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  • Writer's pictureAshley Hudson LMFT

How to Discipline a Teenager: 11 Strategies to Try Today

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Takeaway: It can be hard to know how to discipline a teenager–especially if they don’t seem to care about consequences. This is a common struggle I see as a parent coach and therapist. In this post, I share my top tips for setting and enforcing boundaries with your teen in a way that will strengthen your bond in the long run. 

mother frustrated with daughter

Parenting a teenager can sometimes feel like navigating a maze in the dark. The journey is filled with twists and turns, and the path to understanding and connecting with your adolescent can be challenging.

As an experienced parent coach and teen therapist, my mission is to guide you on this complex road and help you build a bridge to your teenager’s world—a bridge made of trust, love, and respect.

In this blog, we will explore the art of disciplining teenagers in a way that not only corrects their behavior but also strengthens the bond between you and your child. I understand that parents are constantly searching for effective strategies to discipline, and I’m here to provide you with valuable insights to make that journey smoother.

We’ll discuss how to discipline a teenager and actions to avoid that can inadvertently drive a wedge between you and your teen. More importantly, we will examine the crucial question of what to do when your teenager doesn’t respond to consequences and there is a power struggle. Because let’s face it, it’s a scenario most parents encounter at some point.

So, if you’re eager to foster a healthy, safe, and connected relationship with your teenager while still maintaining boundaries, read further to the path towards a more harmonious and fulfilling parent-teen relationship that goes well beyond their young adult lives.

Understanding discipline and its purpose

Discipline, when approached with wisdom and empathy, plays a pivotal role in the development of teenagers and their mental health. It is not merely about punishment; instead, it’s an all round tool that can shape a child’s behavior, character, and decision-making abilities. The purpose of discipline extends far beyond decreasing undesirable behavior; it serves as a vital mechanism for helping teens understand the consequences of their actions.

One of the fundamental aspects of discipline is giving teenagers the opportunity to take a pause and build impulse control. Adolescence is a time when emotions often run high, risks are taken, and impulsivity can lead to poor choices.

By implementing effective consequences for their actions, parents can create a space for teens to reflect on their behavior, encouraging them to think before they act. This pause allows them to weigh the positives and negatives of their actions, fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability.

Moreover, discipline can be a powerful tool in enhancing critical thinking skills. When teens experience the consequences of their actions, they are forced to analyze their behavior and its outcomes. This process of self-reflection promotes cognitive growth and helping them make more informed decisions in the future.

Additionally, discipline can instill the valuable trait of empathy in teenagers. By understanding how their actions impact others, teens can develop a deeper sense of compassion and consideration for the feelings and needs of those around them.

Ultimately, discipline also serves as a means of teaching teenagers how to set boundaries for themselves, an essential skill for their personal growth and future success. It empowers them to distinguish between right and wrong, make their own decisions aligned with their values, and navigate the complexities of the adult world with confidence.

Discipline vs. punishment: What’s the difference?

Discipline and punishment may seem like two sides of the same coin, but when it comes to guiding teenagers, the former proves to be a far more effective approach. The key lies in understanding that disciplining teenagers is a means of teaching and shaping behavior, whereas punishment often results in negative side effects.

Here are some of the main difference between discipline strategies and inflicting punishment:

Utilizing Natural Consequences

Discipline allows teenagers to experience natural consequences of their actions. For instance, if a teen procrastinates and doesn't complete their homework, they may face the natural consequences of a lower grade, stress, and catching up academically. This approach helps them connect their choices to outcomes, fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability.

Setting Appropriate Limits and Boundaries

Discipline involves setting clear boundaries and limits with teenagers. It communicates expectations and helps them understand the house rules or the laws of society. These boundaries provide a framework within which teens can safely explore and learn.

Matching Discipline with Behavior

Effective discipline matches the consequence with the behavior. Rather than imposing arbitrary or harsh punishments, parents choose responses that are relevant and proportional to the situation. This approach reinforces the idea that actions have consequences and helps teens make better choices.

Giving Teens Choices

Discipline doesn't have to be a power struggle. It can involve giving teens choices within established boundaries. For example, if a teen consistently misses curfew, parents can offer a choice: adhere to curfew or lose the privilege of going out with friends. This approach empowers teens to make decisions and learn from them.

parents criticizing teenager by pointing fingers at her.

Conversely, punishment often produces negative outcomes. According to an American Psychological Association article “Teaming Up to Change Child Discipline” studies have shown numerous parents encountering parental challenges and unfortunately some parents resort to corporal punishment which have been proven to be an ineffective and potentially detrimental discipline strategy.

Punishment can instill shame, making a child feel inherently bad about themselves and affect their mental health rather than feel remorseful about their actions. It can also lead to intimidation and fear, damaging the parent child relationship and shutting down open communication. When punishment involves pain or suffering, it can create a cycle of retaliation or resentment for both parents and teens.

Furthermore, punishment can inadvertently convey conditional love. Teens may feel that their parents' affection is contingent upon the teen’s actions and behavior, which can hinder their emotional development. Ultimately, punishment doesn't provide teenagers with a positive motivation to change; it only offers avoidance of pain as an incentive, rather than fostering intrinsic growth and self-improvement.

Teen discipline, when approached with empathy and a focus on teaching, is a more effective and nurturing way to guide teenagers. Teenagers learn from their actions, make choices, and grow into responsible young adults while maintaining a strong, loving connection with their parents.

Establishing clear expectations and boundaries

In the intricate dance of parenting teenagers, one of the most essential steps is establishing clear and effective boundaries and limits. This fundamental aspect of parenting not only creates a structured environment but also lays the foundation for a healthy parent-teen relationship. Here, we will delve into the importance of being clear and consistent with these boundaries and explore four key tips to achieve just that.

The Importance of Clarity and Consistency

Clear and consistent boundaries serve as the cornerstone of a stable, nurturing, and predictable environment for teenagers. When parents are unambiguous about their expectations, it eliminates confusion and mixed messages. Teens know the rules, understand the consequences, and recognize the importance of following them. This predictability offers a sense of security and stability that teenagers crave during the tumultuous years of adolescence.

Following through on established boundaries is paramount in building trust and respect with your teenager. When parents consistently uphold the rules they’ve set, it sends a powerful message that their words hold weight. Trust is cultivated as teens come to rely on the consistency of their parents’ responses, knowing that they can depend on the agreed rules and limits. In turn, this trust fosters respect, as teenagers perceive their parents as fair and reliable authority figures.

Tips for Establishing Clear and Consistent Boundaries with Your Teenager:

- Identify Your Family Values and Determine House Rules

Start by identifying your family’s core values. What principles and beliefs do you want to instill in your teenager? Once you’ve established these values, determine house rules that align with them. For example, if respect is a core value, a house rule might be “Speak respectfully to all family members.” Having a clear understanding of your values and rules provides a solid foundation for setting boundaries.

- Discuss Limits and Consequences Compassionately

When discussing boundaries and consequences with your teenager, approach the conversation with empathy and compassion. Teenagers tend to stop talking, argue, demonstrate attitude, or have full blown temper tantrums if you discuss consequences in a condensing and aggressive tone. Communicate openly where both you and your teen can express your perspectives on appropriate behavior and logical consequences. Ensure that your teen understands the reasons behind each rule and appropriate consequence. This not only clarifies expectations but also helps your teenager appreciate the purpose behind the limits and clear rules.

dad compassionately discussing consequences with teen boy

- Explain the “Why” Behind the Rule

It’s crucial to explain to your child the rationale behind each rule and consequence. When teenagers understand the reasons behind certain restrictions, they have intrinsic motivation to accept and follow them. This also encourages critical thinking and decision-making skills. For instance, if the rule is to have a curfew, explain that it’s due to safety issues and it’s to ensure their well-being.

- Follow Through with Logical Consequences

Consistency is key. When a boundary is crossed, follow through with the predetermined consequences. This demonstrates that you take the rules seriously and reinforces the idea that actions have repercussions. Be firm yet fair in applying logical consequences, and avoid making empty threats. Consistent follow-through builds trust and reinforces the predictability of your parenting style.

Establishing clear and consistent boundaries and limits with your teenager is a fundamental aspect of effective discipline strategies during the challenging teenage years. Clarity and consistency create an environment of stability and trust, while also imparting valuable life lessons. By identifying your family values, discussing limits with compassion, explaining the “why” behind the rules, and consistently following through on consequences, you can foster a good relationship built on respect and understanding.

At Ashley Hudson Therapy, we have parent counseling services to help parents who are struggling with their child’s behavior and are often caught in power struggles. We teach many parents how to have clear rules and the right consequences to foster positive behaviors.

11 discipline strategies for your teenager

Teen discipline is a delicate balancing act that requires patience, empathy, and effective strategies. Adolescent adjustment is a time of growth and self-discovery, and as parents, it’s essential to guide our teens with discipline strategies that promote understanding, respect, and good behavior. Below we’ll explore 11 creative ways to discipline your teen focusing on communication, empathy, and positive and negative consequences.

1. Explain the Benefits of Rules:

Start by explaining to your teenager how rules benefit them in the short and long term. Emphasize the life skills they can acquire through adhering to these rules, such as respecting boundaries, negotiating, repairing and apologizing, and looking after their own safety. When teenagers understand the rationale behind rules, they are more likely to comply.

2. Stay Calm and Composed:

When it’s time for discipline, remember that your teen will listen more attentively when you approach the situation with calmness rather than anger. Maintaining composure allows for more effective communication and minimizes defensiveness.

3. Embrace Natural Consequences:

Whenever possible, allow natural consequences to unfold. Natural consequences are powerful teachers and provide opportunities for your teenager to learn from their actions. For instance, if your child is consistently being rude or disrespectful to their friends, they may face the natural consequence of their friends not wanting to spend time with them nor talk with them.

A natural consequence is the most effective consequence because it can teach teens valuable lessons on the realities of the world. They provide insights into how life operates beyond the protective confines of home. Unfortunately, parents sometimes shield their young child, pre teen, or teen from these natural consequences, inadvertently depriving them of important learning experiences.

4. Listen to Their Perspective:

It’s crucial to hear your teenager’s explanation, perspective, thoughts, and feelings regarding the limit, rule, or consequence. This shows that you value and respect their input, even if you don’t necessarily agree. Acknowledge their perspective while still following through with the consequence.

5. Offer a Path to Repair:

After imposing a negative consequence, provide your teenager with a clear path to repairing the relationship, trust, and connection with you. Many parents overlook this step, but it’s vital for helping your teen understand how they can earn back your trust. For example, if your teen stayed out past curfew at a friend’s house and broke trust, after following through with the consequence, discuss with your teen how they can earn your trust and privileges back.

mother putting hand on teen daughter's shoulder telling her everything will be okay.

6. Avoid Physical Force:

Regardless of how intense the conversations and arguments may become between a parent and their child, it is imperative never to resort to physical force. Research from the national institute of health indicates that harsh and inconsistent parenting are frequently observed in families with children diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Physical discipline can damage the parent-teen relationship and cause mental health issues.

7. Set Boundaries Around Respectful Language:

Make it clear to your teenager what type of communication is unacceptable and acceptable. When they speak disrespectfully, it becomes difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue. Let them know that while their perspective is valued, they must express themselves respectfully for you to acknowledge it.

For example, verbalizing to your teenager that you will not engage in the conversation nor negotiate with them until they are able to speak to you calmly and respectfully. In this case, you are reinforcing positive behavior not negative behavior.

8. Take Breaks When Necessary:

Teenagers tend to push against boundaries and limits by arguing, showing defiance, being disrespect, and ignoring you all together. When pushed to the edge, it’s easy for parents to lose their temper in these situations. When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed and angry take a break. Stepping away allows you to regain composure and respond more effectively later. This is a great way to be a role model in demonstrating self control, coping skills, and effective conflict resolution skills.

9. Parent with Warmth and Caring:

Approach discipline from a place of warmth and care rather than anger and resentment. Your teenager should know that your actions are motivated by love and concern for their safety and well-being. This approach encourages open communication and cooperation.

10. Involve Your Teen in Rule Setting:

Encourage your teenager to participate in discussions about rules and consequences of their actions. By involving the whole family in the decision-making process, you empower children to take ownership of their actions and the associated consequences. This fosters a sense of responsibility and accountability.

11. Match Consequences to Offenses:

Ensure that the consequence you impose matches the offense. Inappropriate consequences, such as taking away screen time or the cell phone indefinitely, does not teach valuable life skills. Instead, teens learn to be secretive, develop a nothing to lose mentality, and a potential increase in defiant behavior due to resentment. Make sure the consequences are proportionate and designed to facilitate learning and growth not disconnection.

Teen discipline requires a balanced approach that emphasizes communication, empathy, and constructive consequences. By implementing these 11 discipline strategies, you can foster a healthy parent-teen relationship based on understanding and respect. Remember that discipline is not just about correcting behavior but also about guiding your teenager toward responsible decision-making and personal growth.

How to discipline a teenager who doesn’t care about consequences

Disciplining a teenager who appears indifferent to consequences can be a frustrating and confusing for parents. When it seems like your teenager doesn’t care about the consequences or limits you set, it’s essential to reassess your approach, consider alternative strategies, and understand the why your teen might seem they don’t care.

teen girl putting her hands over her ears not listening to parents.

Here are some possible reasons your teenager doesn’t care about consequences:

  • Your teenager is angry and resentful with you.

  • Your teenager is struggling with depression.

  • Your teenager is participating in drug and alcohol use.

  • Your teenager may be struggling with conduct disorder.

  • Your consequences aren’t the right ones.

Being a therapist in Orange County, I have seen several teens who feel misjudged by their parents so, they protect themselves by shutting down and disengaging. They come off as they don’t care about your consequences when in actuality they have cared for too long, they eventually stop cut off their feelings.

Here are some strategies you can do to increase motivation and compliance:

Increasing Positive Consequences

Sometimes, teenagers may become indifferent to negative consequences because they feel that only negative outcomes follow their actions. To address this, it’s crucial to increase the positive consequences for desired behavior. Effective praise and acknowledgment can go a long way in motivating your teenager. Point out behaviors and interactions you genuinely appreciate and encourage more of them. Positive reinforcement can help shift their focus from indifference to seeking positive recognition.

Recognize and ASK your teen what’s going on

It’s important to consider that your teenager’s apparent indifference to consequences might be a sign of underlying issues such as depression or conduct disorder. Pay attention to changes in their behavior, mood, academic performance, or social interactions. Warmly confront you are noticing some loss in motivation and desire to have good behavior and ask your teen what is affecting them. If you suspect an underlying problem, it’s essential to seek out a mental health professional for help or counseling to address these issues alongside parent coaching.

Evaluating the Severity of Consequences

Sometimes, the consequences imposed may be too harsh, leading to indifference. Assess whether taking away a passion or hobby that fosters positive mental health is an appropriate consequence. It’s crucial to strike a balance between discipline and preserving activities that contribute positively to your teenager’s well-being. Be mindful that depriving them of essential outlets may exacerbate their indifference.

Building a Stronger Connection

A lack of connection and a close relationship with your teenager can contribute to their indifference toward consequences. To remedy this, prioritize increasing the quality of your time together and strengthening your bond. Engage in activities they enjoy, listen actively to their concerns, and show genuine interest in their life. When teens feel connected and valued, they are more likely to be responsive to discipline. If you are a parent of a teenager looking for more connection based parenting strategies, check out The Connected Parent an online self pace parenting course.

Strike a Balance Between Discipline & Connection

It’s essential to strike a balance between disciplining your teenager and building a close relationship. If you aren’t dedicating quality time with your teenager than your teen will feel like you are only “punishing” them. Find opportunities to connect outside of disciplinary situations to show your teenager that your relationship goes beyond enforcing rules.

Consistency is Key

Teenagers may appear indifferent because they have witnessed you faulter at some point or another. Teens learn that you don’t mean what you say or they need to act like they don’t care to get what they want. To maintain their respect and trust, it’s crucial to stay consistent and predictable with your disciplinary actions. If they perceive that consequences are applied haphazardly, it can lead to indifference or defiance.

Avoid Personalizing Consequences

Teenagers are keen observers, and they can differentiate between consequences that are directly related to their actions and those that seem more about the parent’s needs or frustrations. Ensure that your consequences are appropriate and relevant to the behavior you are addressing. Avoid imposing personal or punitive consequences that may lead to resentment and indifference.

Looking after your own mental health

Parenting a teenager can be emotionally demanding, and amidst the challenges of discipline, it’s vital for parents to prioritize self-care. First and foremost, parents should realize that their teen’s poor decisions don’t equate to failing as a parent.

While it’s natural to be concerned about your teen’s life, it’s essential to acknowledge that you can’t control every behavior and choice your teen makes. Adopting this mindset can help reduce the obsessing anxiety parents put on themselves.

Maintaining a sense of self outside of parenting is crucial. Engage in personal passions and hobbies to preserve your individuality and physical health. This not only supports self-care but also provides emotional energy to navigate parenting challenges.

These practices will help you stay resilient while providing the support your teenager needs during this transformative phase.

You don’t have to do this alone. Get skills, support, and confidence with parent coaching (or counseling).

ashley hudson parent coach and therapist standing

At Illuminate Your Connection, we provide parent coaching through our online program, 'The Connected Parent.' This self-paced course equips parents with the confidence and skills to connect with their teenagers, nurturing lifelong relationships. Discover The Connected Parent now!

For a glimpse of our program, explore The Connection Mini Course for just $27. In under an hour, you'll access four lessons on quickly igniting connection with your teenager. Get started today!

Take the proactive step toward building trust, fostering open communication, and refining your discipline techniques. Reach out to explore how parent coaching can benefit both you and your teen's behavior.

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