Decide to Discipline: Tweens and Teens

Written by Janet Denison
Published on October 06, 2015

The common advice given to parents with an older child is, “Pick your battles.” That is great advice, but what does it mean? Choosing battles with your teenager is a lot like choosing a good watermelon from the Farmer’s Market. There are a lot to choose from and they all look and smell the same. Sure you can thump one and try to look like you know, but in the end, you probably just pick one and hope it comes out all right.

Teen Challenges

Older children want the security and comforts of home as well as the freedom to decide how often they need them. Parents probably expect to receive a certain level of gratitude while their teenagers feel a certain level of entitlement. Who is right and who is wrong? The usual answer: everyone involved.

The good news is this: the teen years can be the most fun years of parenting if you consider this stage as a 24/7 negotiation. Picking your battles is about choosing those things that are non-negotiable and holding your ground on those points. That is the easy part. The rest of successful parenting is about allowing your teen to choose the remainder of the time, even when you don’t like their choices. And you will almost certainly dislike several of their choices. Who did you bring home that your parents weren’t thrilled with? Your child will probably do the same thing.

I smile even as I type those words. I wish I had chosen more often to smile at those choices when they were made. Here are some things to think about when choosing what you will decide is a non-negotiable with your independent dependent.

Personality or Character?

Are you disciplining a matter of personality or character? I used to tell my children that their personality was between them and God. Their character issues, however, were between them, God and their parents. Character issues are non-negotiable. We all want our children to grow into quality adults with strong moral character. Your children should expect you to discipline choices they make that lack good character. In fact, they should expect the most lengthy, toughest discipline for character mistakes.

Did your child look you in the face and lie? Did they do something that has caused you not to trust them? Did they show disrespect to you or intentionally try to hurt someone else? Feel free to bring out the big discipline decisions for those times.

Teach your teen that the single worst thing they can do to their life is make a choice that takes away your ability to trust them. Tell them you love them too much to let them ruin their lives. Teenagers will not learn this lesson if you ground them for a weekend. Teenagers will learn this lesson if you ground them for a month and tell them it is up to them to earn your trust back. It is extremely important that teenagers think bad choices are just not worth the risk.

One of my favorite quotes for teens came from a comedian who was popular many years ago. Erma Bombeck told a story about her son who got so angry with her one day that he shouted, “I hate you.” Ms. Bombeck looked at her son and said, “Well, I love you enough to let you hate me.” I think that is perfect wisdom and I often applied it to my parenting. I told both of my sons, more than once, “I love you enough to let you be this upset with me.” I wanted my sons to know that the decisions I made came from that motivation. They may have been angry and frustrated with me but they never wondered if I loved them.

A Learning Curve

That leads to my last point. Teens are smart and capable of discerning that parents have human weakness and limitations. One of the ways you can continue to be truthful in parenting is to explain to your teens, especially the first one, that parenting is not easy and while you are trying to do your best, you will make some wrong decisions.

I still remember the night I was worried about a certain party and told my oldest child he couldn’t go. I also remember when I found out I had made a dumb decision. I owed my son an apology for my choice, and I gave it. I told him I should have said “yes” and that I should have trusted him to know a good party from a bad one. I asked him to forgive me and then teased, “I’ll do better with your brother. I’m kind of having to practice on you.” I was grateful for his smile and for his forgiveness.

Pick your battles by allowing for personality while training and establishing good character. You will win most of your battles but plan on losing several. Negotiate almost everything from a position of love. Decide to discipline when a wrong choice is made, and don’t hesitate to discipline with the goal of preventing your child from making that choice again. But do it all from the one perfect motivation—love.

Live perfectly imperfect

Get daily emails with practical and spiritual advice geared towards helping you set aside perfect and grow into the parent you want to be every day.

Janet Denison

Janet Denison teaches others to live an authentic faith through her writing, speaking, and teaching ministry. She blogs weekly at and often at

Read more about Janet

You may also like…

Privacy Preference Center