The Best Discipline for Older Youth

When it comes to discipline approaches for older youth, many parents are unsure what to do. If they’ve relied on rewards, punishments, and telling (the things I don’t recommend), they quickly learn that these discipline approaches are ineffective and don’t promote responsibility. So what’s the best way to discipline a teenager?

Realize that by the time children are 13 to 14 years old, you should be through telling them what to do. Of course, youth still need guidance, but it should be accomplished by persuasion—not coercion. Teenagers want to cut the umbilical cord, but at the same time they still want security. This is a challenge for both the teenager and the parent.

Implementing the three practices of positivity, choice, and reflection is a very effective way to avoid the trap that teenagers (oftentimes unknowingly) create for the parent—who is also torn between giving wings and having the adolescent stay in the nest. The beauty of practicing the three principles is that discipline becomes much easier. You don’t need to choose punishments or rewards; you don’t need to alienate; you simply ask questions to elicit reflection.

As one parent of a teenager told me, “First, I spent most of the time training myself—cleaning out the old questions that were accusatory and judgmental and I replaced them with questions that elicit thoughtful, honest responses.”

Some questions to consider using with your teen are:

  • “What do you want?”
  • “What are you choosing to do to get what you want?”
  • “If what you are choosing is not getting you what you want, then what is your plan?”
  • “What are your procedures to implement the plan?”