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How to Develop Self Discipline in Teenagers

by Oubria Tronshaw

"The only discipline that lasts is self-discipline," according to football legend Bum Phillips. This is wise advice for parents of teenagers, because it helps them to remember that in order for teens to succeed, the drive has to come from within. You can help to develop self-discipline in your teen. Instill faith in her own abilities, teach her to trust herself, and then provide ample opportunities for her to safely make her own decisions and learn from her own mistakes.

Talk to your teen honestly about the facts of life, so she will be more equipped to make wise choices based on her own understanding, and not just because she’s doing what you told her to do. Instead of simply telling your teen, “Don’t have sex,” or “Don’t do drugs,” talk to her about how difficult it is to be a teenage parent, or how sex could cloud her thinking and distract her from her goals. Discuss the fatal possibilities of drunk driving, or the way drinking and drugs can impair her decision-making skills. Talk to her about your own experiences. Give your child enough information so that she doesn’t makes certain choices because she says so, not just because you say so.

Allow your teen to suffer the consequences for her own choices without stepping in to protect her, as long as those consequences aren’t dangerous or life threatening. Don’t nag her about keeping a reasonable bedtime; instead, let her get tired of dragging herself out of the bed in the morning or getting reprimanded by teachers for being late. For some behaviors, it might be necessary to impose artificial consequences, like limiting her access to the family car until she brings her grades up, or not letting her hang out with friends until her chores are done. If you’re consistent, your teen will learn how to make more responsible choices on her own, because she’ll know exactly what will happen otherwise.

Refrain from nagging your teen, or else she’ll rely on you instead of her own mind. She’ll have the luxury to keep forgetting to mail in her college applications, because she knows you’ll remind her 10 times. Instead, tell your teen once, remind her once and then back off with, “This is the last time I’m going to talk to you about this. It’s up to you now. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done, and you’ll have to deal with whatever that means." Phase yourself out so your teen’s own decision-making skills get stronger.

Increase your teen’s amount of responsibility so she gets accustomed to taking care of business. Instead of waking her up for school, buy her an alarm clock. Instead of going shopping by yourself all the time, hand her some money and the grocery list. Teach her to cook, and give her one or two nights per week to fix dinner for the family. Although your teen still needs your unconditional love and support, she doesn’t need you to do her laundry or iron her clothes.

Acknowledge your teen's independence and ability as she gets older. Compliment her decision-making skills. Support her choices. Tell her you trust her and believe in her, so she will trust and believe in herself.

About the Author

Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.

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