How Not to Feel Guilty for Disciplining Teenagers

By Morgan Rush
Don't use guilt to coerce teens into better behavior; you'll feel less guilty when using constructive tactics.
Don't use guilt to coerce teens into better behavior; you'll feel less guilty when using constructive tactics.

Teenagers are famous for testing their boundaries, trying to determine what adult privileges they can access without necessarily assuming adult responsibilities. As a parent, it’s your job to set standards for behavior as well as appropriate consequences. Disciplining teenagers might not always be fun, but it’s part of the responsibility of parenting. Don’t allow your teens to make you feel guilty for doing your job, and don’t allow self-doubt to creep in and undermine your efforts.

The Big Picture

You can feel worn down by the daily task of holding your teenager accountable for his actions, making you second-guess whether it’s really necessary to uphold such high standards. Giving in on the small stuff sends the wrong message, though. Parents need to teach teenagers that life is filled with challenges, that they must work for what they want, and that poor decision-making is often followed by unfavorable results -- even for adults. If you feel guilty, remind yourself that you’re helping to create a responsible adult who has experience handling disappointment appropriately, according to Dr. Phil.

Don’t Take it Personally

Parents might feel guilty on a personal level when it comes to disciplining teenagers. If your child has had a bumpy adolescence that might include run-ins with the law, alcohol or drug abuse, sexual experimentation or other negative experiences, you might blame yourself for not raising your child appropriately or feel that you’ve failed as a parent. Feeling guilty doesn’t help your child, though, according to social worker Janet Lehman, writing for Empowering Perfect parenting is impossible, so remind yourself that although you might have made mistakes in the past, you have the best intentions of raising a healthy, successful teen. If your teen resorts to name-calling, crying or other tactics to make you feel guilty, stay calm and remind yourself not to take it personally.

Guilt is Not a Weapon

Set a good example to your teenager by refraining from using guilt as a disciplinary weapon. If you try to guilt-trip your teen into better behavior by using shame or guilt, she might try the same tactics on you when you employ restrictions or remove privileges. Don’t try to make your teenager feel bad about herself for poor decision-making; have your discipline choices relate to her actions, not her personality or feelings. By removing guilt from the equation, you stand a better chance of not permitting your teen to make you feel guilty, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services.

Apologize When Necessary

After some reflection, you might conclude at some point that your feelings of guilt were warranted, and that you did, in fact, come down too hard on your teen or discipline too harshly. If that is the case, talk with your teen and explain that you realize you made a mistake. Owning up to your teen when appropriate can help create trust and open communication lines, according to Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today. Your teen might respect other decisions a bit more in the future. Apologize, and allow your child to respond. Forgive yourself, as well, so that you can still act authoritatively in the future when necessary.

About the Author

Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.