Self-discipline Mindset

Enabling the Wrestle with Reality and the Discovery of Inner Strength

Self-Discipline Mindset: Refrain from micromanaging the teen’s decision-making, while still maintaining an awareness of behavior and a mentoring relationship. The focus is on empowering the teen to feel the weight of personal choices and consequences as well as the burden of self-motivation required to proactively change or improve the future.

Primary window of opportunity:

  • ages 11-16

  • when a teen feels a strong awareness of personal identity and therefore has a strong natural drive to develop Self outside of family

  • when a teen instinctively takes control over own decisions or begins to deeply resent being controlled by parents

What's NEW in this stage?

  • Teen becomes responsible for decision-making, natural consequences, AND motivation

  • Teen understands that parent is still watching and will continue to mentor

  • Parent observes, seeks connection, and gives wise counsel without taking control over decision-making or motivation to act

Primary Goal: Self-discipline

During this turbulent, but talent-seeking time, the primary goal is to allow and inspire--as opposed to coerce--self motivation because an adolescent is naturally aware of and seeking personal success.

Due to a process called pruning, "Use it or Lose it!" is the name of the game during the teen years. As puberty sets in, the brain, especially in the prefrontal cortex region (PFC), begins a massive weeding out process that lasts throughout the teen years to remove unused brain cells and make room for increased efficiency of cells that are needed. For example, if your child didn't grow up learning Japanese, the cells ready to understand and make those sounds are going to die and make room for whatever language your child does speak. He can still learn Japanese later, but he'll have to put some serious conscious work into it and his accent probably won't sound very authentic. The same thing is happening in the PFC where emotional regulation and wisdom occur. So now is the time for your teen to really put his budding PFC to work.

This brain construction coupled with increased adrenaline and various hormones often causes a decay in moral reasoning for a time. Self-awareness and emotional circuits can dominate thinking, resulting in adolescent behaviors centered around social acceptance and impulsive decision-making. But this self-awareness--unlike his toddler years--is also your parenting ticket to coaching your child towards wiser choices.

During puberty, your child’s brain is using past experiences and present challenges to wire itself for future independence. Your child will naturally want and need more time and space away from you and even more freedom to experiment with personal decisions. By using her own PFC during these years to self-reflect on defeat and learn balance, she will not only strengthen the neurons that will give her an advantage in life-long natural regulation, but she will avoid the tragedy of having her brain mistakenly prune away PFC neurons that she's really going to need when she's on her own in a few years. Yes, micromanaging your teen is a huge parenting mistake that can result in pruning away neurons responsible for wisdom because the brain gets tricked into assuming it doesn't need to be the one making decisions.

The challenge is that major emotional and behavioral problems often surface during these years because small, moment-to-moment defense mechanisms from earlier years turn into intentionally repeated bouts of rebellion as a heightened hormonal response system and a challenging environment create the perfect storm. However, teenagers who have worked their way up the Accountability Pyramid will have a higher functioning prefrontal cortex from the gate and thus have an advantage throughout this turbulent time. More importantly, when these pyramid teens are truly struggling on their own, they are much more likely to instinctively turn to parents or other trusted adults for help because gaining trust in adults has been their pattern since infancy. And parents will instinctively know--because of so many years of being “present” with their child--what kind of support to give to their budding independent child.

To guide your child during the Self-discipline stage, continue a mentoring relationship with your child, but intentionally take a mindful step back compared to the Accountability stage. Sincerely warn and inspire your child to choose maturity because it will increase future happiness. If you child doesn't pay attention to you, your timing might be off (mood swings are many during these years) or your child may need feel more genuine trust in your intentions so find moments to use the Attachment and Following Mindsets to increase trust even at this age. But, ultimately, you'll need to practice accepting and respecting your child’s freedom to take responsibility for personal change…or not. Yes the risk is high, but so is the reward.

Personal Development for Parent: Acceptance

Teens are both strong and very vulnerable. They are wired to learn and enhance talents faster than most adults can, but they are also hyper-aware of their failures and how others perceive them. Therefore, as you let your teen take the reins of her own decision-making and use of time, know that you don't need to stand as her judge. She has plenty of peers judging her, and she's making conclusions about herself and her abilities more than you realize. What she really needs is someone in her corner cheering her on and building her confidence with simple acceptance.

Though it may be difficult--because your teen certainly won't be a perfect adult (but neither are you!)--accept his attempts to become an adult. In other words, being mindful during these years means practicing acceptance of the present moment more than ever before. Yes, you've had to do this all along through earlier stages, but now it's critical that you prove your ability to accept people for who they are without jumping in and trying to control or fix them. As you do, your teen will not only trust you more, but he will also feel a warmth in his heart that will slowly increase his ability to use his PFC. Your empathy for him will increase his empathy for himself and give him the courage to admit his mistakes and keep trying. As you acknowledge his strengths and mindfully build his confidence about his weaknesses, your acceptance of who he is now will also give him empathy for others around him, which will influence his choices as he tries to find his place in the world and muster up the self-motivation to reach for his potential.

Of course your teen will test you. The journey will not be perfectly smooth. Remember you are not accepting bad behaviors as good, you are merely accepting that your teen is on a journey, isn't perfect yet, and needs to learn by her own experience rather than parental control. But again, the mindful work you do on yourself during these years will not disappoint you or your child. And in the end, your teen will thank you for your love and support from the bottom of his or her heart.

Mode of Discipline: Mentor

Discipline by taking a step back and allowing your teen to experience the thrill and defeat of personal government.

Continue a positive mentoring relationship with your child. Meet together often to talk through what's next in her life and listen to her aspirations. Expect your child to set personal goals and expectations without feeling like you are manipulating her choices with unnatural rewards and punishments. In order to establish a stronger PFC, she will need to use it to think independently during her teen years. This includes managing her own schedule and monitoring her own progress without feeling overly accountable to you. This sounds frightening to many parents, but ultimately you want to transition your child during the Self-discipline stage towards feeling accountable primarily to herself. After all, she is the one who has to navigate her world almost completely without you very soon. In the process she will become intimately aware of her own weaknesses and strengths and thus begin to discover who she is and how to become who she wants to be.

So no need to micro-manage schoolwork, hygiene, or any other basic routines during the Self-discipline mindset. Your child needs to experience internal motivation based on real-world consequences, rather than merely learning to further cope with parental preferences.

Do set the expectation with your child that you will maintain a basic awareness of his progress in various aspect of his life, but you will not loom over his shoulder. Also ask your child for a regular review of his progress. Enjoy hearing your child report to you. Even if the issue is an unresolved concern, be grateful that your child is open and honest with you. Accept his progress as is and then be comfortable sharing sound advice for him to consider. Offer him support and give him the freedom to decide how much and what support he needs.

Overall, continue to allow natural consequences to govern your child's behavior. If disciplinary action is necessary, most will happen naturally as your child lives in a community that is governed by social expectations and laws. Do not protect your child from natural consequences, including those that can come from school officials, law enforcement, or ecclesiastical leaders.

Benefits for Teen: Self-discovery

Self-discovery is the biggest benefit of the Self-discipline stage. Teens get to find out for themselves who they really are. Through the ups and downs of the freedom to choose they will witness personal weaknesses and gain life-long skills.

A few common benefits that many teens look forward to include attending youth-centered activities and overnight camps, setting a personalized schedule, developing talents, exploring ways to earn and spend money, learning to drive, and creating loyal friendships.