Many people believe that how to discipline a teenager is through control, through punishment and discipline. Those are the means necessary for teens to be safe and keep them on the straight and narrow. Although control sometimes seems like it might be the solution in the short-term, it usually doesn’t help them to modify their choices in the future.
Kids who are raised being offered choices, responsibility and accountability for their actions learn the life skills that will help them throughout their lives. When you learn to parent with kindness and consistency instead of trying to control, you will deepen the connection with your kids and come to realize what amazing humans you are raising.
Read Time: 8 min
Consistency is a word that I want to underline here. Kind but firm parenting is what the teens really want and need. Since their world is feeling to them like it’s turning upside down, the one thing that they want to know that they can rely on is you as a parent. This means that boundaries are guardrails for them.
They don’t currently have many constants in their lives, so trying to discipline a teen using these restrictions is like trying to navigate the predictable and comfy bumpers in the bowling alley. This prevents the ball from entirely spinning out of control while it is moving down the lane at 60 mph. Does that metaphor make any sense?
Many teenagers feel that they don’t want to be anything like their parents. They feel that their parents are hypocrites and narrow minded and have no idea what it’s like to be a kid right now. Their parents yell at them to take a break from their devices and go and get some fresh air outside.
Are the parents modeling that same behavior? Are the kids so used to being on screens that they have forgotten how to get outside and have fun? Our kids are always listening and watching us, so let’s also take our own advice and unplug so that we can tune in to what’s going on around us, inside and out.
7 tips on how to discipline a teenager
Because kids are growing and seeing the world in new perspectives they are going to rebel, make bad choices and test boundaries.When they do, we as parents can follow these 7 tips & tricks on how to discipline a teenager to help keep us afloat on the river of potential chaos.(1)
- Get into your teen’s shoes and empathize – Connect with your child so that you are both in the same space, since you’ve probably been running scenarios through your head for hours about how you’re going to deal with this and your kid hasn’t even thought of whatever it was that they did wrong. Empathizing with them will also be made easier when you find out more about what led to the situation or what was going on.
- Listen and be curious – This is the next logical step to connecting to see what the situation was. Be genuinely curious instead of being judgemental or jumping to conclusions.
- Stop worrying about what others think – do what’s best for your teen. There are plenty of people out there who will tell you what to do, how to do it and follow up to make sure that you did it right. But you are the one person who knows your kid better than anyone. Parenting does not take a one size fits all approach. Trust your intuition and your experience.
- Replace humiliation with encouragement. Do you want your child to feel like you are for them or against them? Are they more likely to come to you for guidance and to talk to if they have been humiliated in the past? Humiliating does not motivate anyone to try to do better.
- Make sure that the message of love gets through. This is one of those pieces that can use a good metaphor. Telling your kid that you love them no matter what frequently is like an investment that pays dividends for years to come. Repetition of this message never gets old. Saying “I love you no matter what” can help diffuse or at least dampen any conversation.
- Involve your teens in focusing on solutions. Threats and punishment are not long term solutions. Getting them involved shows them that you care about their input and value their opinion. You still have the authority to veto a solution and ask to go back to the drawing if it doesn’t really fit the bill.
- Make respectful agreements. This is closely linked to involving your kids in solutions. This is the artful life skill of negotiation. If a previously decided agreement needs to be renegotiated at some point that is perfectly acceptable as well.
Those tips & tricks make good strategies on how to discipline a teenager long term.
Words of wisdom
If the approach of loosening away from control is new to the family there will be an adjustment phase. If you are or will be changing the way that you handle things in your home, it’s a great time to engage everyone that will be affected by the changes in a conversation.
This could be as you are starting a new season, like the end of the school year, start of a school year or after an incident, or no better time than the present. Here are words of wisdom that you can weave into your conversation.
Practice of the 4 R’s
We are making some changes in our family as it relates to how mistakes are handled. We are going to use next 4 ways to discipline a teenager and practice of the 4 R’s going forward:
- Recognition – Awareness that you made a mistake – as a fact, not a judgment.
- Responsibility – You see the part that you played in the mistake and are willing to do something about it.
- Reconciliation – making amends or forgiving the other affected party
- Resolution – working on a solution that is satisfactory to all parties involved.
Putting the family values to the test
It’s important to remember that adolescence is just a stage in our children’s lives. It is not the ultimate goal. I don’t know a single child who hasn’t felt insecure at some point in their lives. We were all there, and now we’re not.
When we are in the midst of a crisis, it is difficult to remember that they are still children learning…but that is why we need to take a minute, step back from the situation, take a breath or 20, and take a broader view of the situation.
When we think our teen is rebelling, it’s actually them putting the family values to the test in order to figure out who they are as individuals and how they fit into the world.
Stay connected and committed
Some kids may act like they are not ready for taking responsibility for their actions and may get angry when held accountable. Change requires practice and patience. Love yourself and your kids unconditionally.
Parenting is tough, being a kid is tough, but how to discipline a teenager is tougher. We are in it together and we might as well do our best to stay connected and committed to supporting and loving one another for the long-game.
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You are protected and encouraged. Remind yourself occasionally throughout the day whether you are sitting, standing, or even sleeping. Even though they are all inanimate objects, they are all holding you and supporting you. You have assistance.
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- Nelsen, Jane, and Lynn Lott. Positive Discipline for Teenagers: Empowering Your Teens and Yourself through Kind and Firm Parenting. Three Rivers Press, 2012.