Teens and Discipline: what works (and what doesn’t)

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Did you watch the news yesterday? Congressman Anthony Weiner got caught, and decided to apologize for his behavior and his lies about it. While watching the Anderson Cooper 360 show addressing the drama, I was horrified to hear one of Anderson’s guests express how she did not want to have to address such issues as “sexting” with her teen children.

Wow. Really?

So if you’re one of those head-in-the-sand parents who doesn’t want to address the tough discipline issues with your kids or think your kids don’t do those things, you don’t want to read this article. But if you’re mom to a teen and want to learn the best way to address the hard issues and find effective discipline techniques that actually work keep reading!

When teens do something wrong

This article is not about when teens make mistakes in their process of growing up. Things like forgetting to pick up their room, having a bad day, being moody, or having an occasional blow-up, do NOT constitute “doing something wrong”. I am a firm believer in giving teens the respect they need to make mistakes and learn from them. I’ve spoken with moms who didn’t like their teen’s messy rooms so moved them (rather dramatically) into the garage while the teen was at school. Other moms punish their teens for getting poor grades in school, or for expressing an opinion different from that held by the family. These situations bother me, as they are examples of moms behaving disrespectfully themselves.

However, there is a whole different category of teen behavior. Like Weiner getting caught for sending inappropriate photos in social media, it is likely your teen will test the limits you’ve set and you’ll feel frustrated. Here’s a short list that will give an idea of those teen behaviors that positively demand parental intervention.

  • Habitual disrespectful language at home. This includes cussing at parents, yelling, bullying.
  • Inappropriate use of social media. This includes sexting, phone sex, and lewd or profane postings on social media sites.
  • Habitual lying, about where they are, what they’re doing, what happened.
  • Refusal to follow family rules (be careful of this one – if its not defiance, it doesn’t belong on this list! Teens get to have different opinions, and need help practicing respectful ways of expressing them).
  • Defiant refusal to follow parental requests. This includes curfews!

The central theme is this: teens are just ‘being teens’ when they try out different ways of doing things, have a hard time controlling their emotions, struggle with depression and wild mood swings (its a hormone thing), and say they don’t want to participate.

Teens are being defiant when they engage in behaviors listed above, or others like them.

What is a mom to do?

What absolutely does NOT work

Here’s the deal. If you’re a mom who has engaged in physical discipline (spanking) with your younger child and you now have a teenager, I sincerely hope you have moved on to other techniques. If you’re still spanking / slapping your teen, STOP IT! Can you tell I’m rather opinionated about this? At the risk of alienating my readers, let me say that I believe that there is absolutely no time that any child, of any age, should be hit, slapped, spanked, swatted, whipped, beaten, or any other similar behavior. With very young children (under 5), picking them up and removing them is about as physical as you should ever get, period. If you need help coming up with alternative discipline techniques with young children, please write to me and we’ll explore what works.

I say this as a single mom for nearly 30 years of four incredibly strong-willed, often defiant, opinionated and verbal and gifted children. I was raised with spanking/beating being the standard discipline technique, so when my children were born I did what I knew. It was wrong, every time, period, no excuses. Just don’t.

What else doesn’t work? Yelling, nagging, endlessly discussing, public humiliation, cussing, threatening. If you’re like me, you’ve done all those things. How’s that working for you?!

What absolutely DOES work

Here’s my list of what does work, every time, no matter what. It takes more time and mindfulness to follow these guidelines. You won’t have a teen who asks how far when you say jump, or who never makes a mistake – sometimes a big one. If that’s what you want, good luck! If instead, you want a teen who learns to think for themselves, to form their own belief system and respect differences, to own up when they make a mistake (sometimes even before they get caught!) and who treats you with respect, practicing these techniques will get you there.

  1. Have a really short list of expectations for your teen. If you don’t write them down, they don’t exist! And be specific. If your expectation is that your teen keep their room tidy, you’ll need to phrase the expectation in ‘teen speak’. “Make your bed before leaving for school” is better than “keep your room as neat as I keep mine”.
  2. Have a list of consequences for defiant behavior. If your teen yells or cusses at you, walk away. If you yell back, you just lost. If you were pushing them too hard or trying to impose your own opinions on them, own it and let it go. If you discover your teen posting inappropriate information on social media sites, remove their computer. If they lie routinely about where they are, remove all electronic devices and let them earn them back. And say no next time they ask permission to go somewhere. If they keep getting in trouble at school, allow natural consequences to happen while you’re being gentle with your child’s frustration.
  3. Watch how you communicate! Disciplining teens is a funny thing. Parents are so often surprised when I remind them that they’re doing just as much yelling as their teen! Come on – do you really want a teen who never disagrees with you? Get really good at saying, “Thats interesting” then dropping the subject. Ask them, “Would you like my input?” then respect their response. Practice using your super calm/quiet voice when you talk. Try asking their opinion rather than giving them ultimatums. It takes a bit longer, but will always be more effective.
  4. Be absolutely immovably consistent. Teens still have black-and-white thinking. Its a hard-wiring thing, and that means they can’t help it. While their brains are still developing (not til they’re about 25), it makes no sense to expect them to calmly put up with you changing just because they argue. It makes teens super insecure when they realize they can talk their way out of a consequence or argue their way past your ‘no’.
  5. Drop the ultimatums. They just don’t work, and are the ultimate setup for your teen to fail.
  6. Be quick to forgive. If you’re working on having calm, quiet discussions about heavy issues and defiant attitudes your teen needs to work on, be the first one to notice a step in the right direction. Don’t ever bring up “all the times you’ve lied to me before!” Stay in this moment, talking about this issue.
  7. You have 60 seconds. Literally. If you can’t make your point about a consequence for defiant behavior briefly, you might as well not bother saying it. Teens’ attention span is short, and there’s nothing healthy about making them listen to your long paragraphs detailing what they did and giving them opportunity to argue. Just say it calmly, briefly, then walk away.
  8. Most important of all: Be gentle. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when your teen doesn’t “deserve” it.

Examples

Curfew: Your teen is repeatedly late getting home. You’ve tried the yelling, the negotiations, and the removal of privileges. Nothing’s working. Try this: Show up at their school every day for a month to pick them up. Walk right in to their last class. Smile! Ignore any attempts to argue, the eye rolling and snide remarks. Say, “I’m here to give you a ride home.” Don’t say anything else. On the ride home, take sixty seconds to quietly let them know that you’ve decided that since they’re not old enough to remember to get home on time, you will be picking them up after school each day for a month, and they will stay home in the evenings for the whole month. Completely ignore any attempts your teen makes to argue. No matter what your teen says, just calmly keep driving home. When you get home, don’t expect them to be happy! They might even decide to push it and walk down the street. Let them go. Show up the next day at their last class.

Sound ridiculously tough and inconvenient? Sure it is! Parenting teens is tough, and especially if you’ve gotten into some bad habits of the yelling/negotiating routine it’ll be even tougher to break those habits. But what you’ll have in the end is a teen who knows you mean business and who he cannot manipulate.

Sex: Catch your son having sex with his girlfriend (and he’s only 15)? Don’t yell. Walk right in, privacy be damned. Pick up your phone and calmly call the girl’s mother. Remember, you have 60 seconds and your son will be feeling rather defensive! Discover its happening again? Have a sit-down conversation. Keep it short and quiet. Explain your beliefs on the subject, and the consequences of STDs and teen pregnancy (did you really expect the school to give him this information?). Choose an appropriate consequence and then follow through no matter what.

There are as many examples as there are teens and moms who love them but are over-the-top frustrated. If you need input regarding a specific situation, feel free to send an email to me: RJ@jrrsehopecoaching.com. Changing your mindset into more effective parenting is incredibly tough!

There is HOPE

My youngest son has been particularly challenging. Sometimes my interventions worked, and sometimes they didn’t. When I would nearly despair of reaching him, of him turning the corner and letting go of his disrespect and defiance, I would hold on to what I believe in most firmly: all teens deserve my respect, period, even when (perhaps especially when) the choices they are making are completely at odds with what I believe in.

Recently my son had a breakdown of sorts. He called me in tears, having just come to the realization that he had so completely messed up, could I please help? Of course I can, always. Within boundaries that for the most part I keep inside my head (nothing is served by telling him what I won’t do, only what I WILL do). I am watching this boy/man step up and show a level of responsibility and ownership that I only dreamed of. These ways of disciplining a super tough super defiant teen are on this page because I know they work.

I invite you to try the better way.

Respond

What points on the list above most bother you? What have you tried? Are there techniques for disciplining your teen that work well that aren’t on this list? Please share! What issues are you and your teen struggling with right now?

Remember, no ones finds recovery in a vacuum. Together, things CAN be better!

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About RJ

I'm passionate about HOPE! As a first year medical student, I spend most of my time studying like mad. Somehow I still find time to build a successful entrepreneurial venture that is helping to change lives. I also keep up with writing, make a few videos here and there, and hold as extra precious the time spent with friends and family. I'm thrilled to work with you as you create your own abundant health, wealth, and happiness.
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38 Responses to Teens and Discipline: what works (and what doesn’t)

  1. Randi says:

    I think ur post is wonderful! I have 10 kids sum teens and some preteens. I know being a parent is a very hard job! I have found threw trial and error that if u can give a punnishment that meets the crime as well as teach them and follow threw every time then ur doing a gr8 job! Its hard and inconvienent at times but ur teens will thank u later. And also teens like small children need to know u r proud of them and want ur aprovel more than anything. So if u notice a change in behavior for the better or they did something good don’t hesitate to let them know u r proud or they did a gr8 job! Sometimes they need to hear it.

  2. Dranreb says:

    This article is so informative. I specially love the “curfew” part. I could just imagine how my teen would react when he sees me in school to pick him up. I’m sure he’ll want to trade himself to anyone at the moment. Seriously, I agree that consistency and tough love are important techniques to help build a more positive character in our defiant teens. Through this, they will learn that they cannot always have their way and that they will only earn the respect that they want if they give respect back and vice versa. Thanks for the wonderful parenting ideas.

    • RJ says:

      Thanks for your comment:-) I will never forget the look on my teen’s face when I showed up at his classroom door – with a sweet smile of course! Its amazing how few parents are willing to stay mindfully engaged with their teens all the way through the tough stuff!

      ~RJ

  3. Hi there- newest follower! Great info! I would love a follow back! Have you joined Java’s over 40 blog linky party. I am blanking on her blog name, but if you google over 40 her blog will pop up! laura

  4. Julia says:

    Hi, stopping by from Voiceboks. I’m following now via GFC – hope you can rebuild your following! Have a better week!

    http://confessionsofafrugalmind.blogspot.com/

    • RJ says:

      Julia,

      Thank you for your visit! I hope you return often:-)

      Yes, this week is sure to be better… both computers will be back from the shop, my site is back loading properly, and the GFC following will build back I’m sure!

      Here’s hoping your week is wonderful as well.

      ~RJ

  5. Becky says:

    I am always amazed by your incredible advice!!! Awesome! http://homesandbabies.blogspot.com

  6. RJ,

    This is excellent advice. I found that the more I treated my step-daughters with respect, and truly let them know that I thought they were really smart(because I really do), allowed much more progress. After all, they couldn’t argue back that they were dumb, so I always tried to shape the calm conversation around that notion. There can be advantages to step-parenting in that you can pull back and say, “I’m not your mother, and let’s just talk about this.” The most important aspect to me parenting, was the back up from my husband. He was always 100% behind me and vice versa.

    • RJ says:

      Courtney,

      Thank you for your great reminder of how important support from dad is! It sounds like many moms can learn from your example as step-mom too. More of us could use that ‘stepping back’ and calmly discussing issues!

      ~RJ

  7. Melanie says:

    I loved this! I don’t quite have teens, yet, but it is inevitable and if I can get some of your points in my head now, I will be ready for that day! I totally agree with all you said. I think that so much of it goes back to follow-through, which is just as effective with the little ones. If you say what you mean and mean what your say, your child knows those boundaries and that you will stick to them, and then there’s no questions! Thank you so much for your post.

    Sorry about your follower list. It wouldn’t let me follow the first time so I turned right around and tried again, (must be a teenager!) and it worked. You’ll get your followers in no time, because we all need this kind of info!
    Melanie recently posted..Crowning Moments! Blogger Tag!

    • RJ says:

      Welcome Melanie,

      You’re so right: creating healthy habits of interacting with younger children can make such a difference as they grow older. Kudos to you for being a mindful parent!

      I got a kick out of your comment “must be a teenager”. I think you’re right!

      ~RJ

  8. I heard that you lost your GFC :( I’m here via VoiceBoks, following you!

    I’d love a follow back, if you’re interested!
    Multi-Testing Mommy recently posted..A Day in the Life of a Blind Canadian

  9. Yet says:

    I agree — I have one 16 year old boy and I treat him like an adult, therefore, he acts like an adult. He is very responsible and a good son. Whenever he wants to do something, he’d ask my permission and I discuss with him the pros and cons and he based his decisions through that discussion. If he insists, I let him do what he wants to some extent and let him learn the hard way. Most often, experience is a good learning process for a child. Parents are supposed to be there to guide them and not hurt and humiliate them. Kids initially look upon to parents but all will be lost if we let negative reinforcement take over the situation. Respect will follow down the drain. We are our kid’s reflection.

    • RJ says:

      I appreciate your comment. And kudos to you for practicing the respect that you want to receive from your son!

      ~RJ

  10. Did my parents have this much trouble with me? I remember calling the 1-800 teen line in the mid 80′s, but I don’t recall any sex talk.

    *sigh* I don’t know. This is exhausting. Power corrupts and the corrupt seek power. Weiner won’t be the last. UGH….

    Your #1 fan
    Sharon
    http://sharon-moms-madhouse.com/

    • RJ says:

      Sharon,

      I agree – they’re both exhausting: parenting teens and the seemingly never ending drama of powerful people getting caught with their pants down.

      I know that I was a rather awful teenager, but not in the ways seen today. I said awful things to my mother, and ran away, and sat in my car listening to music forbidden in the house. Then when I raised my first two (daughters) I believe I made every mistake possible fourteen times over. Finally with my sons I guess I got a few things figured out. Or at least that is what the boys tell me.

      Thank goodness its about progress not perfection!

      ~RJ

  11. Lisa says:

    Stopping over from the blog hop group at VoiceBoks! :)

    Very interesting post! A lot of things that never even occured to me. I sure hope you are still blogging when my daughter becomes a teenager, because I’m positive I’ll need the advice! LOL

    Lisa
    Lisa recently posted..Exciting new giveaway from UPrinting!

    • RJ says:

      Lisa,

      I’ll still be here:-) And by the time your daughter is a teenager, you’ll likely have wonderful ideas to share as well!

      ~RJ

  12. Joyce Lansky says:

    This was a fabulous post! These parents of babies don’t have a clue of what they’re headed for, do they? LOL! As one who’s been there done that (23, 21, 18), I think the twenties can be tougher than the teens because the kids live on their own, and they know everything! When my kids come to visit, I’m careful not to impose a curfew or tell them what to do because if I did, they’d never come back–especially the self-supporting oldest child.

    I too am strongly opposed to corporal punishment and only gave out a single butt slap to one sassy teen daughter when she said something incredibly rude to me. I can’t remember what she said, but it was probably something personal (like “I’d never wear an outfit like that”). She laughed.

    I also firmly believe that raising good teens starts with raising young children. I had great teens, but it didn’t start in high school . . . or maybe I’m just forgetful with age. Although my youngest daughter’s room was/is a mess, she made good grades, stayed out of trouble, and kept communication open, (She’d tell me when she did something she shouldn’t have) so I chose not to fight over her room too much.

    Love your blog and am now a GFC follower.
    Joyce Lansky recently posted..Paul Revere and Other Myths

    • RJ says:

      Joyce,

      Welcome! I especially appreciate your mention of how important it is to begin good parenting habits when children are young. While not impossible, changing parenting when bad habits are already ingrained and teens are practicing rebellion is super tough!

      And kudos for “choosing your battles”. Thats super important, and lets teens know their parent(s) understand reality and aren’t rigid.

      I hope you return often and share your words of wisdom!

      ~RJ

  13. S. Greiner says:

    Awesome post! Thankfully the teen years are a few away but I know I will have to keep my heart open and my mouth closed during that time!!!

    Stopping by from the hop!
    Steph
    http://www.alwaysjustamom.blogspot.com
    S. Greiner recently posted..Ive been

    • RJ says:

      Welcome S. Greiner.

      Yay to keeping your heart open for your teens! And maybe not quite keeping your mouth closed, but instead choosing when and how to mindfully open it!

      ~RJ

  14. This is so so great. I’m coming here for more parenting advice. No parent is perfect and you shouldn’t feel pressured about being perfect. Thanks for posting this RJ. Love it. Hopping along from vB.
    have a Great awesOme Day!!!
    Barbara,
    http://spanishforkids-jbplbarbara.blogspot.com
    Barbara Mascareno-Shaw recently posted..Old McDonald had a FARM GRANJA

    • RJ says:

      Barbara,

      I’m thrilled that you find the suggestions helpful!

      You’re right, no parent is perfect. Best we can do is keep our eyes wide open, practice mindfully striving for the ideals and forgiving ourselves for where we fall short. That in itself can help teens practice the same skills themselves!

      ~RJ

  15. Laura Moss says:

    Just want to thank you for the post. My 13-yr-old daughter is quite defiant and we have had behavioral issues with her. The thought of how many years of teenage-dom we still have to go with her is daunting and overwhelming. It helps to have some concrete ideas of how to deal with her and get her to adulthood with both of us in one piece.
    Laura Moss recently posted..Movie Review- Pirates 3- On Stranger Tides

    • RJ says:

      Laura,

      I’m glad you’re here! Raising teens is one of the most challenging ‘jobs’ in the universe! But it really is possible to still like them at the end of the day. Sending you courage, compassion, and a whole bunch of energy – at least enough for one day at a time!

      ~RJ

  16. Teachermum says:

    Once again you have given an interesting and informative post. Thank you so much. I love the points you make.
    I have used the Magic 123 system very successfully with my children (and at school) and am aware that it is for younger children. My 11 year old (mature) tween has grown out of this and I am definitely moving in the direction of the strategies you have posted above. These are also similarly enforced in the 123 Magic for adolescents.
    I am wondering what your thoughts are on treating tweens like teenagers? Where do you kind of cross over…
    Teachermum recently posted..Things I Have Learned This Week

    • RJ says:

      Teachermum,

      I appreciate your mention of the Magic 123 system – yes it works!

      As far as treating tweens like teens, that gets a little complicated sometimes doesn’t it? I’m a firm believer in treating kids like people. Even very young children respond well to a direct conversation with an adult, being asked their opinions, and being given (age appropriate) choices. So if you have a tween who acts older than their years might suggest, sure, treat them with the respect they’re asking for by their choices. At the same time, remember that while many tweens/teens act “mature”, in reality their brains are maturing on the same time schedule as all other tweens/teens in the universe – not til about age 25. How that translates into parenting strategies is to make sure your expectations of their emotional maturity, their ability to learn from their mistakes, and their ability to make good choices, is realistic. Teens simply don’t experience empathy like we wish they would. They are physically incapable of thinking about the consequences of their choices like an adult would. And they need tons of guidance in getting from here to there.

      Try this: treat your child as you would like her to become, love and nurture your child at exactly the place she is.

      I look forward to hearing your experiences as your child grows!

      ~RJ

  17. kathy says:

    Thanks for another great post! I like the idea of posting the guidlines, that makes sense. I was having a problem with my tween be consistenly late to meeting my car. I tried being understanding, which of course I am of an occacional lateness, but this was chronic, I tried expressing my anger, and my feelings on being prompt and/or using the cell phone, and I explained that it was inconsiderate to leave me waiting with his brother and sisiter in the car for up to 20 minutes. I let him know that if it happend again I would pick him up at the school instead of the pick up block. He was late and I walked up to shcool, with my 5 year old and sweetly said hi and walked with him and his freinds to our car. It never happend again. Although I’m not on drugs, (lol) I know I face ever escalting boundry testing!! I also am a huge beliver in not yelling and when I do occaisonaly yell I really get mad at myslef becuase I feel the minute I act like a twelve year old I have lost. I am very fortuanate to have spent the equlivent of a small house on thereapy for myslef which has really made pareting diffrent from my parents possible!! Thanks again!!
    kathy recently posted..Proud to be a Stage Mother

    • RJ says:

      Kathy,

      What a fantastic example! Sending you courage as your teen grows older. You’ve laid a great foundation:-)

      ~RJ

  18. Elise Adams says:

    I really loved this article. Currently I am parenting a 16 year old, and 3, 4 and 1 year olds as well. This article really puts the entire picture into focus for me. I especially liked how you outlined specific examples of calm, following-through behavior. Having come from a background where this respectful-mindful parenting was NOT modeled it is SO helpful to hear your personal examples.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • RJ says:

      Elise,

      I’m glad the examples were helpful! Coming from a background of dysfunction makes it a little more challenging to learn effective parenting, but certainly not impossible. You’ve got a particular challenge having both a teen and young kids! Sending you courage as you navigate this complex and wonderful experience!

      ~RJ

  19. Denny Coates says:

    Yes, teens do weird and awful things for no good reason. As you said, it’s what teens do. The problem is, these actions can sometimes have hurtful consequences, leading to a chain of consequences. Worse, their irrationality can become a pattern that persists into adult life. The brain constantly wires itself.

    I think your strategies are great. Above all, kids need boundaries and reasons to avoid acting irrationally. The truth is, whatever does that can benefit if it keeps them out of trouble. Even a dominating parent or fear of hellfire and damnation – far from ideal, but if it works, there will be a benefit. But smart parents will aim for the ideal – strategies such as you suggest.

    The worst are abusive parents, but not far behind are indulging, permissive in-denial parents.

    • RJ says:

      Thanks for your comment Denny.

      I agree – it seems parenting teens is kinda like walking a thin line between indulgence and domination. I applaud those parents who are willing to do the hard work of finding methods to reach their teens, and hanging in there even when its tough and inconvenient!

      ~RJ

  20. Such an absolutely useful post. As a psychologist and a parent of two teens (who are both wonderful and challenging at times in different ways), I think you give parents terrific advice; like many things, it is simple but not easy! My husband who has done many hard things in his life says being a “good parent” is the hardest job he has ever had. But how can we expect our children to manage their own emotions when we don’t control ours or take responsibility when we mishandle our own feelings. Great post; thanks!

    • RJ says:

      Christine,

      Thank you for your response. I particularly appreciate your “simple but not easy” – parenting is far from easy! But I have discovered that the rewards of doing this super hard job are over-the-top wonderful! Even on the days when my teens were at their worst, I tried to hold myself to a higher standard for my own behavior (and to apologize if I messed up). Super tough, but well worth it. I hope you return often!

      ~RJ

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