How to Discipline a Difficult Teenager | Parenting Teens

Surprisingly few parents ask me how to discipline a teenager.  I get more questions about how to cope with a teenager.  I guess discipline seems unattainable.

Can you discipline a difficult teenager?  Yes, but it’s very different from how you discipline a toddler, child or tween.  

The first step is to check yourself.  Are you acting or reacting?  In other words, when your teen lashes out do you react or just stay calm?  If you’re reacting, you’re diving off the emotional cliff with them.  If you’re acting (staying calm and controlled), you are not elevating the situation.

I admit I’ve never raised a difficult teen as I had that mutual respect cemented early on, but I’ve certainly worked with a lot of very challenging teenagers.  What they all have in common is that they are all Me Me Me.  They don’t stop and think how their words or actions are affecting others as they really don’t care.  They’re totally self-absorbed.

They have tunnel vision which all focuses on what they want.

What you have to do is dive into that tunnel and create a diversion. 

So, you’re now calm and ready to create that diversion?  Let me explain how this is done.

Let’s say you have a 14 year old girl who goes out drinking at parties and comes home wasted, if she comes home at all.  You say,

You’re too young to party all night.  You’re also too young to be drinking, that’s just a fact.  What’s going to happen from now on is that I’m still going to let you party, you’re just going to be calling me every 90 minutes so I know you’re okay.  I’m also going to be picking you up at an arranged time and location.  The pickup spot can be a few houses away from where the party is so as not to embarrass you in front of your friends.  Does that sound fair?

It doesn’t matter how she reacts, you’ve just calmly explained there’s going to be a shift.  The most important thing for you to do is to STAY CALM.  Not just that, but no eye rolls, no frustrated sighs, absolutely nothing that she could interpret as a negative reaction to her.

You are now setting yourself up as a calm, controlled leader.  You’re also showing that you’re fair as you’re still allowing her to party, just on your terms.

It takes time to gain the respect of a teenager, you have to be patient and willing to put in the work.  

When I first started mentoring teenagers I didn’t have a clue what to do.  I’d been through some training but it didn’t suit me so I had to figure out my own way.  One thing I decided right away was to never open up their files.  I didn’t want to get to know them through their past mistakes.

I’d say:

I have 3 rules:

  1.  No swearing in front of me
  2. You have to say thank you at the end of each session
  3. You have to give me a hug at the end of each session

They often broke the first rule but they never broke and second and third ones.  The thank you’s and hugs were often strained but they happened.

I was setting myself up as a calm leader, someone who respected them but still had boundaries.  That’s all you’re doing with this first step.  

I’m here if you need some guidance to get through this, it can be challenging.

Lisa.