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Disciplining kids: Parents spark debate by banishing teen to tent

New Mexico teen banished to a tent in the backyard after stealing
WATCH ABOVE: Adam Boggus’ parents have sparked a parenting debate with their unusual form of discipline. Tessa Mentus reports.

What do you do with a 16-year-old who keeps stealing stuff? A New Mexico couple’s idea of discipline — much to the chagrin of some — is to make the teen spend his days in a tent.

Adam Boggus has to finish five novels and write book reports on them before the punishment is lifted. He’s on Day 39 of his backyard banishment, with three books down.

Despite the sometimes-sweltering temperatures (June is the state’s hottest month — when average highs can reach 35°C), he seems to be in pretty good spirits. But neighbours are apparently so appalled by what the parents are doing they’ve called police. 

READ MORE: Experts weigh in on parents who get shamed for giving kids freedom

Officers have paid three visits to the home over the past month. Child services has also dropped by.

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Neither found anything wrong with the situation.

In addition to his tent time, the teen goes to a nearby summer camp for a few hours each day. He’s allowed back inside to eat meals, use the bathroom and sleep every night (because of snakes and tarantulas).

“If I get thirsty, I drink water from the hose, and if it’s really hot, I can hose myself down, but I’ve only had to do that twice,” he told PEOPLE.

In an interview with TODAY, Adam’s dad Jacob Boggus said he’s just trying to teach his son a lesson. The teen has had a problem with stealing since kindergarten.

His parents warned him last year that if the behaviour continued, he’d had to live in the family’s tent. They delivered on that promise when he recently swiped his sister’s iPod.

And it seems to have worked. He’s promised not to steal again, saying he’s afraid of facing the same consequence.

Police have actually praised the parents, saying they prefer it to seeing him become a criminal.

What does a discipline expert say?

“It is a little bizarre,” said Vancouver-based parenting author and speaker Kathy Lynn.

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In this case, she thinks taking the child to counselling to figure out what’s at the root of the theft issue would’ve been a better solution.

While she’s glad the punishment at least wasn’t physical, Lynn believes there are better ways to handle a misbehaving teen.

She explains that every time you discipline children it should ideally relate in some way to what they did wrong.

How to properly discipline a child

So for example, if they don’t lock up their bike properly they might lose access to it for a certain amount of time. They can then learn there’s a connection between what they did wrong and the consequence.

Taking away your child’s electronics (a popular last resort with parents) should only be done if their misbehaviour is linked to it, she said — like if they’re not doing their homework because of it.

Otherwise, you’re just “making the child suffer.”

“The child gets distracted by the fact that they’re so mad at you for taking away their iPod or their phone or whatever that they don’t even think about what the reason is.”

WATCH: Dos and don’ts of doling out discipline

Dos and don’ts of doling out discipline
Dos and don’ts of doling out discipline

You’re also going to make it way easier for yourself if you dole out the discipline from the time they’re a toddler.

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“If right from the beginning the kids are learning there’s a connection between the choices they make and what happens to them, they start to think it through.”

“We’re basically teaching them to do reasonable problem solving.”

What parents often do, though, is misuse “time outs,” according to Lynn. She isn’t a fan of sending little ones to a corner for three minutes, and making it seem like “going to jail.”

“They’re way too young to understand that.”

Lynn encourages “time ins” instead, which entails keeping misbehaving youngsters by their parents’ side. She suggests saying: “You’re really getting out of control, I need you to come sit with me for a few minutes and calm down.”

WATCH: Giving a time-out may cause the same anxiety in a child as a spanking, one report suggested. Experts explain the “time-in” alternative. 

As kids get older, you can say: “You’re out of control. I need you to decide somewhere where you can go to calm down and come back when you’re ready to play.”

“And don’t send them to a specific place. They can sit at the bottom of the stairs as long as they’re calming down.”

It’s important to let kids feel like they have a choice, Lynn stresses.

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For parents just at their wit’s end, Lynn recommends checking out the “Parents Together” support group at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.