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How to Consistently Parent a Teen

Updated on October 19, 2012

Parenting in general can be a very challenging experience. Parenting a teen in particular comes with its own set of unique challenges and circumstances. Teens are typically described by our society as rebellious, defiant, troubled, sullen, or moody. We have an inherit belief that this is the way they are supposed to be. But, while some amount of teenage angsts is to be expected, it is not acceptable to just throw up our hands with a “teens will be teens” mentality. Regardless of how grown they think they are, how smart they think they are, or how not so smart they think you are, teens still require a great deal of consistent parenting.

Consistent parenting simply means that the household rules and expectations are the same from one point in time to another. Consistent parenting allows children to predict the consequences of their actions. It gives a child a sense of security. It fosters responsibility in children by providing clearly defined expectations. Children with predictable consequences are less likely to push the limits. They learn to be accountable for their actions and their minds are free from worry regarding what might happen if they misbehave. These children know the outcome of misbehavior. They learn quickly that “no” really means “no” and are, therefore, far less likely to engage in behaviors such as begging, tantrums, etc.

Providing consistency should begin from early childhood. A lifestyle filled with routine and structure is far less chaotic and provides an atmosphere in which most children flourish. If your child is now a teen and you have not provided much consistency over the years, however, don’t worry. It’s not too late. Start today, particularly since many of our teenagers are smart enough and brash enough to call us on our inconsistencies and even use them to justify misbehavior.

Quite often parents complain that their teenager just does not listen. In many cases, however, parents fail to realize that it is their inconsistency that is the basis for the teenager’s failure to listen. Remember, if consistency is crucial in early childhood, it is critical during the teenage years. These teens are on their way to being adults and as such they are trying their best to figure it all out. Think of it like this, we as adults would not listen to someone who says one thing and then does another, right? So why would we expect these pre-adults to do so?

Here are some tips to help you on your road to consistency:

Do Not Make Empty Threats

  • I’m going to kill you if you don’t come here right now
  • If you two don’t stop bickering I’m going to run away and never come back
  • Straighten up right now or I will break both your legs

Statements such as these do not foster a consistent parenting environment. Is it really your intent to do any of these things? Of course not. Adults often say things that they have no intention of carrying out. Whether a parent is frustrated or attempting to intimidate, children catch on too quickly for these tactics to be effective. Teenagers in particular will quite often call your bluff and then what do you do?

Do Not Overstate

  • Go to your room. You are grounded until you are 18.
  • You can never talk on the phone again.
  • No television for the next six months.

Making a promise or a threat you cannot or will not keep is a major source of inconsistency in many families. This is usually done out of anger and once that anger resolves parents lower the sentence. Usually these parents have no intention of truly following through with these long punishments. For those that do intend to follow through with them, they often feel guilty and reverse the punishment much earlier than stated or they give the child time off for good behavior. Either way, these children learn not to believe or listen to their parent. After all, what these parents are saying is just not true.

Remember “No” cannot turn into “Yes” and “Yes” cannot turn into “No”

Our children know how to push our buttons, and whether it’s tantrums in early childhood or harassment as teenagers, they will push, push, push, push, push. As parents, it is our jobs to stand firm. Giving in to your child when the original answer was “no” is a fast way to inconsistency and confusion. Parents tend to do this in an effort to keep the peace or eliminate the stress of a bothersome child. But, what they are actually doing is teaching their children how to manipulate them. These children quickly learn a valuable lesson: if they kick up enough fuss they can have their way. So, guess what happens the next time this child wants to have their way…. They kick up a fuss. Quite often these incidents become bigger and more intense until a child realizes that “no” really does mean “no.” When will they realize this? When their parents say no until they get it.

Another similar scenario evolves the fickle “yes.” These are times when parents promise something but then, for whatever reason, decide it is not going to happen. Of course, some of this cannot be helped as life sometimes gets in the way of the best laid plan. All parents should strive, however, to ensure they keep their promises and plans as much as possible. Children with parents that never or rarely come through are often mistrusting of their caretakers and why should they listen to someone they can’t trust?

React the Same for the Same Behavior

Quite often parents react to their children based factors other than what the child has done. Your mood, how your day is going, what other stressors may be occurring simultaneously, these can all play a role in how we deal with our children. When a child behaves in the same manner and is lectured for it one time, ignored the next time, and then grounded when it happens again, it creates a very confusing world for them. Setting up rules, guidelines, and consequences for behavior ahead of time provides structure and predictability. This releases the parent from having to push through the stressors of their day to respond consistently to their child’s bad behavior.

Don’t Forget Environmental Consistency

Consistency in a child’s environment is just as important as consistency in parent-child interactions. Providing routine and structure can be an effective way of managing behavior. For example, a child that has a set bedtime, a time to come inside, or a certain time to get off the computer is far less likely to kick up a fuss when those times come.

Consistency may seem to be a minor issue but it is vital when it comes to behavior management. This is true regardless of the child’s age, but it can be especially essential in surviving the teenage years.


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