Taming your teen: Discipline in the adolescent years

Clear limits and mutual respect are key to good discipline for adolescents.

When they want the car keys, you're their best pal. But don't try to give them a hug in front of their friends.

Being the parent of an adolescent can be a challenge. On the one hand, your child may try to assert his or her freedom by testing limits or rejecting your values. On the other hand, he or she still cares about what you think and looks to you for guidance.

This may seem inconsistent, but it's really a normal part of growing up, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

You can help your child develop self-control, character and a sense of responsibility by providing reasonable limits and standards for behavior, says the AAP.

Like younger children, adolescents need consistent discipline from loving parents.

Using rewards and restrictions throughout their childhood can help prevent problems during the teenage years. But as your child's behavior changes, you may need to try new discipline strategies to figure out what works.

Disagree agreeably

Even if you and your child are close, you are likely to have disagreements. Most of the time, they can be resolved without too much conflict. If you maintain an atmosphere of mutual respect, you will be able to communicate better.

Try these strategies from the AAP:

  • Talk over your disagreements with your child.
  • Listen to his or her point of view and explain why you feel as you do.
  • Make it clear whether negotiation is or is not possible on a particular issue.
  • Discuss the reasons why you've imposed certain rules. If adolescents understand the reasons behind your rules, they're more likely to obey them.

Finding strategies that work

No two families—and no two children—are alike. What works for rewards and punishments in one family may not work in another, says the AAP.

In some families, an adolescent may lose use of the car or be grounded from social activities. Other families use extra chores or responsibilities as consequences.

If your teen has broken a well-defined rule, there should always be a consequence. Consequences are effective only if they are consistent.

Adolescents who don't have any guidelines often feel unsafe, unprotected and lost, according to the AAP. Firm, consistent rules show that you love your child and care about his or her safety.

Be flexible

Though some rules are not flexible, others may be. For example, if you disapprove of your child attending a party with a group of kids who use alcohol, you should take a stand and not waver.

But if a particular issue is negotiable, allow your child to make his or her own judgment. For example, your child may want to stay out past his or her curfew for a special occasion.

You can say, "Here's how I feel, but the decision is up to you." This gives your child a chance to learn from his or her mistakes and practice making choices.

As your child grows, you may want to revise your rules to fit your child's level of maturity.

Making mistakes

Sometimes you may lose your temper and react too quickly or harshly to your adolescent's behavior. If you say something inappropriate, apologize as soon as you can. By acknowledging your mistakes, you can help your child learn how to take responsibility for his or her own actions.

Try to calm down and think through the problem before you decide on a consequence. Be prepared to negotiate the consequences you're considering, but try to stay in control.

Listening to your child's opinions can be difficult when you're upset, but you can both learn from the process.

Reviewed 7/26/2022

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