How Do You Discipline a Defiant Teenager?

handling a defiant teenager
Parenting a teenager is often an overwhelming experience. Here are 7 tips for handling a defiant teenager

Parenting a teenager is often an overwhelming experience. But along with some of the toughest challenges in your life, the teenage years can also help you and your child bond forever if you handle them right.

Teenagers crave independence, but they don’t have the emotional maturity to handle everything that comes their way. They may sulk, argue, lie, and rebel. It’s important to understand that this is normal teenage behavior.

Disciplining a defiant teenager requires a strong, smart strategy. Firm but not harsh, and consistent but not ruthless. It’s a difficult balance to strike. Here are 7 tips for tired, frustrated parents in handling a defiant teenager.

7 tips for disciplining your defiant teenager

1. Educate yourself first

Read up on what your teenager is going through at their age. Understanding why your teen is acting the way they are can help you anticipate what’s ahead and get a hold of how to deal with those situations before they get out of control. Make a list of potential problems and how you can address them.

2. Set clear rules

Preteens and teens see how their parents respond when they break the rules, and they will test those limits. It’s imperative that you establish clear rules and make it clear what the consequences are if those rules are broken. 

For example, your teen should know that if they go out with their friends before completing their homework, the punishment is that they won’t be allowed to go out the next weekend. To remind your teen, you can make a list of all the rules that your teen is expected to follow and stick that list on the fridge or in their room.

3. Stay firm and consistent

Teens are masters of manipulation. If you are inconsistent in how you enforce rules or consequences, they will store that information away and take advantage of that weakness in your parenting strategy. 

When your teen breaks a rule, be firm and consistent in how you punish them. Balance this with being kind, fair, and explain to them why you are doing this. When they do stick to the rules, surprise them with a thoughtful reward.

4. Pick your battles wisely

While consistency is key, it’s important not to be overly strict or harsh. Minor infractions that can be overlooked aren’t worth fighting over, and may make your teen feel smothered and even more rebellious. Put more weight on behavior that is serious or dangerous, such as smoking and drug abuse.

5. Help them make good decisions

For teenagers, becoming more independent is something they crave. Give them the space to make their own decisions, but provide guidance by helping them understand the consequences of bad decisions. 

Of course, your teen is bound to make mistakes. But make sure they know they can talk to you about mistakes and not hide anything from you. Assure them that you will always be there for them and love them no matter what happens.

6. Set a good example

If you want your child to develop traits and make decisions that will help them be successful in life, you need to model those behaviors for them. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not an effective parenting strategy. Your child is more likely to mimic what you do as opposed to listening to what you say, so make sure your own actions are in line with how you want your child to act.   

7. Get to know your teen

Getting to know what your kid is up to is one of the best ways to know how to prevent them going down the wrong path. But this doesn’t mean spying on them. It means encouraging open communication and taking a genuine interest in your teen’s hobbies, friends, and interests.

Keep a lookout for behavioral changes that could point to something troubling happening in your teen’s life, whether it’s bullying, friend troubles, or something else. If your teen is struggling with their mental health, you can seek professional help before the problem worsens.


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Robinson L, Segal J. Help for Parents of Troubled Teens.

Kids Health. A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Teen Years.