Effective Methods for Disciplining Older Teens

Discipline Strategies for Teens Ages 16 and Over

Disciplining an older teen requires some different parenting interventions.
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As teens begin to transform into young adults, their discipline needs change. They require much less parental intervention as they begin making decisions on their own. However, all teens make mistakes and often, they require a little help turning those mistakes into learning opportunities.

Now that they’ve outgrown time-outs and sticker charts, many parents wonder how to discipline an older teen. There are several strategies parents can use to assist teens in successfully transitioning into young adults.

Set Clear Rules and Expectations

As teens grow older, they need to know your expectations. Set clear rules and discuss them with your teen. For example, when you say “Be home at midnight,” do you really mean be home before midnight? Or do you mean be home around midnight? Role model effective communication and ensure that your teen is aware of the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time.

Problem-Solve Discipline Problems with Your Teen

When problems arise, sit down with your teen to problem-solve together. When a teen has input into solving the problem, he's much more likely to follow through with the solution. Remember, the point is for your teen to learn how to solve problems independently before he enters into the real world. Offer guidance without fixing the problem for him.

Asking teens for their ideas about how to solve a problem can lead to some creative solutions. I’ve worked with parents who had spent years battling with their teenage son about his refusal to do homework.

His parents tried instilling mandatory homework hours, removing privileges, and scheduling regular parent-teacher conferences to no avail. They finally brought him in for counseling to fix his “lack of motivation.”

However, when asked, the teen made it clear he wasn’t going to do homework at home. But, he was willing to stay after school every day to complete his homework, as long as he didn’t have to do it at home.

It turned out to be an easy solution to a problem that seemed complicated. Ask your teen for input and you might be surprised at the results.

Allow for Natural Consequences

Don’t be afraid to let your teen face some natural consequences. When he’s 17, if he wants to go outside without a jacket, let him go. If he’s cold, he’ll put on his jacket next time. As long as there aren’t safety issues, consider allowing your teen to try some things on his own to see how he responds to the consequences. This can help teens develop better decision-making skills as they begin to make decisions based on potential real-life consequences rather than, “Mom says I can’t.”

I worked with a mom who was at her wit’s end with her 15-year-old who argued with her about bedtime. She felt like sleep was very important to his school success and she tried to instill a strict bedtime. He fought her every step of the way, sneaking his electronics into his room and getting up in the middle of the night.

His mother finally agreed to let him pick his own bedtime. She agreed not to intervene as long as he made it to school on time. He made it until midnight the first two nights. By the third night, he was so exhausted he went to sleep at his usual bedtime anyway.

The power struggle his mother had dealt with for so long was removed by allowing him to see first-hand the consequence of staying up too late. Avoid power struggles with teens at all costs.

Remove Privileges When Necessary

When teens don’t make healthy decisions, they are communicating that they need more guidance. When you need to intervene, removing privileges can be an effective discipline strategy. Consider removing privileges that are important to your teen, such as the use of electronics or the right to leave the house unsupervised.

Communicate clearly how privileges can be reinstated. For example, instead of saying, “You can have your phone back when I can trust you again,” say, “You can have your phone back when you have told the truth for two full weeks.” This awareness of exactly what behavior you are looking for motivates them to earn privileges back faster.

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