Stop disciplining your teenager - try these 3 steps instead

Posted July 13

“You’re grounded for a month!”

“I’m taking your phone away!”

“You can’t go out with your friends ever again!”

“What is wrong with you?”

If you are a parent of teenagers, these phrases might have come to mind and maybe escaped your mouth. What about physical punishments such as hitting, pushing or grabbing?

Yes, parenting teenagers who don’t listen, have no regard for rules or are disrespectful is challenging and triggers anger and frustration.

When you feel angry and frustrated, you might yell harsh comebacks in an attempt to “put your child in his place” or in other words “discipline” them.

Sadly, the word discipline is often synonymous with “punishment.” In fact, one of the definitions of discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”

So what’s the problem with this way of thinking?

There are a number of psychological effects that happen many parents do not realize.

First, discipline that employs punishment does not help your teenager learn. On the contrary, it can have the opposite effect.

Yes, he might alter his behavior temporarily, but will there be long-term change in his way of thinking and character? Absolutely not.

Think about it: Using punishments to teach teenagers (and children of all ages) to behave only makes them feel worse about themselves.

Look at it this way, if someone treats you badly or says a hurtful comment do you think, oh goodie, I want listen to you, I want to improve? Of course not! Instead you feel hurt, resentful towards them and might even want to get even (make them hurt because you hurt).

Well teenagers feel the same way! Making them feel bad does not encourage or teach long lasting change.

Second, discipline that employs punishment causes teenagers to feel resentment, revenge, and ultimately rebellious. In fact, in the well-known parenting book "Positive Discipline," Jane Nelson points out the Four Rs (results) of punishment as resentment, revenge, rebellion and retreat.

If your teenager is experiencing any of these feelings do you think he is learning from the experience? Of course.

So what should you do instead?

First, children who feel a connection to their parents are more likely to listen and cooperate. Doctor Shefali, a clinical psychologist and author of "Out of Control" sums it up well: “The first task of any parent is to establish connection. If the parent has established a strong connection with their child, they will be able to expose their child to the natural consequences of their behavior with ease and confidence.”

How do you do this? Here are three core principles to follow:

Make connection the core of your parenting instead of discipline. Spend time with your teenager. Do things together he enjoys. And especially listen to him without judgement. On some days you might have 10 minutes to spend together, other days 30. Take time to nurture your relationship.

Next, include skill building as another core of your parenting. Keep in mind teenagers are still learning. They are going to make mistakes; that is life. When they make mistakes, calmly teach them how to fix it and make amends. Be a proactive, skill-teaching parent who teaches your teenager behavior skills, social skills and life skills. When he does something that is upsetting to you instead of jumping to discipline, ask yourself, “What skill is he missing? How can I teach him that?”

Lastly, when consequences are needed, make them reasonable and relatable to his actions. This means instead of thinking of harmful, unrealistic punishments, ask yourself, “What is reasonable so he wants to improve and I can follow through with what I say?”

Here is an example: If your teenager comes in after curfew, don’t say, “You are never going out with your friends again.” This of course is not true and completely unreasonable plus there is no way you can follow through on that threat.

Instead say, “I need you to follow our rules. Being out with friends is fun and you might lose track of time. The next time you go out with friends, you will need to come home an hour earlier.” This is reasonable and related to his choices.

What are the results of the three parenting cores of: connection, skill building and reasonable consequences? A competent teenager who knows you have his best interest in mind. Because of these positive feelings, he will automatically make better choices, want to improve, and have the desire to learn (all on his own). Isn’t that what every parent wants, hopes, and prays for?

Damara Simmons is the author of "Self-Motivated Kids" (releasing Sept. 1,2016), a certified family life educator and most importantly a mother who is trying to figure out this "parenting thing." You can find her at

Damara Simmons is a family life educator and author who loves empowering parents with knowledge, truth, and skills.


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all