I have a confession to make. I’m terrible at disciplining my children.

It’s not that I don’t believe they need discipline (because they sometimes do). I’m just really bad at enforcing it.

To be fair, my children — Abbey, 16, and Jaiden, 14 — don’t really show much behavior that requires excessive punishments. In fact, considering their ages — and highly unbalanced hormones — I’d say they are relatively well-behaved.

Of course, every now and then they do cross the line. No, I’m not talking about the occasional eye-roll or even grumpy attitude; I’m referring to moments of out-and-out parental defiance.

Thankfully those moments really are few and far between, but they do happen — and that's where my problem is. I don’t always know how to handle it when it finally does get to that point.

I know if I do nothing, the situation will never get better — and may even worsen. But since I haven’t seen much of a need for it until now, I really don’t know where to even start.

My problem isn't helped by the fact that when I was their age I really never got into trouble. This could have been because I was my parents’ fourth child or because they had other pressing issues to tend to at the time. Either way, by the time I started high school, rules and other forms of discipline were pretty much nonexistent. So I saw no reason to act out because there was very little I wasn’t allowed to do. My mother simply wanted to know where I was going, who I was going with and when I’d be home. Beyond that, she didn’t ask a lot of questions. She trusted me — and I never gave her a reason to question that trust.

I’ve come to mirror that same mentality while raising my children — to a point.

I know I have to learn to trust them, and trust I’ve done well raising them. But I know my kids aren’t any more perfect than I was at their age — and I am under no such illusion they ever have been. Snippy attitudes and sideways sneers do not go unnoticed and are quickly brought to their attention as unnecessary.

I do remember what it’s like to be a teenager, though. And I know it isn’t always easy.

Teens must leave behind the care-free existence they once enjoyed in their younger years — almost suddenly it seems. Homework is more difficult and more excessive, parents start to expect a higher level of responsibility around the house and, of course, hormones are out of control.

It’s a tough time.

I’ve always tried to offer my kids a bit of grace when they’re having an off day — probably more than I should at times if you ask my boyfriend, Tony — as a way of showing them I understand the difficulty this stage can bring. I always promised I would do things differently — better — than my parents did. I wanted to be more attentive, more involved and generally just know more about what was going in my kids’ lives. And although I’d say I’ve done well on that promise, I didn’t realize how much more difficult it would be to discipline them for unacceptable behavior.

I know I haven't seen the last of the attitudes, and there's sure to be more well-deserved punishments I'll have to enforce. I just have to remind myself how important it is to see these punishments through — even if I’m not quite sure how to navigate what all that may entail.

Parents: How do you discipline your teens? What works for you? What doesn't?


Amanda Smith, a working mom of two children, writes weekly for momaha.com. Read more from Amanda »

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