How to Discipline a Difficult Teenager

No one ever said raising children was easy, but raising a teenager can be especially difficult. Even the most well-behaved child can become a destructive or rebellious teenager. Teens don’t need you to do everything for them, so setting boundaries and rules can feel pointless.

You probably want to enact effective punishments as your teen grows and tests limits. You want them to know that if they do something wrong, there will be consequences. However, there are many methods of discipline out there. Is there a way to react to your teen’s poor behavior that will improve it?

Punishment vs. Discipline

Punishment and discipline seem to go hand in hand, but they are different. Discipline is about regulating behaviors, while punishment is a penalty for poor behavior. Punishment can be an aspect of discipline, but it should not be the only method for dealing with a difficult teenager.

An article in Time Magazine says punishing teenagers may only lead to frustration and deeper issues. When teenagers are punished, they can feel unheard and may withdraw from positive influences.

While discipline involves setting limits, it does not force a child to obey. It encourages development, growth, and maturity, while punishment focuses on poor behavior and tends to ignore the need for support. Punishment without other forms of discipline like positive consequences and rewards for good behavior can worsen problematic behavior.

Consequences for Difficult Teenagers

It can be hard to stop yourself from extreme reactions when your teen does something wrong or talks back. Getting frustrated or angry is natural. However, yelling at your teenager or threatening them only leads to a strained relationship, confusion, and shame.

The number one rule regarding discipline is consistency. If you make rules, stick to them. Each situation will call for unique reactions, but remaining calm is key.

Some useful ways to set consequences and stick to them to improve your teen’s behavior include:

  • Involve your teen in setting the rules: Discuss and compromise what they think is a fair punishment for breaking a rule. If they stay out late, must they come home early next time? If they are caught drinking, will you research the effects of alcohol together and ground them?
  • Be clear: Be clear on what you expect from your teenager. Don’t offer things as options but let them know exactly what the rule is.
  • Set responsibilities: Let your teen know what they are responsible for. Do they have chores? Are there daily or weekly expectations? Make sure they know what you expect from them.
  • Be appreciative: When they meet or exceed your expectations, be sure to make that known. Thank them for following the rules and fulfilling their obligations.
  • Discuss: The rules should be up for discussion as your child grows and matures. If they do well with a set of rules, consider giving them additional privileges or responsibilities.

With these tips in mind, remember that the punishment should fit the crime, so to speak. If they are ten minutes late, grounding them for two weeks and yelling at them is extreme. Try taking ten minutes off their curfew for the next week instead.

The same goes for removing privileges. Rather than taking something away after your child misbehaves, let them know what the consequence is beforehand so they can decide if that behavior is worth the loss. Will they risk losing their phone for the night just to stay out a half-hour longer?

You don’t want to alienate your child, but encourage their best behavior and positive choices. When something doesn’t go as planned, calmly discuss it and let them reflect.

How to Discipline a Difficult Teenager Effectively

It is common for a teenager to push boundaries. This is challenging, but the less reactive you are, the better your judgment. If you react to their yelling by yelling back, you model that that behavior is appropriate, and, in your anger, you may say something you regret or can’t follow through on. This can confuse your teen and reduce your authority as a parent.

When you are upset, step back and calm down. Sure, your teen may stomp up the stairs, slam doors, and yell, but doing the same will not lead to them listening or behaving better. When you set boundaries you both need to stick to them. If you threaten to take their phone but don’t do it, they will keep pushing you on that specific issue.

You also want your discipline to include discussions and problem-solving. Instead of punishing your child, work together. If they were irresponsible and broke something, let them tell you their plan to fix it. Work together to find an outcome that works for everyone.

Finally, if your teenager is stubborn and reluctant to follow rules or work with you, therapy may help. Having a mental health professional work with your teen to unravel what may be causing these behaviors and work through them can help them and improve your relationship.

Introduce the idea of therapy not as a punishment but as a tool to help them. Stay involved in their progress and participate in family therapy.

Disciplining your teenager can be one of the hardest parenting skills to perfect, and you may never get there. You are human after all. Teenagers will push your limits and test you. Discipline doesn’t need to be all about punishment, but learning to set boundaries together and enacting both positive and negative consequences for certain actions. You want your teenager to grow into a mature and capable adult. Working with them to accomplish that is the best way to do so. If your teenager is struggling to meet you in the middle, Havenwood Academy can help them and you through multiple therapeutic methods. Our long-term residential facility can help your child through mental health disorders, behavioral issues, and past trauma, all while keeping them caught up in school. Call us today at (435) 586-2500 to learn about our family involvement-focused program. 


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