Red Corvette Discipline

Family Matters

What do you think about a parent saying, “I can't wait until he can drive. Then I'll have something to hang over his head to make him behave”?

I'd think, “Well, buy him a red corvette when he turns 16, and then you'll really have something to hang over his head.” Alas, no car — not even a red corvette — can make a parent a good disciplinarian. Nevertheless, out of frustration and feelings of helplessness with their teen, some parents hope for future leverage to finally be able to force a little cooperation. But such hope is not founded upon reality.

First, if a parent believes future privileges will foster discipline that “works,” what does that say about his authority now? Has he lost it, and if so, how much? The more authority a parent has let slip away, the less likely removing upcoming privileges, however valued by a child, will bring about much positive change. In fact, such discipline is likely to be a new source of conflict, as Mario may get really mad if Mom messes with something as precious as car keys. If, in his eyes, she had no past right to take away his stuff, why would she have any present right, especially now that he's older?

Second, even if A.J. does become more pleasant, what is his motive? Is it solely to get and keep driving status? If holding on to one big privilege is the driving force behind treating his parents better, what happens if and when he loses that privilege? What big stick is left to mom or dad? Healthy authority is never founded upon one or two consequences, no matter how powerful they might be.

Third, discipline teaches better when it removes more than just excess. Nowadays, many teens’ existence is a mini-Disney world. So, if Mickey gets mouthy and loses his Play Station, no big deal. That still leaves the computer, TV, stereo, four-wheeler, semi-annual cruise and beach home in Florida untouched. When a child is “disciplined” by cutting back 8% of a 97% excess, he will learn slowly. True, a car might be the newest big-ticket item. Nonetheless, it is still part of a long-standing pattern: taking away only part of way too much anyway.

Fourth, a vehicle is a privilege to be earned, not an entitlement of age — contrary to what most kids, even many parents, seem to believe. The foremost question to ask is: Has Ford shown himself mature enough to deserve wheels under him? If a parent is counting on a car to provide the ultimate discipline leverage, the question has been answered: Here is a youngster who is not ready to drive. There is no reason even to consider “having something to hang over his head” because he doesn't deserve having the something in the first place.

A closing thought: When a child is responsible with current privileges, then new ones can be contemplated. It is seldom wise to give new goodies and perks when the old ones haven't yet taught the lessons.

Dr. Ray Guarendi is a father of 10, psychologist and author.

He can be reached at