Teenage Years: Disciplining Effectively

This was taken directly from Child Welfare Information Gateway


As teenagers assert their emerging identities and independence, while also navigating peer pressures, they frequently will test the boundaries of family rules. Be clear and consistent about your expectations and set reasonable limits (e.g., curfews). At the same time, allow your teenager to make choices and to see the natural consequences of his or her actions. Seek out additional resources on positive discipline approaches for teenagers, if needed.

For discipline to be effective with adopted teens, these requirements should be met:

  • Focus on attachment and relationship building first, especially for children who have been maltreated or were recently adopted. Parents should work hard to create avenues of open communication that build a strong relationship and attachment with their teens.
  • Discipline should respect the youth’s previous experiences. Some parents use removal of privileges as a consequence for a misbehavior or for poor grades. Adopted teenagers who experienced previous neglect and deprivation, however, may not respond well to the removal of privileges or possessions. Similarly, for children who have been neglected or who have some degree of attachment issues, requiring a teen to spend some quiet time near you at home may be a better option than isolating the youth in his or her room. If your child struggles with peer relationships or low self-esteem, do not remove an activity (such as a youth group or sport) that provides an opportunity for growth in these areas.
  • Discipline should match the teen’s abilities. Use of logical consequences is a fine way to encourage good behaviors and discourage undesirable ones. (For example, “If you drive irresponsibly, you will lose your driving privileges.”) But this technique will work only if the teen can understand the relationship between the behavior and the consequence. If a teen cannot clearly see the connection between actions and consequences, then this approach is not a good match for his or her abilities.

As you explore various discipline techniques, ask yourself if they are appropriate for your child and fit with his or her developmental level. Don’t hesitate to ask your child for help! (For example: “What can we do to help you remember to clean up the kitchen after you have used it?”) Being invited into the problem-solving process shows your respect for your teen’s abilities and motivates him or her to be part of the solution. As with all parenting, flexibility and a sense of humor go a very long way in helping both you and your teen navigate the adolescent years!

Continue to Teenage Years: Preparing Your Teenager for Adulthood or return to Adoption Parenting


Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2009). Parenting Your Adopted Teenager. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.