10 Important Considerations When Disciplining a Teen

angry male hand upThe first thing to keep in mind about this topic is that all of us who parent teens (and I parent 3.0 of them as I type this) get confused and feel unsure about how to respond to certain situations that arise. Everything about our teens, at least if they are mentally healthy, screams “independence!” And, we want for them to learn to be independent. However, we also want them to be safe, to relate well to others and to be strong in their ability to do important things when they don’t feel like it. So, this is complicated stuff. For this reason we all do well to not bully ourselves for our inevitable confusion and mistakes. That said, here are 10 considerations to keep in mind.

  1. The etymology of the word “discipline” is to teach, not to kick butt. Effective discipline means that your intention is not to be punitive or to vent. Your intention is to increase your teen’s success and effectiveness.
  2. Discipline works best when it is proactive instead of reactive. You do well to think ahead and try to rework situations so that your teen’s risk of showing defiance is lessened.
  3. Spending an hour a week doing special time with your teen will be a teenandmomhuge support to your discipline plan.
  4. Without surrendering your ultimate authority, try to collaborate with your teen about his or her responsibilities as well as what pleasures you’ll provide (e.g., a cell phone, video games).
  5. Try to give your teen advance notice of what chores you expect to be completed when. It’s also a good idea to find that middle ground between having no chores and having a number of chores that interfere with more important agenda (e.g., getting enough sleep and physical activity, doing well in school and doing well with potentially impactful extracurricular commitments).
  6. Ensure that your teen is investing an adequate amount of time on homework each school night. As a rough guide for a floor commitment, multiple 10 minutes times the grade s/he’s in (e.g., 100 minutes for a teen in 10th grade). I would insist on this floor even if your teen gets good grades doing less; the reason for this is so that your teen develops the skill set of doing academic work when s/he doesn’t feel like it. While this skill set may not be needed now, it will be needed when the difficulty level of his or her course of study catches up with his or her IQ.
  7. resistant motherMake sure you have a good monitoring plan. This includes explicitly establishing that sex and substance use are not okay. See my blog article on this topic for more.
  8. If your teen gives you a hard time about chores or academic work, consider setting up a contract: doing “x” (e.g., homework without a hassle) earns your teen “y” (e.g., access to a cell phone); moreover, doing everything expected in a given day earns your teen a set amount of money towards a weekly allowance. This way your teen either earns or doesn’t earn pleasures that are important to him or her, placing more responsibility on his or her shoulders and less on yours.
  9. If your teen defies you, or commits a significant infraction, use grounding. Grounding means that s/he cannot use the pleasures you provide (e.g., cell phone, TV), or leave the house for pleasure, for some period of time between two hours and two days. The length of the grounding would normally depend upon the seriousness of the infraction. Also, make sure your articulate what kinds of circumstances will cause a grounding in advance. This website sells gear that can help you enforce restrictions on electronic devices.
  10. If these strategies don’t work, or your teen does something serious therapy with teen(e.g., arrested for DUI), consider seeking out the services of a child psychologist. To access data bases of child mental health professionals, click here.
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Comments

2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Diane,

    Excellent advice for disciplining a teenager. Spending an hour a week exclusively with my teenager I find he discusses his life and goals. It also stretches out to two hours or more. We go out to dinner and maybe a shop or two, all the while talking to each other.
    I make the mistake though of giving him chores at the very last minute instead of with advance notice and it does not work. Teens are very busy with school and work, so we have to understand their schedule is important. Advance notice is the key. Thank you Dr. for the great advice!

  2. Thanks Diane. I’m glad the post is helping. You sound like an awesome mom!

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