10 Tips for Disciplining Your Teenager Today

I grew up in the 1970s when teens knew what was expected and what would happen if they didn’t measure up. As teens spread their wings and pushed the limits, discipline was administered both at school and at home with a certain amount of regularity. Most parents I knew took a “law and order” approach to managing their brood. Teenagers, for their part, could do little but “serve their time” and tick off the days until they could escape the nest for good.

Fortunately, today’s parents know far more about these mysterious teenage years and the meaning behind undesirable attitudes and behaviors. As a result, parents have adjusted their thinking about the most appropriate response given this understanding of teen behavior. Parents know that it’s rarely an issue of teen misconduct or rule breaking, rather a normal “testing of the boundaries.”

No more high drama, shouting or tear-filled confrontations. No more silent treatment to get teens back on track. Today’s parents know that these strategies don’t work and actually do more harm than good. Indeed, experts report that thoughtful communications, negotiation and compromise, skills that require parents to be fully engaged and proactive even during difficult moments, can be quite effective. In addition, these and other positive parenting strategies leave teenagers with important life skills essential in adulthood.

Today’s Teens Still Push the Limits

Like the old days, parents and their teens still clash over rules and responsibilities as well as clothing style and make up, dating, choice of friends, school performance, among others. For parents who seek a little peace of mind and for teens to gain greater freedom or autonomy, establishing reasonable rules and expectations is critical. But, it seems like rules are made to be broken during the teenage years and, as a result, parents may need to take action despite their best efforts to communicate what’s expected. But, what kind of action will speak to this new generation who seem to hold all the cards?

Truth, Consequences and Discipline

Parents need to carefully consider the facts of the situation, the age of the teen, extenuating circumstances, and so forth, before determining appropriate action to correct the unwanted teen behavior. In addition, it’s helpful if teens understand the connection between rules and responsibilities and their own well being, safety and health.

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Looking for more ideas? Check out these 10 tips for disciplining your teenager today. I think you’ll agree that these high road strategies will help you and your teen work together during this wonderful, albeit challenging, stage of your child’s development.

1. Establish a reasonable set of rules and expectations, including consequences, if not met. Communicate what these are and why you have them. Be open to ideas from your teen on what’s reasonable as he or she gets older and more responsible. I know, I know: teens have some pretty wild ideas on what they should be allowed to do or what your role is as a parent. Nonetheless, listen carefully and you’ll be surprised at what parents and teens can negotiate going forward.

2. Follow through with reasonable consequences. There’s nothing more confusing for a teen if one or both parents fail to follow through with consequences for breaking the rules or failure to meet other expectations. If this sounds like your house, it shouldn’t be a surprise if your teen continues to break the rules or engage in unwanted behavior. I know how easy it can be to “get played” by your teen, but be strong. Consistency is one of the most effective, albeit difficult, parenting strategies around.

3. Enforce basic behavior. Teens will often say things or do things that unnerve their parents, including talking back to them in a disrespectful way, cursing, and so forth. Parents need to keep their cool but establish boundaries and consequences for violations of basic behavior, like the need to respect their parents and show common courtesy. Good manners are difficult to inspire in your teens, but if you’re consistent and model these behaviors yourselves, you’ll be surprised at how your teens will follow suit.

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4. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If your teen is usually super neat and conscientious around the house, don’t come on like a ton of bricks the first time he or she throws the towel on the floor or leaves the room in disarray. Rather, it may be more important to remind teens to pick up their clothes and belongings.

5. Allow for grace periods in curfews. When it comes to curfew, you may need to be flexible. This is important, especially if your teen is relying on others for transportation. A curfew that’s mutually agreed upon, once violated, requires consequences that are fair and reasonable. But, disciplinary action may be unwarranted if circumstances are beyond the teen’s control. Instead, have a talk with the teen about what’s expected and how he or she might deal with friends who don’t communicate curfew times to their parents.

6. Figure out what teens care about and remove these items as punishment. If your teen is attached to his or her cell phone at the hip, removing this item – even for one hour at a time – may be a just and sufficient consequence for unwanted behavior. If your teen is crazy about his or her iPod, maybe a day without it will send an important message about desired behavior and outcomes.

7. Don’t be overly punitive. Teens get it. No need to overdo the punishment. Grounding your teen for a few days might be sufficient to get your message across about the importance of obeying the rules or meeting expectations. Grounding your teen might result in producing the behaviors and attitudes you’re trying to correct.

8. Express your love. Even in the midst of crisis, teens need to be reassured that it’s not them, rather it’s their behavior that’s at issue. While your teen may get defensive, keep the focus on the behavior and don’t allow your teen to take it too personally.

9. Don’t hold a grudge. The worst thing a parent can do is to constantly remind a teen of his or her unwanted behavior. Instead, allow things to return to normal after consequences have been meted out.

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10. Be fair and always communicate. When rewarding your teen, be sure to keep the lines of communication open. At all times, your teen should understand what the rules are for and why the consequences are what they are. Be fair with your actions and model the kind of behavior, even in punishment, that you would expect of your teen when he or she becomes an adult.

When to Consult the Professionals

If these ideas don’t work that well for you or your family, or if you suspect something else is going on with your teen, you may want to consult a professional. Remember, it takes a village to parent a teen. Sometimes getting someone else’s perspective is just the thing you need to get your teen – and parenting – back on track.

More Information on Parenting Teens Today?

Check out these articles for tips and insights on parenting today’s teens. Teen insights and parenting ideas that are sure to make a difference in your family.

What Today’s Young Teens Want Parents to Know

Most Dangerous Sports for Kids Today

Why iPods Rock With Today’s ‘Tweens and Teens


Adventures in Parenting
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health

U.S. Teens in Our World
US Data in Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Study
Understanding the Health of U.S. Youth in Comparison to Youth in Other Countries

9 Steps to More Effective Parenting
Kids Health