How to Discipline a 13-Year-Old

These parenting strategies are most effective for young teens.

Disciplining a 13-year-old can be a bit of a challenge.
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Back talk, mood swings, and a need for more privacy all come with the territory when you’re raising a 13-year-old. Knowing how to respond to rule violations and rude behavior can give you confidence in your parenting skills as you navigate the teen years.

Fortunately, there are many perks that accompany the teenage years. By now, your teen can likely be trusted with more responsibility. She might be able to perform more complex chores and there are likely times when you’ll see some kind and compassionate choices as well.

Common 13-Year-Old Behavior Problems

Your teen is likely to test the limits of her independence once she turns 13. She may argue when you say no and there may be times she goes behind your back to do as she pleases.

Your teen may behave responsibly one day and then act like a small child the next. This is all a normal part of growing up.

There’s a tug-of-war that often occurs between 13-year-olds and their parents as well. So while your teen may demand your assistance one minute, she might claim she doesn’t need your help the next.

It’s also normal for 13-year-olds to start to experiment with different personas as they begin to answer the question, “Who am I?” So don’t panic if your teen wants to take up violin lessons one day but says she’s into heavy metal the next.

Common behavior problems include defiance, back talk, lying to get out of trouble, and shirking responsibility. With consistent discipline and plenty of patience, you’re likely to curb these behaviors before bad habits become ingrained.

How to Prevent Behavior Problems

Disciplining a teenager should extend beyond punishment. It’s important to put some energy into preventing behavior problems before they start. Then, you’ll spend a lot less time handing out consequences for misbehavior.

Here are the top strategies for preventing behavior problems in 13-year-olds:

  • Avoid power strugglesWhen 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 debate.
  • Make your expectations clear: Before you drop your teen off at the movies or you let her walk to the skate park alone, make your expectations clear. Tell her what you want her to do if she encounters a problem and what time you expect her to be home.
  • Let your teen earn privilegesWhether your teen wants expensive basketball sneakers or he asks 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 him to have them.
  • Create a behavior contractWhen 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 him sign the contract before he gets the privilege.
  • Communicate regularly: Healthy communication is at the heart of any good relationship. It’s important to talk about everything from peer pressure to her goals for the future. When your teen knows she can talk to you, she’ll be more likely to seek your guidance. 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.
  • 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.
  • Spend quality time togetherSpending quality time together will help you 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.
  • Expect your teen to be responsible: Your teen will likely live up to your expectations, as long as those expectations are reasonable. So make it clear that you expect her to do well in school or that you expect her to get her chores done every day.

Effective Consequences for 13-Year-Olds

When your teen breaks the rules, it's important to make sure there is a negative consequence that will help him make a better choice next time. Here are some of the most effective consequences you can give a 13-year-old:

  • Remove electronics: From smartphones to laptops, screen time is important to most teenagers. It can be a great privilege to take away when your teen breaks the rules. Just make sure it’s time-limited. Usually, 24 hours is long enough to send a clear message to your teen.
  • Take away time with friends: If your teen’s misbehavior involves friends, take away her right to see her pals for a while. Ground her for a few days or cancel her special weekend plans. A break from her buddies may remind her to make a better choice next time.
  • Tighten the rules: If your 13-year-old exhibits lots of behavior problems, he may be showing you he can’t handle the freedom you’re giving him. Tighten the rules by giving him an earlier curfew or by giving more structure to his day.
  • Use restitutionIf your teenager’s behavior hurts someone else, create a plan to make amends. Fixing something he broke or doing an extra chore for someone may help repair the relationship and remind him to accept responsibility for his behavior.
  • Allow for natural consequencesNatural 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 his choices.

When to Seek Professional Help

If your 13-year-old’s behavior has gotten out of control or your discipline strategies aren’t working, talk to your child’s doctor. A referral to a mental health professional may be helpful. It’s important to rule out underlying mental health issues like depression or behavior disorders like oppositional defiant disorder.

Even in the absence of a mental health issue or behavior disorder, professional help may still be warranted. Your 13-year-old may benefit from learning social skills or anger management strategies