Self-Discipline Example #2

Parental Neutrality

You can, but should you?

The teen years are a complex time. Discipline should not be black and white. Rather, more than ever, it takes careful mindfulness to discern which disciplinary mindset to use in each moment during these delicate years. My best piece of advice is to keep seeking for your own peaceful heart and then follow it. You know your child best and if you feel at peace, then you’ll know how much weight your child's brain should carry in a given situation in order to make progress.

That said, let’s remember that the teen brain goes through a massive synaptic pruning process that eliminates unused brain cells to create room for useful connections to grow in speed and strength. This pruning process isn’t new. For years, your child’s brain has been shedding unnecessary brain cells--like the ones that would’ve let them soak in an additional language like they were natives.

But guess which area of the brain becomes the primary construction zone for pruning and increased efficiency during the teen years? Yup. The prefrontal cortex. And how does the brain decide what to prune away? @drdansiegel says, “Use it or lose it.” Basically, the brain strengthens the cells that get used and eliminates the cells that are sitting on the sidelines.

Knowing this, we intentionally shift as much decision-making power as is safely possible to our teens to ensure that THEIR prefrontal cortex--not ours--gets a big workout before synaptic pruning cuts their executive skills from the team.

Again, teen years aren’t black and white. But it’s been very helpful for us to adjust our disciplinary mindset away from parental control and in favor of encouraging our teens to think wisely for themselves.

So our basic response to:

  • Can I go to my friend’s house?

  • Can I buy that dress?

  • Can I stay until after midnight?

  • Can I skip church today?

  • Can I watch that movie?

is “You can, but let’s talk about if you should. Then you decide.”

We find that if we are attentive, informative, and compassionate with our teens as we hand over the power to decide, their prefrontal cortex gains critical experience that--despite common teen mistakes--is highly valuable.

Which decisions would help your teen’s PFC grow?