It’s hard to discipline a teenager. They’re real people, they have concerns that are different from the ones I grew up with, they relate differently to parents, each other, teachers, and the world at large. One constant, however, is a need for courtesy within the family. Spawn has not always excelled at this, to state it mildly, and as he has grown older, it has been harder and harder to try to make the point to him that it is important to be nice to the people he lives with.
A couple of years ago, my husband and I and the two younger kids were watching “Ella Enchanted” on DVD on the TV. It was a family movie night, with popcorn and red Hawaiian punch, and we were enjoying the movie. Spawn had a couple of friends over, and they were in the basement watching Japanese anime and hooting over teenaged things. Spawn came up a couple of times in order to replenish their snack supplies, and each and every time, stuck his head into the family room and made some completely uncalled for snarky remark. My temper frayed, and so did my spouse’s. Bunny and Doodle were pretty disgusted, too.
Our movie ended, we started clearing debris, and a few minutes later Spawn’s movie ended, too. He and his friends came upstairs, and he made some more snarky remarks and then told us he was going to drive them home. We pulled him aside, and privately told him that we didn’t appreciate the snarky remarks, and that we’d like him not to do that again. His temper exploded, and he made a huge deal out of being spoken to. There was no way his friends couldn’t have heard his yelling or stomping, and that pretty much snapped my temper, and my spouse’s as well.
Hubs and I looked at each other and decided that maybe it was time for some creative parenting. We told Spawn that while he was returning his tape to the video store, he could return “Ella Enchanted” as well. Both tapes were going to be a day late, so we knew there’d be some money due. He was going to drop off the tapes and then his friends, and so we gave him a tube sock full of nickels to pay for the tapes. We put in another 10 pounds of nickels and told him to pick up a pizza while he was out. As his friends were rolling on the floor in laughter, and Spawn stood there with a stunned look on his face, we advised him that he was to stop off at the video store first, and, in company with his friends, make a point of telling the clerk there that he “and his homies really enjoyed ‘Ella Enchanted’,” as he paid the late fees in tube sock nickels. We advised the homies that we’d like them to call when they did get home and verify that our instructions had been carried out.
There was no way out for Spawn. His friends thought this was the funniest thing they’d ever heard of, and they were eager to be a part of it. So, fully alert to his need to maintain his honor with his friends and not get in any more trouble with his parents, Spawn manfully clutched his tube sock full of nickels and sallied forth. We heard from his still-snickering friends that he had, indeed, told the video store clerk that he and his homies enjoyed “Ella”, and then he counted out nickels from his tube sock for the late fees. He went on to the Pizza Hut and made the counter girl’s evening by getting into the spirit of the thing and buying a pizza with sock nickels. She asked him why he was doing that, and he told her the whole story, and she thought it was a riot, too.
Spawn arrived home, a lightened tube sock in one hand, and a pizza in the other, with a smile on his face. He apologized for being snarky and for exploding, and he said that we had given him a story he could tell to all his friends in school on Monday morning. We asked if he thought he’d make it necessary for us to send him out with another sock full o’nickels at some point, and he said no.
He’s been pretty good about holding back on the snark ever since. I don’t know if it was good parenting or famously bad, but it does seem to have worked.