HomeHealth & BehaviorBehavior & Discipline

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!)

Comments from readers

"We live with my parents who are forthemostpart healthy. My 13yo son tries me a lot. I work nights, my husband is laid off, but often over his parents assisting with medical issues. So my son gets to have his way often. In grade school, he was wondeful, now in 7th grade, not listening wandering around, talking back, both at home and school. And homework when he does it, it somehow doesn't make it to school. It has taken all year to get him on track and your comments are exactly on point!!!!! Too much pushing he shuts down !!!! "
"These are good words. I find myself giving in 'sometimes' and being a constant nag as soon as I walk through the door at other times. It seems to be never ending. My girl is soon to be 12 years old and is testing me with every breath and always has to have the last word. She feels I don't listen and I feel the same about her. But I keep my head up and keep making what I hope are the right decisions. Fun-Fun-Fun. I thought raising boys was hard; it is nothing to what I am experiencing with this one. But all in all she is still the light of my life and we still have some awesome moments. "
"how do youdeal witha teen who is quite smart but in the last two years has made a comolete turnaround. Is disrespectful, lazy, has failed the entire school year. Believes school is not that important. Just started counseling, but feels it will not help and can fool the therapist."