How do you discipline teenagers?

Tips to help deal with difficult behaviour

As your child grows into a teenager, setting boundaries may need to adjust to make them more meaningful and relatable. Many parents find that the kind of discipline used when they were younger might not work as well now they are older. 

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It's often tempting to try and be their friend but they still need you to be the parent and let them know what the rules and boundaries are. But it is essential for your teenager to be able to work out what being a young adult means for them so this may lead to some clashes with you. 

Watch our video for top tips on dealing with difficult behaviour from your teenager 

One of the tasks of adolescence is to take over that job - to decide what is right and wrong. One of the first things your teenager may realise is that the sanctions you can impose are not that powerful. They may be almost your size, or bigger. What keeps them in their room when sent there, or in the house when told they're grounded, is mutual consent and mutual respect alone. The only thing that makes them do what you say is the thought of what it may do to your relationship afterwards if they defy you. But if the relationship is already going downhill, if their sense of rebellion and defiance is greater than their need for your approval, this control has a limited life.  

So what does work?

While rules and boundaries are important, it's often more effective to enforce them by considering the various needs being expressed when you clash. This can mean swallowing your pride, and your need to be in control. Children need your approval; good behaviour tends to follow when they strive to win it, and so do the things you have made it clear you like. Teenagers want your approval too, but also your respect.  

The changes that happen to your teenager - the physical, mental, emotional and social changes  - can have a profound effect on the whole family. As the parent, it can seem important to keep things the same, such as you being the person giving the orders. But at a time when teenagers are developing and looking to new ways and a new self, having you give the orders and trying to put the brakes on the change can provoke even more defiance than they might have shown anyway.  

So when your teenager defies you, you might reach for a way of exerting discipline. Discipline is something we do to help young people learn - the original meaning of the word is 'to teach'. The best way to get teenagers to behave in ways which please us is to help them understand what they actually want and need, and to see how they can get those needs met in ways which don't upset other people.  

It's not discipline in the form of punishment or control that your teenager needs when struggling with their conflicting emotions. It is usually hiding their need for attention, acceptance, independence and appreciation. When teenagers act up, they are often fighting to get these. You can help them by giving them plenty of time and attention, talking openly about the changes they are going through, helping them express their feelings, giving them love, reassurance and support. You can also tell them it's okay to feel bad, but not to behave badly, and share your own feelings with them using 'I' language, such as 'I feel' and 'I need'. 

 

This page was updated on April 2021.

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