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Disciplining an 18-Year-Old Girl

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My daughter turns 18 just before the start of her senior high school year. How do we handle discipline then? I guess most of it would be by contract then, but can you give me any ideas on setting up said contract and modifying it later?? What about consequences, i.e. skipping classes, etc.? I'd be truly grateful for any help you can give me. The big-18 seems to be looming, I want to prepare to save everybody's sanity. Thanks!

A: It seems like you are ready to put the finishing touches on the ark and get the animals moving two by two. Seriously, your daughter's turning "the big 18" need not be a time where you suddenly must develop detailed binding contracts with consequences addenda. It's true that kids do achieve a particular legal status when they turn 18 and I have heard more than one about-to-be 18-year-old tell their parents that when they turn 18 they "don't have any say over what I do".

If you have developed a mutually trusting, respectful relationship with your daughter and have conveyed and lived out your family's values by your own example, then you have done the best you could do to prepare your girl and yourselves for her eighteenth year and all years to come.

If your daughter has lived with receiving appropriate natural consequences for her actions then I see no need to change your philosophy of discipline. If a written contract is something that makes you and your daughter more comfortable then by all means mutually draft one. I would recommend, however, that the most important aspect of writing a contract should be in talking about how all of you plan to love and trust and respect one another in the coming year; the contract shouldn't be a document that parents hold over their kid's head like a parole agreement.

Enjoy the joys, chaos and growth during this important age and stage of your daughter's. Stop work on the ark and send the animals home! Thanks for writing.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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