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Strategies for Disciplining During the Pre-Teen and Teen Years

The middle years of youth can sometimes bring challenges and strife to the parent-child relationship.  It is always easier to prevent issues than it is to address them after the fact. A key strategy for prevention is creating structure and consistency. Children of all ages need structure; it creates a sense of security and safety.  Children who don’t have structure or stability will almost always act out in negative ways and require more discipline.

Establish family rules early on, but keep in mind they should change as your child gets older. This is an activity that should include the entire family, including your children. The more they’re involved in the process, the more likely they are to be compliant. Family rules can include items such as:

  • CurfewStrategies for Disciplining During the Pre-Teen and Teen Years
  • School expectations
  • Friends
  • Money
  • How to dress
  • Chores
  • Screen Time
  • And more

Be sure to include consequences for breaking rules. It’s important that the punishment is congruent with the infraction. If the punishment is too severe it will only create additional conflict and stress in your relationship.

Avoiding power struggles with your pre-teen and  teen is extremely important for your sanity. Children are masters at pulling parents into power struggles. This is the stage where they are struggling for independence and control over their lives. This tendency for rebellion increases in children when they are in their pre-teen and teen years. There is a tricky balance between loosening the reigns and maintaining your authority as parents. Some strategies for managing this balancing act are:

  • Always be open to listening

  • Acknowledge their feelings with comments such as, “I know you really want to go out tonight.”

  • Avoid sarcasm and criticizing; this will only fuel anger and defiance.

As a parent of a pre-teen and teen, your goal should be to help your child form critical thinking skills. For example, ask questions to get them to think through scenarios, so they can learn to control their impulses. An example of a “teachable moment” and the important questions to pose might be:

You want to stay up late and finish watching this movie, right?

How do you think you’ll feel in the morning when the alarm goes off?

Do you think you’ll be able to concentrate in class with only 3 hours of sleep?

What should I do when it’s time to wake you and you refuse to get up?


Helping your pre-teen and teen think through their choices, allows them to reach their own conclusions and decreases the power struggle.

An effective way to discipline when necessary is using the power of privileges to implement consequences for negative behavior. Take their things away!  We all know how much teens value their electronics and screen time. Use that attraction as leverage in eliciting positive behavior. Let them know how long they will lose the privilege, and what it will take to get it back. Again, make sure the timeframe is congruent with the behavior. This consequence can work effectively if you’re consistent, and don’t give in until the designated time. Remember, you decide when the punishment is up, not the child. So, no amount of pleading, bargaining or negotiating on the child’s part should sway you. If you say the phone, computer or television are gone for a week, then a week it is.

It’s very important to stay calm when your child has done something inappropriate. Children love pushing their parents’ buttons, as it gives them a sense of control. If you’re too angry to respond to a situation, walk away. It will help you to maintain control and respond appropriately.

It’s always good practice to praise positive behavior. It reinforces the desirable behavior and your teen will feel good you noticed something positive. Commenting on good deeds such as, “I appreciate you taking out the trash before I asked you to. Thank you.” Affirmations will give your child the sense of control and respect all pre-teens and teens are seeking from their parents and care takers.

Above all else, be consistent. Pre-teens and teens will look for loopholes and ways to manipulate their way out of consequences. Remember, discipline should always be about teaching a lesson, and never intended to hurt or shame your child. Physically, verbally or emotionally hurting your child will yield the exact opposite of your desired goal.


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