A well-known pastor, Creflo Dollar, was recently arrested on charges that he allegedly choked and punched his 15-year-old daughter. That was his daughter's side of the story. He claims that he had to restrain his daughter after she hit him first. I was inspired to write this post not by the actual story I read, but by the commentaries.
A significant number of commentators took to Mr. Dollar's side in the incident, lamenting how unfair it was that the authorities intervened in his disciplining of his child. Heck, even those who were critical of him insinuated that he had spoiled his daughter with too much technology and money.
My take is that it's sad the conflict between the father and his 15-year-old daughter deteriorated to the point that it did. Apparently, it all started when she attempted to attend a party and the father refused. I can certainly understand why on any given day, a parent might say no to his or her teen attending a party. However, if in three years we expect this 15-year-old to be mature enough to go to college or get a job and reside on her own, what sense does beating her make?
In a recent warmongering speech that led up to renewed fighting between the North and South Sudanese, Omar Al Bashir, the current president of Sudan, mocked the Southern Sudanese by reciting a part of an old pro-slavery poem. Following his claims that the government of South Sudan are insects, Bashir quoted the part of the poem where the author talks about taking a stick to teach an unruly slave his "place."
One has to wonder where us parents, particularly us of Black African decent, learned that the only way to get through to our more stubborn children is through a thorough beat down. Think about it: Beating is an alleged nonlethal technique police officers use in an attempt subdue suspects and protesters. (Granted, these days they have tasers).
Is this how we want our children to become? Weak and docile in response to authority figures? As challenging as the standards of living are for us all, a young person who leaves home for the first time, without adequate experience in exercising the courage to question authority and exercise personal responsibility, is simply waiting to become someone's doormat.
Some parents reading this are probably experiencing feelings of frustration. When I share my thoughts and feelings with parents as to why they shouldn't lay hands on their teens, one question I often get is: "So what do you do when you have a teen who refuses to do what he or she is told?"
For starters, keeping in mind that you don't want to raise a pushover for a teen, you should first commit to not being forceful about the disagreement, but adhering to healthy boundaries. This means that rather than force your teen to do your bidding, you make a valid attempt to understand your teen. If you are still in disagreement, you set into motion natural and logical consequences for your teenager's choices.
Take this scenario:
Dad: "Where are you going?"
Daughter: "A party."
Dad: "What type of a party is it?"
Daughter: "You are too old to understand, Dad"
Dad: "What's that supposed to mean?"
Daughter: "It means, Dad, you are invading my privacy and I am not a little girl anymore."
Dad: "I understand you feel that I am invading your privacy and that you are older now. But being older doesn't make you invincible."
Daughter: "What's that supposed to mean?"
Dad: "As your father, I need to make sure that you are not putting yourself in an unsafe environment.”
Daughter: "Bye Dad." (She begins walking toward the door.)
Dad: "Where are you going?"
Daughter: "I already told you."
Dad: "If you insist on leaving this house without telling me where you are going, then there are a few things you should know. You do not have permission to use any of our cars, or I will have you arrested for theft."
Daughter: "Fine, I will have my friend pick me up."
Dad: "l too shall wait for your friend, so I can follow you both to the party."
Dad: "Once I get to the party, if I notice any alcohol or drugs, I will introduce myself to everyone there as your father and I will give the party-goers the option of leaving the premises or explaining themselves to the police."
At this point, your child should be more than willing to speak and reason with you. If as a parent you find yourself experiencing anger and frustration because your teen has decided to give you the silent treatment for being firm on your boundaries, please be advised that this is normal.
Given that the prefrontal cortex does not become fully developed until the mid-twenties, it's natural for teenagers to be a little irrational in their thought process and decision making. Quite often, parents feel regarded as villains for setting firm and healthy boundaries with their teens.
Keep in mind that our parents went through the same maddening process, and so will every generation of parents until the end of mankind. It's tempting to change tactics and become authoritative, but don't lose sight of the bigger picture.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my argument or would you like to express a dissenting opinion? Either way, your appropriate comments are always welcome.
Ugo Uche is a psychotherapist based in Tucson Arizona. He's the author of Anger Management 101 —Taming the Beast Within.