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To Discipline or Not, That is the Question

by Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch


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Dear Rabbi Schonbuch,

I have a 15-year-old teenager daughter with whom I just got into a screaming match because she didn’t do the dishes. She’s often very rude to me and my husband. Asking her to behave better in the house is like pulling teeth. What should we do?

Sincerely, B.F., Toronto

Dear Parents,

Picture this scenario: you come home after work to a messy house; dinner is still not on the stove; and your 15-year-old daughter was caught setting fire to a shop-room table in school today and was suspended for the rest of the week. Worse, she is angry at you for forgetting to pick up the dress she needs for a wedding tonight. But instead of reminding you politely, she digs into you in the most rude and demanding way possible.

Many parents might lose their tempers and yell at their kids. At the same time, they’re wondering how they will punish their children for being so rotten.

Discipline has never been simple. From time immemorial, parents have puzzled over how to discipline their children. Although there are different ways to go, two distinct approaches have dominated parenting techniques for the last 40 years: free love versus tough love. The free love movement says we need to give our children the utmost leeway to behave without consequences; whereas, tough love advocates say we need to define stricter borders and limit our children's behavior—or else.

I suggest that parents take a third approach to discipline. According to the principles of Relationship Theory that I outline in my book, At Risk - Never Beyond Reach, discipline needs to be evaluated in terms of the overall relationship. If parents have invested time and energy deepening the emotional bonds with their teenagers, they will have the emotional equity needed for discipline to work and be lovingly accepted.

For discipline to work, parents need to constantly invest in their teenagers’ emotional bank accounts: developing the relationships and making emotional deposits daily. Such deposits include spending quality time together, highlighting teens’ good points, and boosting their self worth.

The opposite is also true. Every time parents harshly criticize or berate their teenagers, they are actually making withdrawals from their teens’ emotional savings’ accounts. Parents, therefore, need to constantly invest in their relationships in order to have the emotional collateral needed to make a difference.


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Life Cycle » Marriage » Family Life

1. A Jerusalemite exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the 1st Temple. He interprets dreams, gives accounts of apocalyptic visions, and is divinely delivered from a den of lions. 2. One of the 24 Books of the Bible, which describes the events of Daniel's life.