Teen Discipline: Strategies and Challenges

Behavioral problems and effective solutions for 13- to 18-Year-Olds

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When your child becomes a teenager, your parenting role is likely to shift. You may find yourself becoming more of a guide, rather than an enforcer. That’s not to say your child won’t need you to intervene when there are safety issues or that your teen won’t need consequences. But, by now, it’s OK to let your child make some choices on their own, even when you think it’s a bad choice.

Strategies for disciplining your teen
Verywell / Emily Roberts

Typical Teen Behavior

Teens like to test the limits of their independence. So don’t be surprised when your teen argues with you when you say no, or when they go behind your back to do as they please. There’s also often a tug-of-war between parents and teens. Your child may demand your assistance one minute and claim they don't need you the next.

Adolescence can be a tumultuous time for teens as they change physically, emotionally, and socially. It’s normal for teens to act responsible and almost adult-like in some areas of their lives, while still holding onto their child-like ways in other areas.

Meanwhile, as friends and romantic relationships grow increasingly important, your teen will want to spend more time with their peers. That means less interest in family time.

Your teen also will want more privacy. They may want to keep their social media conversations private, and they may spend a lot more time in their room with the door closed.

Although that can be unnerving at times, all of these changes are a normal part of growing up. It’s important, however, to keep an eye out for mental health issues and drug use.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse issues may emerge during the teenage years.

Common Challenges

By now, you only have a few years left to prepare your teen for the real world. And it can be tricky to strike a balance that gives your child enough freedom while still offering them plenty of guidance.

Most teens want more freedom than they can handle. They may insist they need a later curfew or they may try to debate when you’ve said no about a party. Talking back also is common as your teen will go through phases where they insist they know everything and you know nothing about what it’s like to be a teenager.

Your teen also may assert their independence by insisting they do things at their own pace. When you tell them to mow the lawn or help with dishes, they're likely to complain or tell you that they’ll do it later.

Your teen may even have a short temper and they may become distraught over relationship troubles, friend issues, and school-related problems.

It’s also common for teens to lie in an attempt to get out of trouble. Your teen may deny breaking the rules or claim they have no idea how the dent got in the car. Your teen also may experiment with different personas too. They may be into classical musical one week and heavy metal the next. Or, they may change the way they dress or wear their hair as they look for new ways to express themself.

Preventative Strategies

Behave like an overprotective helicopter parent and your teenager won’t learn how to make healthy decisions. If you’re too permissive, however, they won’t gain the skills they need to become a responsible adult. Try these strategies to prevent behavior problems in teenagers.

Have Clear Expectations

Make your expectations clear. Before you drop your teen off at the movies or you let them walk to the skate park alone, make your expectations clear. Tell them what you want them to do if they encounter a problem and what time you expect them to be home.

Your teen will likely live up to your expectations, as long as those expectations are reasonable. So make it clear that you expect them to do well in school or that you expect them to get their chores done every day.

When you give your teen a new privilege, like a smartphone or a later curfew, create a behavior contract. Review the rules and outline the consequences for breaking the rules. Make them sign the contract before they get the privilege.

Avoid Power Struggles

When your teen says, “That’s not fair!” or “I’ll do it later,” resist the temptation to argue. Set a firm limit and follow through with a consequence. But don’t get sucked into a heated power struggle.

Whether your teen wants expensive basketball sneakers, or they ask to have a later bedtime, make it clear that privileges must be earned. If your teen’s behavior doesn’t warrant privileges, don’t allow them to have them.

If your 16-year-old sits in their room and plays video games all day, they may not be misbehaving. But, they might still need some discipline to help them socialize and behave more responsibly. Provide discipline that helps your child do better, not just punishment for wrongdoing.

Spend Time Together

Give your teen positive attention to build a solid foundation for your relationship. Be willing to step into your teen’s world by learning how to play a video game or by watching a teen movie.

Be a good role model. Your teen learns more by watching what you do, rather than hearing what you say. So make sure you’re being a good role model in all areas of your teen’s life.

Consequences That Work

Just because your teen has outgrown time-out (most of them would actually be happy if they got sent to their rooms), doesn't mean you can't instill effective consequences. But it's important to find consequences that will teach life lessons. Here are some of the most effective consequences for teens.

Remove Privileges

If your teen violates the rules, they may be showing you they can’t handle the freedom you’re giving them. Tighten the rules by giving them an earlier curfew or by reducing the amount of time they spend using their electronics.

From smartphones to laptopsscreen time is important to most teenagers. Restricting your teen’s phone privileges can be an effective consequence. Just make sure it’s time-limited. Usually, 24 hours is long enough to send a clear message to your teen.

If your teen’s misbehavior involves friends, first discuss their choices and then make adjustments to their social privileges. A break from their buddies, while discussing their choices, can help build a foundation for better choices in the future. When your teen is able to show you that they can be responsible, they can have the opportunity to earn their privileges back.

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences can be the best teachers in certain situations. But it’s important to make sure the natural consequences will really teach your teen a life lesson. If so, back off and let your teen face the consequences for their choices.

If your teen breaks something, make them pay to fix it. Or, if they are irresponsible with the car, take away their driving privileges. Create consequences that are directly tied to the poor choices your teen made.

Assign Extra Responsibilities

If your teenager’s behavior hurts someone else, create a plan to make amends. Fixing something they broke or doing an extra chore for someone may help repair the relationship and remind them to accept responsibility for their behavior.

Communication Tips

You might find your teen can’t stop talking to their friends. But the minute you ask how their day was, they might have nothing to say. Communicating with your teen may feel like an uphill battle sometimes. But, it’s important to keep trying.

Communicate Regularly

Healthy communication is at the heart of any good relationship. It’s important to talk about everything from peer pressure to their goals for the future. When your teen knows they can talk to you, they'll be more likely to seek your guidance.

Insisting your teen sit down and talk to you face-to-face about serious subjects may cause your teen to shut down. You might find your teen is more willing to talk when you’re doing an activity together, such as playing catch or even riding in the car.

Don't Push It

Don’t insist your teen talk to you. It’s healthy for your teen to gain some independence so don’t insist that they tell you everything. Help them identify several other healthy adults they could always turn to for advice. An aunt, grandmother, coach, teacher, or neighbor might be the types of people your child feels comfortable talking to about certain subjects.

Step Into Their World

Your teen may communicate more freely over social media or through text message. So be willing to step into your teen’s world and talk to them in whatever form they seem most comfortable opening up.

Problem-solve together. Rather than tell your teen how to do things better, invite them to problem-solve with you. Ask questions like, “What could you do that would help you remember to do your chores?” Brainstorm ideas together and then encourage your teen to pick a potential solution.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Independence, one step at a time.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Next stop adulthood: Tips for parents.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Disciplining older children.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to communicate with and listen to your teen.

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