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Disciplining Your Adolescent


Adolescent Discipline

Drew Heckman, Ph.D., Psychologist

We get a lot of parents and families who come in with adolescent behavior problems.  Difficulties disciplining your adolescent, that kind of developmental area is just a little more difficult.

When should parents begin disciplining their child?

So the best time would be preventively.  So I like to work a lot with my families, and set up kind what we call a behavioral contract so basically we have these expectations.  You know if you meet them we're fine, you get your privileges, if you don't we've already agreed upon a consequence.  

What are some methods parents can use to discipline their child?

The most common misused method that I see is time based stuff.   It's just kind what all of our parents used and what we're used to using.  You know you ground them for a week, ground them for a month.  I don't tend to like that you know, I tend to like more task-based.  So you know we have a task we would like to see you complete it.  Once you complete that then your discipline is over.  Now that task can take a little while, some tasks might take you a week but I prefer tasks that are tied more to the violation.  So a violation might be grades are dropping so we would want you know an hour of homework every night, so you have to spend an hour and when you do you can earn some access to privileges.

What is the key to effective discipline?

The best description I've ever heard is basically discipline should be done like a police officer, you know delivering a ticket.  You know emotions are out, you know it's not that we're not angry, if you are angry and then kids tend to think they're getting punished because you're angry so I tend to recommend that you delay a little bit of time so as you know rule has been broken you can let them know that there is a consequence for this and you don't have to administer it right away, especially if you are emotional about it.  I would rather the parents be nice and calm.  Let them know here's the consequences because you violating this rule.

 Just humans in general, we are very problem focused so we tend to define problems and then want to respond to them.  That means that we miss a lot of things that are going well and so especially with your teenager, it's good to catch them when they are doing it right.  So you know you have a teenager who keeps showing up right on curfew, notice that.  You know really appreciate it, acknowledge it because of that, maybe move their curfew back a little bit, more like a half hour and make it based upon the fact that they are following through.  We do that we prevent a lot of needing to be the bad guy.  You just get to be the good guy for a while, and that is kind of nice.​

Disciplining your adolescent is a difficult task for most parents. Drew Heckman, Ph.D., Staff Psychologist at Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health, offers tips and strategies for parents on adolescent discipline.