t easily be resealed. Be firm, be stern and be mean and heartless if you have to. 12 year olds need tough love and the clear knowing that they are loved and supported in their feelings. Also, realize that much of the way they behave and much of the wrong they do is driven by emotions that they cannot understand or put words to yet.

Disciplining a 12-year old should also include a large amount of patience on your part. Children of this age should be entitled to their opinion and feelings but should not be allowed to be so selfish that this is all that matters in your home. Set up time for talking and listening and be sure to give them your ears as whole-heartedly as you expect them to give you theirs. If your child says, “You never listen to me,” there is a good chance that you are cutting off their breath and bullying them. The thing is that much of the discipline in this age group is about teaching them self-control. The best way to teach self-control is to show it yourself and be a living example of how well it works in action.

So, what is adequate discipline for a 12-year old? The answer is clear but different for every child. You have to be able to find their currency. For some, it may be the Nintendo, the I-pod, the cell phone. For others it may be time spent outdoors or spending time with friends on the weekend. When you are able to get a 12-year old to realize that the things in their life are privileges rather than just something they are entitled to, you can effectively help them make the connection. At first, they will just be mad that you took their cell phone away; but eventually they will start to realize that their good behavior and actions comes with rewards from things to the ability to be trusted with new opportunities.

At 12, your children are supposed to be building your trust. This way, when they turn 16 you will feel comfortable letting them drive to a friend’s house or take your car out for a spin. Trust is crucial to discipline and allowing them to make decision based on their own internal gauge is huge. Let them make mistakes so they can learn from them. Sure, you may know what is lurking around the bend – but they don’t and firm, decisive, and effective discipline will teach them how to see the consequences of their choices in life. This is what makes good adults. Disciplining at 12 is a lot about watching them fall, even though you know you could help them avoid it, and helping them learn how to pick themselves up off the ground and keep going – doing better each and every time.

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