Expert: Upset at teen (as in judge video)? Step back, not toward
A YouTube video featuring a Texas judge repeatedly striking his 16-year-old daughter with a leather belt has gone viral on the Internet this week — racking up 2.4 million views since it was posted Oct. 27, and eliciting angry reactions from people around the world.
The video was posted by Hillary Adams, the girl being beaten in the 7-year-old video. Adams is now 23. In a note accompanying the video on YouTube, she says that her father -- Aransas Judge William Adams -- was hitting her because she had been illegally downloading games and music.
It is generally accepted by the psychological community that physically punishing a kid, especially a teenager, is almost never a good idea. But what do you do when your teen is engaging in illegal, or dangerous, or infuriating, activities -- and the positive parenting you'd like to practice has not changed the behavior?
Rohini Ross is a licensed family and marriage therapist, who works as a parent coach at Vive, an organization that helps families of adolescents and young adults who are having social and behavioral challenges.
We asked her how parents can change their child's behavior, without turning to the belt. Here's an edited transcript of that exchange:
Many parents can probably relate to the feelings of rage the father exhibited in the video, even if they would never dream of taking up a belt. What should parents be aware of when they start feeling this way?
One of the things we do with parents at Vive is look at when they get outside of their window of stress tolerance. When we get overstressed, our thinking gets distorted. We become all or nothing, we see the world in black-and-white, and we go into survival mode. The behavior we exhibit then is not what we would do when we are in a calm, grounded space. Self-awareness is key.
Does it ever make sense to hit a teenager? Or scream? What if nothing else you've tried works?
When we get to that place, we are feeling out of control ourselves. We want there to be a change, and violence is what we think might make a difference. But what we find is that type of punishment is not really going to get sustainable change.
It may produce some short-term results because the child is afraid, but ultimately it will reinforce bad behaviors -- make them better liars, better at hiding.
And that's not just with hitting; that's with other kinds of punitive consequences that are being used to try to create change.
So what can parents do to get a kid to stop acting a certain way?
Figure out how to help them get their deeper needs met. We can't be there all the time for them, and the punitive approach only works when we are there.
For example, if they do drugs they are probably feeling anxious, or feel like they don't belong. When they themselves are feeling good, they behave like good kids. They may still be impulsive and do crazy things, but we all make mistakes.
To be clear though, I'm not against consequences and boundaries, I'm just saying don't use that as the only way.
Final question: You're ready to throttle your kid -- blinded with anger -- what do you do?
Take care of yourself first. Get yourself grounded -- it could be taking a few deep breaths, it could be walking around the block -- whatever it takes to help you get your nervous system to calm down and your brain to get back online.
But keep in mind, your child may not be ready at that point -- he or she may still be in an emotionally reactive place. You are going to get the best results when there are two people who are able to hear themselves and each other. That's when problem-solving can happen.
-- Deborah Netburn
Image: Most parents wouldn't think of using a belt to discipline a teen, but a parenting expert says all punitive punishments have the potential to make bad behavior worse. Credit: Handout art.