Teen discipline isn’t about punishment. Rather, disciplining teenagers is about making sure that they stay safe and teaching them how to choose healthy behaviors. Additionally, positive teenage discipline strategies help maintain a harmonious family environment.
In teens, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-regulation, is underdeveloped. Therefore, they have less control over their impulses than adults do. Consequently, this can lead to poor decisions, behavioral addictions, and teenage risk behaviors.
In other words, teens don’t have the wisdom or skills yet to make their own decisions about every aspect of their lives. That’s where parents come in. Parents can work with teens to establish clear rules and agreed-upon consequences when rules are broken. Ultimately, loving but firm teen discipline supports adolescent mental health.
- Teen discipline is most effective when parents respect teens’ opinions and thoughts.
- Parents and teens can agree on house rules that reflect their shared values as a family.
- There are three types of consequences for teens: natural consequences, loss of privileges, and reparations.
- Positive teen discipline strategies result in better self-discipline, emotional regulation, and self-esteem.
The Relational Groundwork for Teen Discipline
When considering how to discipline a teenager, parents need to look at their overall relationship with their children. Effective teenage discipline strategies are based on open communication, trust, and unconditional love. In order for teen discipline to work, communication and negotiation are necessary.
To begin with, parents and teens work well together when they respect each other’s thoughts and opinions. Moreover, children need to feel accepted and loved no matter what. Therefore, parents must make it clear that it’s okay to make mistakes, starting when they are a young child and continuing into adolescence.
Furthermore, the goal of discipline is not making teens behave the ways parents want them to. Rather, disciplining teenagers is about helping them learn life skills, emotional self-regulation, and appropriate behavior.
Teen Discipline and Parenting Styles
Parents can use various approaches to teen discipline. Two common types of parenting styles are authoritarian and authoritative. Specifically, while the words “authoritarian” and “authoritative” are similar, authoritarian parenting is very different from authoritative parenting.
Authoritarian parents typically choose punishment vs. discipline. Specifically, they value obedience and believe that children are naturally strong-willed and self-indulgent. Thus, they use punishment as a way to break the will of the child. Hence, teens don’t have the opportunity to learn self-discipline or self-regulation. As a result, teens with authoritarian parents tend to be depressed and have lower self-esteem than those with authoritative parents.
In one study, researchers looked parents who used psychological manipulation to control their teens’ behavior—including invoking feelings of guilt, withdrawing love, fostering anxiety, or other manipulative tactics. They found that this kind of psychological pressure affected teens’ ability to be independent and close in relationships even years later as young adults.
Authoritative parents, on the other hand, set appropriate limits and clear rules, and also enforce consequences for teens. However, they communicate openly with their teens and are willing to negotiate. Furthermore, they respect their child’s rights and opinions. Therefore, teens with authoritative parents feel supported but not suppressed. According to a 2014 review study, the vast majority of research has found the authoritative parenting style to be a consistent predictor of healthy relationships between parents and children. And it prepares teens to be independent and make good decisions.
How to Discipline a Teenager
Try these discipline strategies to avoid a power struggle with your teen.
#1: Make Clear Rules That Reflect Your Values
To establish discipline for teens, parents need to create limits and consequences for teens, and find ways to compassionately enforce those expectations and boundaries. The first step is getting clear on your values as a family. A family’s belief system and set of values will determine what boundaries are set for a teen, whether it’s around dating or household chores. Focus on the important areas: how parents expect their teen (and everyone in the family) to treat each other and to conduct themselves outside the home.
Moreover, it’s essential to involve teens in making clear rules that support those values. For example, to support a value of kindness and compassion toward each other, families might set a guideline that there will be no name-calling, yelling, or slamming doors in the house. To support the value of ongoing communication among family members, parents might decide that the whole family needs to eat dinner together at least three times a week.
#2 Take Your Teen’s Opinions Into Account
Additionally, teens’ opinions and desires should be acknowledged. It’s critical for children to feel understood and validated. When parents make house rules, they need to take into account the children’s desires and opinions. If the parents don’t agree with them, they still need to honor teen’s feelings before they explain why this doesn’t work for the family as a whole.
In addition, parents need to abide by the same house rules that teens do when it comes to general behavior. Therefore, if the house rules call for no temper tantrums, yelling, or phone use at meals, for example, both parents and teens need to stick to those guidelines.
#3: Set Appropriate Consequences for Teens
The next step is to establish the consequences for times when a teen chooses to ignore the limits. Moreover, parents and teens need to agree in advance about these consequences.
Together, parents and teens can set age-appropriate consequences that will go into effect if the rules are broken. For example, consequences might be an early curfew, getting grounded, or losing the use of the family car. Therefore, teens have the choice to respect or reject the rules, but they also know that rejection will lead to appropriate consequences. As a result, when they break a rule, they know that they’re choosing to accept the consequences.
Furthermore, parents and teens can consider drafting a written agreement so they’re both on the same page. And negotiation is acceptable if both parties feel there is room for compromise. In addition, parents should avoid power struggles at all costs. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has established what they call the SANE guidelines, to help parents establish appropriate consequences when adolescents break rules.
Small consequences are better
Avoid consequences that punish you (the parent)
3 Types of Consequences for Teenagers
Here are three types of consequences that can help teens learn to make healthy and appropriate choices.
Natural consequences happen when a teen’s actions and behaviors lead to negative consequences, without interference from parents. In other words, natural consequences are about learning from our mistakes.
For example, when a teen fails to study for a test, they might not do well on it. Therefore, a bad grade could be considered a natural consequence.
But sometimes teens need support to overcome natural consequences. Therefore, parents need to think about whether intervening is important. Specifically, a teen that has trouble studying might need a tutor or help establishing a study schedule. But nagging a teen to study is not the solution.
However, when it comes to drug and alcohol use, natural consequences are not acceptable. Parents should never allow a teen to experiment with alcohol or substance use in the hopes that they will get sick and therefore learn not to do it again.
Loss of Privileges
Parents and teens can also decide on logical consequences for failing to follow the rules. Specifically, a logical consequence is one that directly addresses the rule that has been broken. Often, this means taking away a privilege that is related to that rule.
For example, if a teen misses curfew, staying home the next night would be a logical consequence. Moreover, if a teen fails to do their homework because they’re on their cellphone all night, setting boundaries around phone use would be a logical consequence.
As a result, logical consequences need to have meaning for a teen. Therefore, parents should choose logical consequences that will inspire teens to stick to the rules.
Moreover, teens need a way to earn back their privileges. Specifically, parents can create clear steps around what teens need to do to get those privileges back. For example, if they do their homework three nights in a row, they can earn back their phone time.
Reparations and restitution involve finding ways to make a situation better after a teen has broken a rule and violated parents’ trust. Therefore, this type of consequence is directly related to the rule that was broken. Thus, reparations and restitution are logical consequences that involve taking action rather than losing privileges.
For example, if a teen gets angry and breaks something in the house, they repair the damage by literally repairing or replacing the broken object. If a teen drives recklessly and gets a speeding ticket, the reparation would be paying for the ticket, even if they need to do so over time. As a result, teens learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Reparations include repairing relationships that are damaged by teen behavior. For example, if a teen says something hurtful to their younger sibling, reparations involve apologizing and doing an activity together.
#4: Communication Is Key
An ongoing, meaningful connection between kids and parents is one of the most powerful factors in supporting teen mental and physical health. Parents need to stay involved and know what their kids are doing. For example, they should be aware of where their teens are going, who they’re with, and when they will be home.
Ultimately, although teenagers tend to protest limitations, they want to know that their parents care about what they’re doing. Furthermore, parents should talk to their teens about important issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behaviors, smoking, and other dangerous behaviors. Read our tips for talking with teens.
#5: Keep Your Sense of Humor
Enforcing rules and consequences can feel like a weighty task. Teens can get angry and moody in reaction to rules and consequences. However, staying cheerful, light, and positive makes a huge difference for parents’ state of mind. Moreover, teens might lighten up, too, when they see that their parents aren’t upset, conflicted, or angry themselves.
#6: Appreciate Them When They Stay on Track
Offer praise and recognition when your teen sticks to the agreements you’ve made. For example, a parent might say, “Thank you, I appreciate you coming home on time from your friend’s house.” Thus, parents make it clear that they noticed and care about their adolescent’s actions. As a result, they reinforce positive behaviors and positive ways of connecting.
#7: Remain Clear and Consistent
Teens tend to be good at manipulating their parents, and spotting any loophole or sign of weakness. Therefore, parents need to stay consistent and avoid make exceptions to the rule unless they have an extremely good reason.
Moreover, in co-parenting situations (whether parents live separately or in the same household), both parents need to be on the same page. Otherwise, teens might attempt to play parents against each other. Or they might choose to always go to the more permissive parent to ask for exceptions.
#8: Be Understanding and Compassionate
Even though parents and teens set the rules together, it’s okay for parents to express understanding if a teen is frustrated by the established limitations. For example, if a teen can’t go out on a weekend because they violated curfew last week, a parent might say, “I totally understand why you’re annoyed that you can’t go out tonight. Hopefully, this won’t happen again anytime soon.”
It’s hard to go wrong by expressing compassion and understanding. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that parents should change the rules or consequences.
#9: Know When to Let It Go
Ideally, rules and consequences focus on behavior that is dangerous to teens and disruptive to the family. However, teens need to express their independence and practice their own decision-making skills. Therefore, rules don’t need to cover every aspect of a teen’s life, such as their fashion choices and reading material.
#10: Teach Them How to Think Critically
Doing something just because Mom or Dad told you to, without understanding why, doesn’t teach teens to think more deeply about their choices. Showing good behavior only to avoid consequences won’t help them learn to make wise decisions.
Help teens understand why you might be setting appropriate limits and rules. Answer their questions and ask for their thoughts. Make sure they know your reasons for your decisions, and why you might feel you need to protect them from certain risk or dangers. You won’t always be there to keep them safe. That’s why the parent’s role is to teach their teen to gather information, think critically, and make good decisions as they grow into a young adult.
The Positive Results of Teen Discipline
Ultimately, the goal of teen discipline is to help adolescents develop positive, healthy habits and behaviors. These include the following:
- Self-discipline and inner motivation
- The desire to take care of their own health and safety
- Better decision-making skills
- Ability to control their impulses
- Ways to stay calm and regulate their emotions
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Openness to learning from their mistakes
- Trusting, authentic connections with others.
In conclusion, the best way to discipline a teenager is with consistency, clarity, and love. Therefore, teens learn to think for themselves while also developing the ability to minimize risk and make good choices.
How Teen Treatment Strengthens Family Relationships
At Newport Academy, we see parents as the solution, not the problem. We know that as the parent-child connection grows stronger, teen mental health improves. Attachment-Based Family Therapy, the foundational modality for our approach to adolescent treatment, is designed to repair ruptures in the parent-child relationship and restore trust. As a result, teens feel safe turning to their parents for support when they are struggling.
Newport’s outcomes research shows that our family-focused approach provides a clear path to achieving what both parents and children want most: closer, more positive relationships with one another, which in turn lead to improvements in mental health and reductions in suicide risk. This secure foundation of support is critical to young people’s well-being. It provides a buffer against distress, enhances resilience, and creates a safe haven in challenging times.
Contact us today to learn more about our clinical model, our family therapy component, and our industry-leading treatment outcomes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you discipline a difficult teenager?
Rather than punishing them or showing anger, ask questions and find out what’s motivating their behavior. In addition, make sure they understand and agree to the rules and consequences around their behavior.
Who do you call when your teenager is out of control?
Contact a mental health professional, your family doctor, or a local treatment program to get additional support with teen disciplining strategies. These providers can also recommend additional treatment options if a teen’s behavior is catalyzed by mental health issues.
Why is my child so rude and disrespectful?
There are many reasons why a child can be disrespectful to parents. Communicate openly with them about what’s bothering them, without anger or judgment. And don’t hesitate to reach out for support from a school counselor or family doctor if you think mental health support can help.
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