You and Your Teen: Discipline That Works


A world without limits or rules would be a nightmare for every person living in it. Just imagine the complete chaos that would happen if everyone "did his own thing" NO MATTER WHAT!

Teenagers may think they don't want or need discipline but the truth is without limits a person is insecure, may feel unloved, and will have a very hard time becoming a responsible, happy member of society.

For most parents, setting and reinforcing family rules without cramping the teen's style or taking away his or her independence is difficult. Many parents recognize the need to change the methods their own parents used to discipline but aren't sure what will work in today's fast-paced world. Parents sometimes struggle from one problem to the next hoping that somehow the teen will change his behavior. This is unlikely! Instead, parents can become involved by giving guidance through discipline. Remember that discipline is a tool used to teach, never to punish.

As parents, we don't have to solve or act upon all our teen's problems. We must be careful to recognize that some problems belong to the teen alone and should be solved by the teen, with our strong encouragement and support, but not interference. On the other hand, problems affecting us have to be solved using good discipline methods.


Is it sometimes hard to tell which problems are ours and which are theirs....? You bet! It might help to look at each problem and consider:

  1. Who is complaining or concerned about the problem?
  2. Who is affected by the problem?
  3. Who is prevented from doing what he/she wants because of the problem?

If the answer to each question is.....your teen, help him or her become a good problem solver. On the other hand if the answer is.....yourself, it is your problem to solve.


If the problem belongs to you, wouldn't it be wonderful if hassles could be avoided? They can. Suppose for example, your daughter decides to get her driver's license. Think about what problems could happen.....ahead of time. Sit down with your teen and set clear limits that avoid unpleasant surprises and resentment later on. Discuss what's expected and what will happen if she violates the limits. Don't be a dictator! Listen to your teen's point of view and negotiate rules you can both live with. Whose fault is it if your teen messes up and breaks rules she doesn't understand or know existed!

Unfortunately, some problems can't be predicted ahead of time and must be managed as they happen. If your teen's behavior must change, try a polite request first. She will be more likely to listen if you talk respectfully to her as you would to a friend. Shout and demand and you've turned off the teen and lost your cool.

If polite requests don't work, then try "I" messages. "I messages" are friendly but firm statements that are very clear. Describe the behavior and how it makes you feel and why; ask for a change. Frustrated complaints like "look at this mess" may be ignored.

Try instead: "When you leave the bathroom in a mess, I feel taken advantage of. It means I have to spend time cleaning up. I want you to clean the tub and put the towels in the hamper."

If you then say....."Will you do that?" and "When" - your message becomes stronger. Never leave "I" messages unchecked. If they work, thank your teen.

If "I messages" don't work and "your back is against the wall" read on.

If these techniques haven't worked; what do you do next? Do you give up, get angry or do you keep calm and take the next step.


Natural Consequences

Reinforce that all behavior results in consequences. There are two types of consequences: natural and logical. As parents, we're always hearing about letting our children learn from their mistakes. Natural consequences give us that chance because they follow naturally after the teen's action or lack of action (with no interference from the parent.) For instance, a young person who oversleeps will be late for school or work. Let him be late, but give him encouragement and support to solve his problem so it won't happen again. Hopefully, he has learned a valuable lesson. As parents we must always be very careful not to use natural consequences if the result will harm the teen or someone else.

Logical Consequences

If the teen's behavior still isn't changing, it is time to try logical consequences. Remember, logical consequences should be logically connected to the behavior. If your teen is always late for supper and you take away his probably won't be successful but if he's late for supper and he has to make his own supper and clean up the kitchen, he is less likely to be late again. Remember, discipline is teaching. It is not punishment; never give the logical consequences in anger. Anger breeds anger, and before you know it you'll be in the middle of a "battle royal". Calm down and give the teen a choice: "Either put your clothes in the hamper or wash them yourself. You decide." Or...."When you have finished your homework, then you may go out."


When developing logical consequences, remember to keep the following in mind:

(Adapted from Active Parenting of Teens, Parent’s Guide, Michael H. Popkin, PHD, 1990)

  1. Be careful to set consequences that are reasonable and you can live with.
  2. Be firm but calm.
  3. Ask your teen for input re. the consequences.
  4. Give the choice once and then follow up.
  5. Expect challenges. Your teen is testing to see if you really mean it.
  6. Allow the young person to try again after experiencing the consequences.

If misbehavior continues the consequences may need to be revised. Be patient.

You'll be more successful if you include the teen in discussing the expectations and the consequences. Parents who listen respectfully and who negotiate curfews and other issues have fewer problems. Parents who rule with an iron fist usually have major problems.

If your teenager does not respond to any of your efforts and appears to be "out of control" you may need to seek professional help. Help is available through your family doctor, the guidance department of your school, and local mental health counselling services.



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