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Adolescent Discipline

By Drew Heckman, Ph.D.

​​Disciplining your adolescent is notoriously known to be a difficult task for most parents. During this time teenagers are more motivated on spending free time with friends and having fun above anything else. In order to effectively raise your teenager, the relationship becomes similar to an employee to employer relationship where negotiation is constant. You may be in charge of things they want such as gas, money or a new phone, while they are in charge of doing things you want like doing well in school and helping out around the house.

Discipline

  • Parents should establish a behavioral plan with their adolescents as soon as possible with discipline plans that are pre-planned and prior to rule violations.
  • Predefined discipline programs can help promote effective decision-making and prevent future rule violations.
  • Major privileges like access to electronics and driving should be directly tied to meeting behavioral expectations such as passing grades in school or meeting curfew.
  • Consequences can be established prior to rule infractions. This helps limit the use of consequences that are emotionally driven and often overly harsh.

Consequences

  • Short-term and task-based consequences can help with better decision-making. Frequent repetition of short-term consequences can also help promote learning relative to intense long-term consequences. For example talking back results in small consequences of an extra chore.
  • Consequences that are task-based promote taking responsibility for a rule violation and gets things accomplished. For example your punishment is over once you have completed some behavioral expectation such as chores or homework.
  • Consequences can also be tied to the infraction. For example, completing an hour of studying each night for poor grades or an hour earlier of curfew for being late.
  • Consequences that are time-based do not promote practicing more effective behaviors.

Tips for Parents

  • Allow your adolescent to earn back privileges as quickly as possible because taking away all privileges decreases motivation. Long-term consequences can lead to more behavior problems because there is nothing more to lose.
  • When giving out consequences, do so without emotion. Involving your emotions leads to your adolescent feeling that you gave out the consequence due to your emotional state instead of focusing on their decision-making that led to the initial consequence.
  • Allow your teenager to come up with their own consequence because it gives them more incentive to follow their own rules.
  • It is important to catch your teenager doing things right. Good behavior can earn adolescents more privileges and free time for fun.

When to Seek Professional Help

Many families come seek professional help to solve adolescent behavior problems and parents do not need to feel ashamed. It is a difficult time to be an adolescent and to be parents raising an adolescent, as well. If your teenager is involved in any negative activities such as drug use, self-harm or physical violence, seek professional help.