Disciplining Children

The Effect of Excessive Teenage Punishment

Physical Harm

Parents, caregivers or teachers may resort to use of physical punishment, such as smacking or spanking, to make a teen feel pain or discomfort with the intention of correcting behavior. Corporal punishment is another term that refers to the use of physical force to discipline a child. Punishment, such as punching, beating, kicking, biting and shaking, that results in physical injury, like bruising, is referred to as physical abuse, states the website of the American Psychoanalytic Association.


Punishment takes verbal form when parents, caregivers, teachers or other adults use harsh words to reproach a child. The Ask Dr. Sears website advises that excessive physical or verbal punishment can damage a child’s sense of self-worth. This is because spanking or other forms of physical punishment make a child feel weak and defenseless. Hitting a child’s hands when she touches things leads to individuals who fear exploring, according to the site's professionals. When you impose your authority by spanking teens, it communicates desperation and devalues your role as a parent.

Anti-social Behavior

Excessive punishment makes some teenagers believe that it is right to use violence against weaker people. According to the Empowering Parents website, when you use excessive force to punish your teen child, he is likely to develop anti-social behavior such as aggression. Such children end up being physically aggressive toward other people when trying to modify their behavior. If you consistently find yourself using excessive punishment against your teenage child, then it is better you postpone the punishment. This will give you time to calm down and come up with more effective and less damaging ways, such as imposing or extending curfews.

Poor Performance

The Science Daily publication reports that children in settings where teachers and/or parents use corporal punishment perform significantly poorer in intellectual activities than those where there is the use of other means, such as verbal reprimands. Professors Victoria Talwar, Stephanie Carlson and Kang Lee conducted a study among 63 children to find out the effect of physical discipline, such as beating with a stick. Results from the study, published in the Journal of Social Development, show that children who underwent physical punishment scored lower academically than those who were not. These researchers stated that this form of punishment inhibits problem-solving skills in children.

How Teens Respond to Punishment

Teens and Poor Choices

Most children have the ability to control their actions by the time they reach their teenage years though they are not yet able to reason effectively, express themselves fully or understand the consequences of engaging in risky behavior. The frontal lobe of the brain controls these actions, and it does not fully mature until the early 20s, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This affects a teenager's ability to make mature decisions, which generally causes parents a lot of frustration.

Accepting Punishment

Establishing enforceable rules with your teenager before issues arise and always following through on punishments is a good strategy for minimizing defiance and extreme outbursts from teens. Teens who know beforehand that a certain offense will merit undesirable consequences will generally have less resistance when it comes to accepting their punishment, notes the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. Making sure that the punishment is suitable for the offense is also important. If your teen was given a ticket for driving recklessly, taking away his car keys is a suitable punishment; however, this punishment is not suitable for a teen who forgot to wash the dishes before bedtime.

Resisting Punishment

It is not uncommon for teenagers to talk back to or yell at their parents when they enforce punishments. According to a 2009 "Psychology Today" article written by psychologist Carl Pickhardt, most teens go through a phase when they have a strong desire to assert their independence, and this phase generally ends in the late teens or early twenties. Pickhardt also notes that rebellion is reinforced by messages from peers. Expect your teenager to resist punishment at some point, but stay firm and continue to hold your teenager accountable for the poor choices he makes.

Behavior Contracts

A behavior contract is a formal written agreement that outlines the behavior expectations that parents have for their children. It generally addresses behaviors displayed at home and at school along with the consequences for making poor choices. Behavior contracts can be advantageous for teens and parents. They make teenagers aware of the rules that they must follow and encourage parents to be consistent with discipline. Parents and teenagers can create behavior contracts together and modify them as necessary.

Ideas for Grounding a Teen

Grounding In

Grounding in is the option that limits your teen's ability to leave the home or his bedroom. When grounding your teenager in the home, Texas Woman's University recommends parents sit down with their teens to define the term “grounding” and their expectations. Grounding could simply mean staying in the home, and could be used to punish less severe offenses, such as missing curfew by 30 minutes or failing to complete a chore. On the other hand, grounding could also mean being confined to the teenager's bedroom and could be used to punish a more severe offense, such as repeatedly missing curfew. Whatever the case, Texas Woman's University urges parents to limit a teen's access to the television, cell phone or computer, as well.

Grounding To-Do Lists

Help teenagers view grounding as more of a punishment by creating a grounding “To-Do” list. Sit down with your teenager and explain that in addition to being grounded inside the home, he will be expected to perform certain tasks. For instance, while grounded it's your teen's responsibility to bathe the dog, do the dishes, sweep the floors, clean the windows or perform any other task you see fit. Failure to perform these tasks will result in an extension of the original grounding.

Modified Grounding System

The Texas Woman's University provides parents with another option that rewards teenagers for good behavior by lessening their punishment. Under the terms of a modified grounding system, parents provide points each time their teenager behaves and sticks to the terms of the original grounding. For instance, give your teenager points for completing homework, keeping the television off or performing chores around the house. The points are then added up and used to lessen the time your teenager is grounded. Conversely, points are taken away each time your teenager is rude, disrespectful or doesn't follow the house rules.

Loss of Privileges

According to KidsHealth, losing a privilege, or grounding your teenager from an object or activity, is the most effective punishment. When it comes to grounding your teenager from something, pay attention that the punishment fits the crime. For instance, if your teenager missed his curfew by one hour, ground him from using the car for one day. If he continues to break curfew, increase the punishment by grounding him from the car for an entire week. If he is consistently getting in trouble for texting in school or at the dinner table, ground him from his cell phone.

Removing Privileges From Pre-Teens & Teenagers

Delineate Between Privilege and Right

Before you can remove privileges from your preteen or teen when he's misbehaved or acted out, you'll need to have a conversation about what is and isn't a privilege. After all, you might consider some things rights and those should never be taken away. Unconditional love, privacy and shelter could all constitute inalienable rights in your home while technology, a social life and free time could be privileges. Your child needs to know what is and isn't at risk for this form of discipline.

Lay the Ground Rules

Taking away privileges is ineffective without a consistent set of rules to play by. Try writing out a contract or having a conversation with your teen or preteen about what type of behavior leads to the removal of privileges. It could be when your child's privileges affect his grades at school, like too much computer time reducing his time to do homework. It could be when he abuses a privilege, such as staying out past curfew with your car. Regardless of your rules, you should both know the boundaries so your teen can't cry foul when you have to remove a privilege.

Play Fair

If you expect your teen to pay attention to your rules regarding privileges, that means you should respect the rules as well. Consistency is key in getting the results you want. Removing privileges that you hadn't discussed, removing rights and making up new rules simply because you're angry and disappointed means you're abusing this method of discipline. Your preteen or teen can't be expected to play by your rules if you don't offer him the same courtesy and respect.


Hopefully, if you successfully remove privileges based on the rules and boundaries that you've discussed, your teen will learn that certain things, events and experiences in his life are earned. If he does his homework, he can earn more social time. If he's in by curfew, you might be more willing to extend the time. On the flip side, he should learn that ignoring rules and pushing boundaries means that you can take away those things that are causing misbehavior. Until he's 18, he's at your mercy when it comes to privileges. As long as you use the punishment properly, it can help your teen understand actions and consequences more fully.

Discipline Suggestions for Teens

Implementing New Rules

The Kids Health website recommends parents sit their teenager down to discuss punishments, including how and when they're enforced. For instance, let your teen know that breaking curfew by one hour would result in a set punishment, such as coming home one hour earlier the next night. Whatever the punishment, Kids Health urges parents to also explain how the bad behavior could result in an unfavorable outcome. Staying out past curfew is not only a punishable offense, it also makes you as a parent feel worried about your teenager's safety. When it comes to assigning punishments, allow the teenager to have some say. According to Kids Health, even a small amount of control helps prevent unnecessary arguments later, simply because the teen played a role in the process.

Loss of Privileges

One of the most effective disciplinary tools is loss of privileges, according to Kids Health. Make sure the punishment fits the crime when implementing this strategy. For instance, if your teenager is texting during class or at the dinner table, punish him by taking away the cell phone for one day. If the offense involves using the family car without consent, punish your teenager by limiting access to the vehicle for one week. Whatever punishment you choose, the AAP urges parents to remain fair and consistent.

Parenting as a Community

The AAP recommends looking to the parents of your children's friends when establishing more consistent, universal punishments. Sit down with the parents of your children's friends and come up with a curfew and set of rules that could apply to the all the teens when out together. For instance, establish a strict 11 p.m. curfew for all the teenagers in the group. If any of the teens disobey, the punishment is the same for all. However, the AAP also cautions parents against compromising their standards for the sake of the group. If you believe another parent's punishments or rules are too lax, don't be afraid to stick to your own standards when it comes to your teen.

Additional Chores

Disciplining your teenagers with additional chores is another option, according to the AAP. For instance, if your teenager's job is taking out the garbage every Monday morning, add on an additional responsibility of cleaning up the front yard if he neglects to perform the original chore. Increasing the teen's household responsibilities during a grounding is another option.

Children's Reactions to Tough Love From Parents

Tough Love

Tough love is a form of parenting that seeks to strike a balance between strict discipline and affection. Parents who believe in tough love often use phrases like "I am doing this because I love you" or "We have to correct this mistake so you grow up to be a responsible adult." Tough love helps instill discipline and responsibility in children. It also helps build self-esteem and encourages respectful behavior.


Children get angry every time they are under punishment. They will often direct the anger to the parent, the caregiver or other children in the house. You should help the child redirect the anger by explaining the mistake and the subsequent punishment. The child may also think you are angry with him and subsequently become angry with himself, according to the Child Development Institute. After the punishment, let the child apologize and make him understand you were angry at his mistake, not at him.


Children understand mistakes they make and often throw tantrums to avoid punishment. The tantrums depend on the age; for example, young children will cry, while older children will walk out or shout at you. You should ignore the child for a while until he settles down, then administer the punishment. Giving attention to the tantrum encourages the child to behave badly and makes it hard for you to administer punishment. After the tantrum, however, you can punish the child and get him to understand the mistake.


Tough love helps instill discipline in children at a young age. However, as children grow up, they become rebellious and will often answer back or refuse punishment. Communication and consistency helps children understand that actions have consequences. Additionally, you should be affectionate toward your children. You should also set rules and carefully outline the consequences early. As children grow older, you can involve them in making the rules and selecting the punishments. This makes the children differentiate between acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.