I have received a lot of inquires lately about how to discipline teenagers. It’s an interesting topic and one that bears consideration. I believe most of the issue lies in how one identifies the problem. There are three major considerations.

When children enter the teen years, their developmental stage is of separation and individuation, meaning they are attempting to establish themselves as independent of their parents, specifically, and in some cases, society, in general. When this begins to occur, parents often label it rebellion when it’s simply a teen attempting to do what is necessary for his or her psychological development. If this is the case, relax. It won’t last forever.

Think about it. Every generation has their way of separating from the status quo. When I was young, boys had long hair and girls wore mini skirts. In my son’s generation, it was body piercing. He went to college and had his tongue and nipples pierced. Guess what? He’s 25 now and outgrew that by the time he was 22 years-old. There are no signs of the piercing phase.

Second, there is an issue I call problem definition. Sometimes teens develop behaviors parents know are not in their best interest, e.g. isolating in their room, not cleaning their room, not working up to potential on school work, or any other number of things. Parents typically become quite upset about these behaviors because they believe they are not doing a good job of parenting unless they can get their children to see the errors of their ways and change their behavior.

Who do you think is most upset by these situations, you or your child? It is almost unequivocally, YOU! If you are most upset by the problem, then guess what? You own it. It is your problem, not your child’s. Yes, your child may be making some short-term decisions that may ultimately affect his life later, however, he or she is perfectly content with them. As a parent, all you need to do in this situation is provide your child with information about your concerns. Let him or her know what you are worried about and then stop talking. Allow your child to make his or her own decisions. Soon, at age 18, he or she is legally an adult, capable of making all decisions without your permission. Give your child some practice now and don’t get in the way of the consequences.

If your child’s behavior results in an F on the report card or worse, a failed grade, so be it. Teens need to learn how their choices affect what happens to them in a way that teaches personal responsibility and self-discipline for when you’re not around.

Third, is another aspect of problem definition. This often occurs when parents see behaviors in their teens they don’t like. When this happens, parents look at the behavior as the problem, when in actuality it is only a symptom of an underlying unmet need in your child. If all you do is punish the behavior without addressing the unmet need, then your child will either continue the behavior or find new ones, quite possibly worse, in their attempts to meet that need.

What parents need to do in this situation is use the great relationship you have with your child to talk about what may be bothering him or her. The behavior itself is not a problem to be extinguished. The behavior is actually your clue that your child needs something he or she can’t figure out how to get any other way. Take the time to find out what your child needs and to help him or her figure out a better way to get it. Remember the Latin root of discipline means “to teach,” not to punish.

Author's Bio: 

Kim Olver is a life and relationship coach. Her mission is to help people get along better with the important people in their lives, including themselves. She teaches people how to live from the inside out by empowering them to focus on the things they can change. She in an internationally recognized speaker, having worked in Australia, Europe and Africa, as well as all over the United States and Canada. She is the creator of the new, revolutionary process called, Inside Out Empowerment based on Dr. William Glasser's Choice Theory. She is a public speaker and provides workshops in the areas of relationships, parenting, and a variety of self-growth topics. She is the author of Leveraging Diversity at Work and the forthcoming book, Secrets of Successful Relationships. She co-authored a book with Ken Blanchard, Les Brown, Mark Victor Hansen and Byron Katie, entitled 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. She works with individuals, couples, parents, social service agencies, schools, corporations and the military--anyone who will benefit from gaining more effective control over their lives. She has consulted on relationships, parenting, self-development, training, leadership development, diversity, treatment programs and management styles. For more information on parenting check our Empowerment Parenting.