Walking the Line: How to Discipline Without Becoming the Enemy


You thought the “terrible twos” were tough, but how about those “terrible teens?” Of course, in some ways, having teenagers is easier than dealing with a full on meltdown at Target, but parenting children that can drive and have a life outside of your home (without you present) is another story. How do you enforce rules with your teen without becoming the enemy? Read on for 5 tips on how to set limits in a way your child can appreciate:

1. Be a Coach

No one wants to be a tyrant to their children, but in order to keep them safe there have to be guidelines. Dr. Matt Hersh, a clinical psychologist with a focus on mindfulness, recommends that parents reframe discipline as coaching. “Then, they can adopt and practice the qualities of being an effective coach, such as being patient, hopeful, firm, caring, using mistakes to enhance growth, etc.," says Dr. Hersh. “Think of your best coach or supervisor and practice emulating some of the qualities that supported you the most.” This small shift in mindset could make a world of difference in how you approach discipline with your child.

2. Help Your Teen Understand Consequences

While my kids have known the word “consequence” from a very early age, teenagers can fully understand the logic behind it.  “If you don’t study, you might fail the test,” for example. Establishing ground rules is important, whether it pertains to dating, their curfew, etc. Actively discuss these ground rules AND their consequences with your child, and encourage your child to be a part of their creation.  “Developing behavioral ‘agreements or contracts’ with your kids can be a more easeful and structured way to enforce the house rules," Dr. Hersh advises. “What feels like reminding or straightforward enforcing to parents could feel like extreme nagging and annoyance to your teen.

When parents can more calmly point to a rule that was pre-established or negotiated with their children, emotions are less likely to flare up and the rule itself is more reliably followed (even if your kids at first resist).” You will be hearing far fewer “You’re so unfairs” when they were a co-creator of the process.

3. Be Consistent

The second you slip and give them a break; you send the message that your rules don’t hold up and are bendable. It’s so important to stay strong and true to your word. If your child is part of a two-parent household, or splits time between two parents, make sure that everyone is on the same page. In the case of discipline, a united front is always best.

Andrew Larke, LICSW, and Director of Client Coach Training at Vive Family Support Program reminds us that sticking with these guidelines may not always be popular, but is crucial. “It's important that there is follow through and belief by the parent that boundary setting is appropriate. Kids thirst for healthy boundaries, even though some kids invariably fight against them. A pitfall can be parents expecting kids to not only accept boundaries, but to somehow make parents feel better about setting these boundaries. It's important to know that you will set boundaries, your kids won't like them, and that's totally normal and developmentally appropriate.”

4. Create an Open and Safe Environment

Understand that your child will make mistakes. Their brains are still developing, particularly the part of the brain surrounding decision-making, so it’s easy to stray down the wrong path as they are moving to a place of independence. If your child makes a mistake, communicate your concern about their action before jumping into a punishment. The more you have an open dialogue that comes from a place of love, the more your child will understand your point of view. Believe it or not, your opinion matters more to them then they may let on.

5. Rethink your punishment

“You’re grounded!” How many times have we heard this phrase either growing up, or on TV? But is the act of grounding and taking away privileges the most effective option? Cutting your child off from their social life may have consequences of its own, as noted by Psychology Today. This article focuses on two alternatives, depending on the severity of the action. Reparation, which is “active punishment” involves action like community service or chores to “work off” the offense. This is a win-win, since there is a positive action to counteract the negative action. In more serious cases, particularly if harm was done to others, restitution is more effective. In this situation, the victim (if willing) shares their experience of hurt, pain, etc. and a discussion is had on what action can be done to make amends.


Navigating this difficult time involves a lot of trial and error. The temperament of your child, and frequency of behavior, comes into play when deciding on the best course of action. “Different styles of discipline should be considered depending on the temperament and personality of your children, rather than just based on the sex or gender orientation of your child,” Dr. Hersh notes. “What is perceived as overly harsh by one child could be considered as ‘just following the rules’ to another. Ultimately, enforcing discipline can be based on your family values, physical and psychological safety of your children, and cultivation of independence skills along the way.”

In closing, it’s important to keep in mind that disciplining your tween or teen child IS possible while still remaining allies. Yes, the teen years can be difficult as your children are growing up and pushing the boundaries, but your role as a parent is to help them develop their sense of self and help them define boundaries too. 



Written by Phase2Parenting

PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.