How To Teach Discipline To Teenagers Who Just Don’t Care

Teenagers are a handful -- and then some! Teaching discipline to a troubled teen can be particularly frustrating when he's apathetic to the consequences or punishments for non-compliance. So what's a parent to do when your kid says, "I don't care," or worse, "Whatever." Here are some guidelines and tips for handling your teen -- and yourself! -- in these tense situations.

Rule Out Depression

If your son is apathetic about everything, you should first consider if he's depressed. Check for depression warning signs, especially if he's on medication that can be associated with suicide. Take your child to the doctor for an examination if you're concerned. Make sure his apathy to your discipline isn't part of a bigger problem.

Consequences Should Teach

As a parent, your job is not revenge but rather teaching your kid how to cope with the world when he becomes an adult. Education should be the most important part of the consequence of a discipline infraction. Punishment means little to an apathetic teen, but if you can teach him why there are consequences, it won't matter if he doesn't care. He'll still get the message.

Simplify Consequences

Keep it simple when it comes to consequences: "If you do (or don't do) X, then Y will be the consequences." Don't muddy the issue in your teen's head by speechifying or lecturing him on top of the punishment. You want to make your point as clear and as easy to remember as possible. Make the consequences meaningful to him, rather than to yourself. Also, don't "stack" consequences for multiple infractions. For example, continuing to tack on additional time to the period he's being grounded for will eventually have no meaning for him. All you're teaching him is to "do his time," that is, if he waits long enough the punishment doesn't teach him anything.

Negotiation Is A Good Thing

It's human nature that when you help create rules you're more likely to obey them. The same goes for kids. Invite them to consider what a meaningful consequence should be for their infraction. Listen to them and respect their opinions. While rules shouldn't be negotiable, allowing your child to have a say in his punishment makes him invested not only in obeying but also respecting the rule in the future. For example, if a teen misses his curfew, you can give him the choice of (a) getting up early to mow the lawn, (b) doing the grocery shopping for the week, or (c) let him suggest something himself.

Some Things Should Never Be Used as Consequences

Remember that there are some occasions and milestones that kids will remember all their lives. So don't take away prom privileges or graduation parties because they'll resent you rather than learn from their mistakes. The same goes for activities that your child enjoys and you believe are beneficial to him, like sports or band. You're not trying to make your son miserable or ruin his future, you're only trying to teach him to obey certain rules.

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