Teen Discipline Driving You Crazy? This Proven Method Really Works!

Teen DisciplineCan’t teach your teen discipline? Do they refuse to perform the simplest chores? Do they consistently fail to do their homework? Think they will NEVER learn responsibility? Then follow this sure-fire system of earned privileges that we created for use in one of the first Emancipation Training Centers in the US. This positive parenting system will teach your teen responsibility and how the real world works.

The real world is about meeting expectations and working through the challenges we experience in life that enable us to grow and to take necessary risks. We learn that failure happens and we can get past this and learn from those experiences. This system teaches a teen about responsibility through providing pre-determined rewards and consequences. He also learns lessons about the freedom and rewards that come from meeting his challenges in life. Earning increased freedom encourages him to expand his experiences and learn valuable life lessons. Lastly, it teaches a teen how to earn and manage his money.

System of Earned Privileges

  • Parents give teens rewards as something earned and not a given “right”. The teen can get everything he wants (within reason), but only if he earns it by complying with the parents’ desires or goals. The closer the teen comes to achieving the goals, the more the freedom or privileges increase. As compliance decreases, the consequences progressively increase. The teen’s actions decide which way the program will go.
  • Work with the teen to negotiate the goals, rewards and consequences. If he doesn’t have or won’t give an opinion, think about what you believe would work and try it out.
  • The parent has the last call on this. The teen cannot decide whether or not to participate.
  • This system only works if the parents are consistent in the application of the goals, rewards and consequences. Otherwise, your teen will surely take advantage of you.

Benefits of Using This System

  • The teen learns about expectations, rewards and consequences. This teaches responsibility.
  • It teaches the teen to work for the rewards and the consequences of the real world. (ie: a paycheck or the prospect of being fired for not meeting job expectations).
  • It takes away the blame of the parent for imposing consequences. This keeps the parent from losing their mind.
  • Best of all it lessens if not stops the repeated arguments because the teen would have chosen his outcome by not doing what was expected of him, such as chores.

How To Introduce This Teen Discipline System

  • I recommend beginning this program at 10 or 11 years of age, or even sooner with children who demonstrate advanced social skills. But it is never too late to begin this program. You are in charge as parents!
  • Have a sit-down meeting between the parents and the teen.
  • Explain that the current teen discipline system is not working.
  • Ask him to think of this as teen reward, not teen discipline. Let him know that as he gets older he is going to want to have more freedom. This system allows him to decide how and when he gets that freedom, what actions will take it away, and for how long.
  • This is a good time to introduce an allowance. Explain that you want him to learn responsibility with money and how to budget his money for the future by giving him an allowance he will earn. Inform him that his allowance will be contingent upon his chores being completed on a specific and timely basis.
  • Inform him that he has some of the control in this plan. He can choose if he will be rewarded or will lose privileges by his non-compliance. He can also choose how to spend his allowance.
  • Explain all the parts to this agreement – the goals, the rewards and the consequences. Write it down. There should be no surprises.
  • Don’t over do it. Try to focus on no more than two issues at a time. You can later lump some together, but again keep it simple and reasonable. Focus on what is most important to you as parents.
  • If the program is not working you haven’t picked the right goals, rewards, or consequences. Revisit your choices and restart.

Picking the Right Goals

  • Ideally, your teen accepts your goal as a positive outcome, such as an allowance or more freedom. Don’t set a goal to be a star baseball catcher if he wants to be a concert pianist. Don’t have him mow the lawn if he is allergic to grass.
  • If your goal is too difficult to achieve he will just give up on it. On the other hand, if it is too easy, you have given something for nothing and lost an opportunity for him to work towards a goal.
  • Reducing your expectations if they aren’t met can cause issues in his self-esteem. Start small and work up. Allowing him to rise to progressively difficult challenges will build character and self-esteem.
  • Tell your teen what you want and ask him what he thinks he can achieve. If his ambitions are less than yours, press him to challenge himself with just a little more than he thinks he can achieve.

Picking the Right Reward

  • Sit down with the teen and negotiate what he most wants and the most you can allow.
  • The reward must be something the teen most wants to ensure he will work towards it. Often it is about money or freedom, or it can be both, but must be separate goals and consequences. Make sure you are comfortable with the reward. If he complies, you must comply.

Picking the Right Consequence

  • Taking away the desired privilege demonstrates to the teen that he needs to keep his agreement of chores or whatever expectations he must meet.
  • If the consequence is too extreme he is not likely to try to meet the task. Be just reasonable enough to get your desired results. For example, taking the phone away for one week for a minor infraction is too severe. Try beginning with one day.
  • If the consequence is too light, it will not be a sufficient deterrent.
  • Teen discipline is most effective if you get their input and acceptance.

Be Clear and Consistent About The Expectations of the Task and Consequences/Rewards

  • Making a written agreement signed by both parents and the teen ensures that everyone is on the same page.
  • Be explicit in terms of what the task, reward and consequences involve. For example, the task is doing the dishes by no more than two hours past dinner. The consequence might be no computer for one full day. If that doesn’t work, increase it to two days the next time around, and so on. It could be loss of phone privileges or whatever works.
  • Be clear about what the task entails, the deadline to meet it, and the consequence if it is not met.

Follow Up on the Completion of the Task and the Reward

  • Be consistent in what is expected, the reward, and the specific consequence if the task is not met. Consistency is very important in making this system work.
  • If you don’t follow up the teen will know he can get away with not doing the task.
  • Make sure the task is complete as agreed upon. If the task or goal has not been completed as expected, then refer to your written rules and administer the consequence.
  • Immediately give rewards when expected. How would you like not getting your paycheck on time?
  • You will not cover every contingency in your written document. When gray areas occur, ask the teen what he thinks is fair and then negotiate from there. And then put the new contingency back into the document. However, you do not want your agreement to look as involved as Sheldon Cooper’s Roommate Agreement in The Big Bang Theory show.
  • Once in a great while there may need to be an exception. For example, if there is a special program on TV and as parents you both agree it is important for the teen to see it, (if it can’t be taped for some reason) you may want to make an exception. But be careful to only do this upon a rare occasion. Sometimes weather conditions may affect the goal.

When the System Does Not Work and Why

  • This form of teen discipline is based on fairness. It won’t work if any party feels it is not fair. It’s good to negotiate, but parents have the last word.
  • Your teen may not accept your goal or outcome. For instance, he may not want good grades if he thinks that will put him in a different social circle.
  • Your teen may not sufficiently appreciate the proposed reward, or the reward does not match the effort required. Renegotiate if this is the case.
  • Your consequence may be either too strong or ineffective. For example, taking away TV for one week instead of one day may be considered extreme. But if one day doesn’t work, increase it to two days and so on. Adjust the consequence until you see the task being consistently completed, but don’t let him game you.
  • You (the parent) do not consistently follow through on checking the completion or the quality of the result. The teen learns quickly that he does not need to follow through. Also, both parents must apply the rules equally.
  • The reward is not given close enough to completion of the task. Teens want things NOW!

Last Thoughts

New systems are tough in the beginning and are going to have bugs in them. This is a process and doesn’t work overnight. It takes time to determine what works and what doesn’t. By using this system you will be yelling less, feeling more in control without feeling like a dictator, and will be teaching your teen responsibility and about how the real world works. You can do this!

About Susan Saint-Welch

Susan Saint-Welch LMFT has counseled couples and individuals for many years on issues such as dating, marriage, family drama, coping with difficult times, improving self-image and living the life you love. She provides psychotherapy for clients in California and Dating, Couples and Life Coaching for clients outside California through secure video conferencing. She has published numerous articles regarding these issues on her website, on YourTango.com and on MSN.com.

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