It’s hard to discipline a teen. They definitely have a mind of their own, and are usually pretty good at arguing. Here are some things to keep in mind based on what I’ve seen work with clients in my therapy practice.
1. The consequence should make them think about what they did and not about being frustrated with you. Many parents ground their kids or take away electronic devices whenever they feel their teenager needs discipline. The problem with doing this in every situation is that while your teen is home grounded on Saturday night, it’s unlikely they are thinking about what they did to be home. It’s much more likely they are resenting you for giving them that consequence.
2. Allow natural consequences whenever possible. Along the same vein as #1, allowing natural consequences teaches lessons. It also enables you as the parent to empathize with your teenager while they are suffering the consequence. Here’s an example: If your teenager gets a speeding ticket, have them pay for it, and pay for the increase in their insurance. You will get to say to compassionately say to them, “Yah, it really does suck to get a speeding ticket. I’m sorry you’re facing this.” Don’t ground your teenager for a speeding ticket. That doesn’t even make sense. Nobody ever put you on house arrest for a driving violation.
3. Follow through. I have seen many, many parents say they will have certain consequences if a given thing occurs, but not follow-through with it. This tells your adolescent that you can be bargained with. If they see a benefit in trying to negotiate with you, you’re just opening the door for talking back and other disrespectful behavior. If you’ve told them being home after curfew means they have to skip the next social event (a consequence that fits the crime), you have to stick to your guns. It’s hard to do when the next social event is a big deal that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s really tempting to alter your consequence in cases like that, but you just can’t if you want to be respected.
4. Stay calm. Once you start yelling they aren’t listening. Are you giving consequences out of an emotional reaction, or to teach a lesson? You really have to ask yourself this question and answer honestly. It should always be to teach a lesson and/or protect your teenager. Remember, you’re trying to raise a responsible adult and there are bound to be hiccups along the way. Hiccups are okay as long as you’re helping your teenager work towards being a functional adult. If you can stay calm they can still hear you.
5. Don’t just focus on the negative. Disciplining also means giving positive consequences when they’re due. While your child always has behavior you can correct, they are doing a lot of things right too. If you want them to keep doing those things, reward them for it. A reward can be as simple as telling them you appreciate that they are such a loyal friend. You don’t have to make a huge deal out of things and give them money, or take them out to a special dinner every time they do something good. You just have to acknowledge what you see. One of my favorite ways I’ve seen parents catch a teenager being good is when their child has followed curfew respectfully for quite a while, to tell the teen, “Next time you can stay out a half hour later. This isn’t a permanent change, but I just wanted to let you know I’ve noticed how responsible you’ve been.” That makes your teenager feel like a million bucks!
Yes, disciplining a teenager is a challenge. However, if you feel like you’ve tried and tried without success, consider whether you’re just trying the wrong things. When your teenager respects you because you know how to set up appropriate rules and limits, it leaves a lot more room for relationship and love between you.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT