Disciplining teenagers presents a rather unique challenge as there’s bound to be a slight power shift in the parent child relationship as children get older – parents need their children to understand that ultimately they are still in charge, yet at the same time need to guide their children in taking greater responsibility and becoming more independent. Remember that even though your child might be more capable physically, the part of his brain responsible for decision making and impulse control is not yet fully developed and this may lead him to take some rather risky decisions.
Some of the golden oldies still apply when disciplining teenagers – just as you did when they were younger it’s important to have clearly defined rules, to be consistent in your discipline and to ensure that you and your partner present a united front. But some of the discipline rules need to change – difficult as it may be, you might have to start relinquishing control of some of the less important things and allow them to face the consequences as long as these do not put your child in danger. For instance, most parents will not let their young children die their hair purple if it is against the school rules, no matter how they insist but if your teenager insists on doing something like this, despite knowing the school rules you might have to just let them and then face the music when they go back to school.
I feel rather strongly that teenagers should not specifically be rewarded for correct behaviour. It’s okay to use start charts and other rewards to get young children to behave appropriately, but by the teenage years the reward for doing the right things should be intrinsic and when disciplining teenagers the consequences for doing the wrong thing should include loss of privileges, being grounded or having to pay restitution, so that if their actions had monetary consequences they should be made to repay the money.
It is very important to listen to your children during the teen years, especially since they so easily tend to feel misunderstood. Negotiation becomes an important skill they need to learn as they strive for independence and help them work towards a solution that fits you both rather than simply stubbornly sticking to the rules for their own sake. Even disagreeing teens should be allowed to have their say as this will help them rationalise their feelings and work through their own thought process. And oh boy! You can be pretty sure that this is where all the backchat will come in! To curb backchat, make it clear that you are willing to let them have their say only as long as they address you in a polite, non-aggressive way and then be sure to treat them in the same way.
Teenagers are typically emotional beings and you will likely find that will try to lure you into big, dramatic, emotional fights when they are upset. If you find that your fights with your teenager are always highly charged try to remove yourself from the situation until you are both calm enough to discuss the problem rationally.
Lastly, let them know that you have their back. The teenage years may be a very volatile time – friendships and relationships change rapidly at this age and it is important that they experience the home environment as constant, secure and supportive.
Anel Annandale is a prominent Educational Psychologist with a passion for early childhood development and a special interest in neuropsychology.
She is experienced in the field and has established herself as an expert, often appearing on television shows such as Exspresso. She is also available as a guest speaker at relevant events and functions.