Do you miss your kind, caring, and mostly compliant young child? Sigh. Me too. Correcting their behaviour seemed so much easier and there was less drama.

When your teen makes a mistake, it may have more serious consequences than a few years earlier. As a parent, you feel like you’re losing your mind, stranded between the role of friend and dictator, and frustrated by the ineffectiveness of both.

Why does this feel so complicated?!

When your default ways don’t work and your teen’s defiance grows, you double down on what worked before and resort to the power of punishment. Now you’re in a pissing match with your teen that creates serious consequences in your relationship and you both lose.

Think about it for a minute.

Why would discipline that worked for an 8-10-year-old brain work for a 13+-year-old brain? Enter puberty – the pituitary gland explosion in your teen’s brain that retired your gorgeous young child and created this awkward teenager with BO, body/facial hair, longer legs, and vocal changes you don’t recognize.

Here’s why you need to change how you approach.

Young children require more behavioral direction – getting dressed, using basic manners, picking up toys, etc. When they misstep, you address the behaviour with appropriate discipline. For the most part, they correct, and you move on. It’s a more simplistic, linear equation on a transactional level.

Your teen has a much more complex, yet immature emotional brain you need to interface with to access the behaviour change. It’s now an intricate, non-linear process on a relational level. This is why learning how to emotionally connect with your teen is so important.

Science supports you changing course.

Studies show that punishment with teens (and adults) based on power and control amplifies feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, rage, isolation, and even humiliation. Not exactly the experiences you want your teen having more of or feeling in their relationship with you.

Rather than knee jerk punishments like taking phones/video games and grounding, take a time out to gather yourself. Then you can initiate a constructive conversation – including listening (lots of listening!) about how they feel and why they made the choice they did.

Most teens are capable of being reasonable if approached in a way that maintains respect, safety, and compassion (did I mention more listening than talking?). When you remember behaviour change must filter through their developing emotional brains, you’ll find that discussing, negotiating, and reevaluating becomes possible. You offer understanding and empathy while holding reasonable boundaries.

Here are 4 tips to support constructive discipline and help you avoid ‘power punishment’:

1. Allow redemption. Teens are often well aware of their mistakes. Giving them a chance to right their wrongs is more effective than constantly removing privileges.

  • Support them to suggest ideas for restituion like doing extra chores, community work, or to pay for something they’ve broken. This creates a sense of ownership and responsibility.

2. Come to an agreement. If you decide to ground your teenager, it’s important for you both to be on the same page. They have to understand the parameters and consequences for their mistakes.

  • Having well-defined rules for behavior and healthy boundaries are a must. Talk to your teen and let them know what you expect from them and why. Listen to their opinion on the matter.
  • When you ground your teen, limit only one aspect of their life. Minimizing is better than full deprivation, which increases isolation and increase anxiety.
  • If you leave your child grounded for too long, the link between a penalty and bad behavior becomes blurry. Discuss grounding in terms of days, rather than weeks.

3. Allow natural consequences. Let your teen learn from their experience. Let them face the consequences that follow the unwanted behavior instead of punishing them.

  • If they don’t study and end up having a bad grade, let them go through it. If they don’t do the laundry, don’t do it for them. Having nothing to wear is a natural consequence.
  • Show an understanding of their emotions that follow. Playing ‘I told you so’ is shaming.

4. Enhance your relationship. Make time for your teen’s problems, no matter how ridiculous or dramatic they seem at times. They have a heightened sense of judgment and rejection so be present and compassionate, even if you don’t understand or agree. Talk less and listen more. Your teen desperately wants a closer relationship with you that feels safe and welcoming.

BONUS POINTS: No matter what discipline happens with your teen, when it’s done let it go. Reminding your teen of their past transgressions is shaming, lowers their self-esteem, and undoes the great progress you’ve made. The only reason to refer to any past incidents is to remind your teen of their learning and the courage they demonstrated to make the situation right.

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