One of the most common of complaints from today’s parents is “we’ve tried everything.” They refer, of course, to having tried numerous approaches to various long-standing behavior problems, all with no success. In many cases, the problems in question have worsened, as if they have developed resistance over time to any and all forms of discipline.
When I talk at any length to these parents, however, I almost invariably find they have not tried approaches that are not “psychologically correct,” meaning they have limited themselves to imposing minor consequences for short periods of time. An example would be depriving a persistently disrespectful and disobedient child of television for a week. A minority of these beleaguered parents are able to puff themselves up enough to impose a major consequence for a short period of time—as in depriving an alcohol-prone teen of his or her car for one entire two-day weekend. But then a major consequence suffered for only a short period of time is actually a minor consequence.
I describe consequences of the aforementioned sort as “trying to stop a charging elephant with a flyswatter.” They do not work because they amount to nothing more than minor inconveniences to said children, and when a problem is major, minor will not suffice. In fact, minor consequences used repeatedly virtually guarantee that behavior problems will worsen over time.
The parents in question are a paradox in that they complain loudly about said problems but have great difficulty doing what is necessary to stop them. They have great difficulty, in other words, making their children greatly unhappy and keeping them in that state until permanent memories set in mental concrete.
To stop a charging elephant, one must use artillery. Likewise, to stop charging-elephant-size misbehavior and keep it stopped, one must use artillery-size consequences that create permanent memories of a highly negative sort.
So, returning to the examples given above, I would recommend that the persistently disrespectful and disobedient child be deprived of anything that exceeds basic necessity until (a) his or her delinquency completely disappears and (b) he or she has managed 30, maybe even 45, straight days of complete respect and obedience. And I would recommend that the parents of said alcohol-prone teen confiscate the child’s car and cell phone with this announcement: “Beloved child of ours who cannot seem to have fun without consuming alcohol, you will get these back when you have been alcohol-free for six months, with the understanding that if there is a relapse during or after the next six months, they will be sold and never replaced by us.”
Sixty years ago, before parents began listening to professional parenting experts (such as yours truly), discipline of the above sort was referred to as “lowering the boom.” The resulting BOOM! was very corrective.