Top discipline mistakes parents of older kids make

How to get your tween and teen to behave, and achieve more harmony at home.

By GreatSchools Staff

As your child turns into a tween and then a teen, you may well wonder, “What happened to my sweet child?” She rolls her eyes, scoffs at your every utterence, and slams the door in anger when you dare ask what homework she has today.

And that’s on a good day. On the worst days, you may feel that all you do is scold, nag, and question. To make it more perplexing, suddenly the rules about discipline have changed. Research has found that kids respond differently to discipline as they grow, so what worked for your elementary schooler might backfire on your middle or high schooler.

While younger kids do best with positive feedback, older ones can and do respond to negative feedback. Developmental experts think this is because they are now able to deal with more complicated thought processes. “Oh, I did this incorrectly, and this is a better way to do it.” Conversely, younger kids only want to know the best way to do something.

While raising a teenager can be exhausting and sometimes dispiriting, this is no time to let down your discipline guard. The stakes are potentially much higher now, with the possibility of very grown-up issues like sex and drugs becoming a reality in your child’s life.

So if you can avoid these common mistakes and keep the lines of communication open with your teen, she will most likely come out the other end a strong and confident young adult.

1. Overdoing it

The problem: Your child comes home a half-hour late from a party, and you ground her. She gets a C on her report card, you ground her. She loses her wallet, again. You ground her. In fact, it seems like you spend most of your time meting out punishments. And no one is happy. You are exhausted by playing cop, and she feels defeated, resentful, and picked on.

Try this instead: As your child grows into her teens, you need to adjust your rules to fit her new level of maturity. You don’t have to punish her for every infraction. Sometimes it’s better to use a mistake to help her learn a life lesson — what’s popularly known as a teachable moment.

If she gets a speeding ticket, she’s probably already been frightened by having to deal with the police. So use the incident as a way to help her talk through what she did. And help her figure out how she’s going to make it right. For example, ask your child how she’s going to pay the ticket. This will help her start thinking for herself (and make her think twice the next time she is tempted to put the pedal to the medal!)

2. Negotiating

The problem: You have made the rule that your child has to do her homework before going online. But when you catch her on the computer with unfinished homework, she says, “That’s not fair. My English homework isn’t due for two days. I just want to finish up this chat. I’ll get the homework done as soon as I get home tomorrow. I swear.” You’re tired of fighting , so you think, “Oh, why not?”

Try this instead: Stick to your guns. She hasn’t followed the rules, and you can’t let her have control of the issue by dragging you into a no-win discussion. Tell her that once she has finished the homework, you can talk more about that rule and maybe refine it a bit. But for now she needs to focus on the main issue: Her homework isn’t done, and she needs to finish. If you give in on a negotiation, your battles will never end. Instead, by showing her that your rules are hard and fast, she’ll stop testing you.

3. Being a friend

The problem: Your child asks to stay up till 11:00 p.m. on a school night to watch a movie on TV. To bolster her case, she tells you that “all the kids at school stay up all the time.” You don’t want your kid to think you’re uncool, and  you don’t want her to be the only one whose parents make her go to bed early. So you say yes.

Try this instead: You are not your older child’s friend. You are her parent. Though in many ways she may act like a young adult, she still needs you to set boundaries. Tweens and teens are negotiating lots of new territory (that old sex and drugs again!), and they need the reassurance of knowing that their parents are still there, setting and enforcing the rules. They also need to know you’re providing the security they need now more than ever. Remind your child that the house rules still apply to her.