Set limits

To encourage your teen to behave well, discuss what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable at home, at school and elsewhere. Create consequences for how your teen behaves. When setting limits:

  • Avoid ultimatums. Your teen might interpret an ultimatum as a challenge.
  • Be clear and concise. Rather than telling your teen not to stay out late, set a specific curfew. Keep your rules short and to the point.
  • Put rules in writing. Use this technique to counter a selective memory.
  • Be prepared to explain your decisions. Your teen might be more likely to comply with a rule when he or she understands its purpose.
  • Be reasonable. Avoid setting rules your teen can't possibly follow. A chronically messy teen might have trouble immediately maintaining a spotless bedroom.
  • Be flexible. As your teen demonstrates more responsibility, grant him or her more freedom. If your teen shows poor judgment, impose more restrictions.

Not sure if you're setting reasonable limits? Talk to your teen, other parents and your teen's doctor. Whenever possible, give your teen a say in establishing the rules that he or she is expected to follow.

Prioritize rules

While it's important to consistently enforce your rules, you can occasionally make exceptions when it comes to matters such as homework habits, TV watching and bedtime. Prioritizing rules will give you and your teen a chance to practice negotiating and compromising. Before negotiating with your teen, however, consider how far you're willing to bend. Don't negotiate when it comes to restrictions imposed for your teen's safety, such as substance abuse, sexual activity and reckless driving. Make sure your teen knows early on that you won't tolerate tobacco, alcohol or other drug use.

Enforce consequences

Enforcing consequences can be tough — but your teen needs you to be his or her parent, not a pal. Being too lenient might send the message that you don't take your teen's behavior seriously, while being too harsh can cause resentment.

Consider these methods when corrective action is called for:

  • Skip the drama. Calmly explain the unacceptable behavior and the consequences. If your teen starts to overheat or melt down, put off the conversation and explain why. Tell your teen that you'll talk to him or her when the whining, sulking or yelling stops. Ignore your teen in the meantime.
  • Correct but don't scold. Make sure you reprimand your teen's behavior, not your teen. Avoid using a sarcastic, demeaning or disrespectful tone. Also, avoid reprimanding your teen in front of his or her friends.
  • Assign more work. Give your teen additional household tasks.
  • Impose additional restrictions. Take away a privilege or possession that's meaningful to your teen, such as computer time or a cellphone.
  • Ask your teen to suggest a consequence. Your teen might have an easier time accepting a consequence if he or she played a role in deciding it.

Be consistent when you enforce limits. Whatever disciplinary tactic you choose, relate the consequences to the broken rule and deliver them immediately. Limit punishments to a few hours or days to make them most effective.

Also, avoid punishing your teen when you're angry. Likewise, don't impose penalties you're not prepared to carry out — and punish only the guilty party, not other family members. Never use physical harm to discipline your teen.

Set a positive example

Remember, teens learn how to behave by watching their parents. Your actions generally speak louder than your words. Set a positive example and your teen will likely follow your lead.

Feb. 15, 2014 See more In-depth