Copping discipline!

When police officers ticket citizens for routine traffic violations, they do so dispassionately. They do not raise their voices or threaten the driver. They merely ask for the driver’s license and registration, specify the violation, write a ticket and ask for a signature. Then they issue a polite departing message and drive away.

People who receive a ticket usually begin to drive as if they just got out of driving school. They signal to leave the shoulder, they place their hands at ten and two on the steering wheel and they drive down the highway slower than the posted speed limit. They continue to drive in this fashion for days and even weeks afterwards. In other words, their driving behaviour substantially improves merely as the result of receiving one ticket delivered by a dispassionate person.

Patrick C. Friman, Ph.D., Boys Town Director of Clinical Services believes that this is a good model to use when disciplining your teenager. “A dispassionate delivery of consequences is all that is necessary,” he says. “Getting angry, raising your voice and taking a threatening stance not only is unnecessary, but actually jeopardises the success of the interaction, the discipline and your relationship with your teen. You merely need to specify the violation, what the penalty will be (‘the ticket’) and the time frame for the penalty.”

It is possible your teenager will become angry about being punished, which is fine unless he or she crosses the line (e.g. becomes aggressive). Dr Friman explains, “When children are disciplined, they are supposed to be upset. Discipline is an upsetting process. If they cross the line, it merely means a bigger penalty is probably in order, not that parents need to respond in kind”.

The dispassionate delivery of a consequence can produce powerful behaviour changes in everyone - even teenagers. The emotional delivery of consequences, on the other hand, can turn a simple teaching interaction into a major confrontation and a family fight. “When disciplining your child,” Dr Friman says, “I recommend modelling your behaviour after that of a dispassionate police officer”.

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