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.


Parents, What Keeps You Up At Night?

Parenting can be fun, rewarding, beautiful and all those good things.  But it can also be really stressful.




The parents who complain the most about sleepless nights due to worrying are parents of teenagers.  Worries revolve around:

  • sex
  • drugs
  • eating disorders
  • suicide attempts
  • belligerence
  • aggression
  • depression
  • bullying
  • grades
  • etc.

I’ve worked with parents who are up nights worrying their teens are no longer interested in family vacations to parents with teens who have attempted suicide on several occasions.  Some parents are so worried about their teen they’ll sleep outside their room on the floor.  I’ve had several clients who’ve done this so it’s not uncommon.  They all think they’re the only ones going through this, but of course they’re not.

If you’re worried your teens aren’t as connected to their family as they once were, don’t worry, they’ll come back into the family fold once those hormones settle down.  But if you’re worried about the crisis stuff then stop trying to do this on your own.  There is tons of free help out there in the form of school counselors, police, youth groups.  Or you can hire someone like me to guide you through the minefield.  Just make sure they specialize in teens as dealing with a 12 year old is very different from dealing with a 17 year old.

The worst thing you can do is nothing.  

If you’re up all night worrying about your kids, get help.  Reach out to other parents who you know are also struggling, talk to trusted friends and family, or get professional help.  Sometimes just getting your worries out in the open can help.

Call me (604-349-8044, Vancouver, Canada) if you think I can help you.

Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach

More teen reading:  


What Parenting Style will Backfire in the Teen Years?

“New Age Parenting” (a.k.a. “Attachment Parenting”) is where you allow the child to be the boss.  Discipline is a no-no as is considered to be mean.

School principals complain about “New Age Parenting”as being one of the reasons schools are having to do so much of the parenting these days.  Teachers are having to spend more time dealing with bad behaviour and less time focused on academics.

Children not only need leadership, they crave it.  

Every single troubled teen I’ve worked with has said they wish their parents had been tougher on them when they were young.  Many have told me they’d get into trouble to test their parents, see if they loved them enough to discipline them.  They understood that discipline is love.  When they didn’t get leadership from their parents, they looked to their peers.

If you discipline children when they’re young they’re self-disciplined when they’re teenagers.  My son had a rebellious side but said (complained was more like it) that he could never exercise it as I was always sitting on his shoulder.  He was wrong, his conscience was always sitting on his shoulder.  I did all the work when my kids were little so we could sail through the teen years.

Friends who raised their children without discipline really struggled through the teen years.  They were imposing curfews that were constantly broken, taking away video games, threatening, yelling, picking up drunk teens from parties … just a mess.  The ones who struggled the most through the teen years were the ones most critical of discipline in the early years.  I could’ve written their future out for them but they wouldn’t have believed me.

Video on dangers of “New Age Parenting”.

If you want to be respected, you have to earn it.  You have to educate yourself on each child’s needs and wants.  All children need strong leadership.  If you don’t provide it, they’ll turn to their peers.  You want your kids turning to you, not their peers, when they need advice, guidance, etc.

Remember that discipline without fun doesn’t work either.  You have to meet all of your children’s needs and fun is a giant one.  Be the fun parent, be the house their friends come to, play games with them, goof around with them.  The relationship you build through fun mixed with discipline is wonderful.

To feel in control of parenting get started with my FREE “3 Step Parenting Plan” included in my Newsletter.  Sign up button at the top right of page. 


Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach

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Are you Afraid of your Kids?


Do you have a toddler you give candy to when out for fear of a public tantrum?

Do you bribe your 8 and 10 year olds with special privileges if they’re good at the restaurant?

Do you have a teenager who does absolutely nothing around the house as you just can’t handle another confrontation?

If you can relate to any of this, you’re not alone. Tons of parents are also afraid of their kids.  Afraid of a scene or a confrontation.  I say, “BRING IT ON!!!”  I encourage you to stop bribing and avoiding and take control.  The longer you wait the worse it’s going to get.

I encourage you to use my “3 Step Parenting Plan” (sign up above with newsletter). It’s the tool I use with all of my clients.  It’s not a magic pill, it’s just a tool to use to start getting respect and taking control.  It’s also a sign to the kids that changes are taking place.  It’s free and I guarantee results 100% if you set it up and follow through consistently.  Mistakes are even okay so long as you acknowledge same with the kids and accept your punishment for messing up.  The “3 Step Parenting Plan” has to be the family LAW.

The video in this article has a good story about a mom who was afraid of her 4 boys.  She used every trick in the book throughout the years:  bribery, threats, ignoring, hovering. She really struggled and the boys took over.  As a friend I don’t offer advice and she never asked as justified my relationship with my kids as “luck”.  Her struggle was completely unnecessary and avoidable.

If this article hits a nerve, please watch and follow my “3 Step Parenting Plan”(free in my newsletter, sign up top right).  There are so many lessons in there about how to get respect.


How to De-Stress Parenting

Parenting can be stressful but it doesn’t have to be.  I focus on 2 things with all my clients:  

1.  Planning
2.  Acting
(as opposed to Re-Acting)

Planning is obvious, it’s setting out a plan of how you want your family to operate.  Use my “3 Step Parenting Plan” (below) for rules and consequences and you can even put chores on there to keep the house running smoothly.

Acting is the tricky one.  Too many parents are so busy re-acting to their children’s behaviour that they have become the followers rather than the leaders.  I guarantee if you starting acting in a way that commands respect, you’ll get respect.  Your children will be re-acting to you.

I hear, “How on earth can I not react when he’s biting my ankles and kicking the cat across the room?”  Or, “You mean I don’t react when my 14 year old comes home drunk and telling me where to go!!!”  Those are even more reasons not to react.  You can deal with physical demands like removing teeth from your ankle and protecting the cat, but stay calm, quiet and show no emotion whatsoever.  You never deal with things in the heat of the moment, save that for later.  For more on this:  “Top 10 Tips to Get Respect”.

If you set out a plan and start acting like a leader you’ll start to de-stress.    

Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach — BratBusters Parenting Services

My Summer Preparedness focused “4 Week Parenting Program” is starting June 5th.  It goes through all the basics on how to get respect and raise happy kids with lots of Summer tips included.  Check it out here:  Toddler or Child.