Dr. Benna Strober Licensed Child and Teen Psychologist Mt. Kisco NYOne of the most common mistakes I see with disciplining children (of any age) is what I call an empty threat. If you threaten to take away all electronics for the week or even a night, be prepared to do so and then face the consequences of a bored and very angry teen. You will probably hear many reasons why your teen NEEDS her laptop (i.e. for homework, to finish planning the big get together for her grade, etc.) It is important to stand your ground but it is just as important to choose your punishment wisely and not “over” punish. You have the opportunity when your teen misbehaves to teach them how to deal with frustration without being disrespectful and to actually learn from the experience. Here are a few helpful tips to discipline that are not always easy to do but will pay off bountifully if done in a consistent and clear manner.

My number one rule, which is definitely very difficult to maintain ALL of the time, is to Remain Calm! When your teen speaks to you in a disrespectful manner try to remember where this is coming from. This is nothing personal to you, it is your teen’s way of showing frustration and trying to get his way. Try your hardest not to yell back or argue. Do whatever you need to do to calm yourself and not revert to “his level.”

Let your children know what is expected of them in advance. If there is a set of rules in your house they should be known to all. A statement such as, “In this family we do not threaten or insult anyone else at any time, even when angry at that person,” can make your point very clear before any infractions occur. One caveat to this is I tell parents you can allow one warning; if he is disrespectful to you, tell him what the consequence will be. If he does it again, that is it. The warning is not given again and the consequence is then enforced.

Don’t fall for it. When your teen starts to complain or act disrespectful, she is telling you that she will try whatever it is that she can to avoid whatever it is you are asking her to do. If you engage in an argument you are helping her get what she wants by prolonging the time before she needs to act. Remember the phrase, “It takes two to tango”? If you can put off being dragged in to the drama, the negative behavior is more likely to stop.

Do not give in. It is important to note as a general rule in the world of psychology that the hardest way to extinguish a behavior is when that behavior is given intermittent reinforcement. In layman’s terms, this means if you tell your son he cannot use his cell phone for the rest of the night and you then give it back to him after a few hours, he will try the next time to get you to give in again like to did that time. Even if you don’t give in the 2nd time, he will keep trying until you once again give in.

In the end, the most important lesson is for your teen to learn how to problem solve in a healthier manner. During a calm moment, sit down together and discuss your concerns about your teen’s apparent lack of respect. Ask her for some suggestions how to address this negative behavior. Be curious about the actions you take that lead to your teen speaking to you in a disrespectful manner. Then come up with a plan together to work it out.