Effective Vs. Counterproductive Methods Of Discipline For Teenagers

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated November 13, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Parents, guardians, and teachers are often charged with the difficult task of instilling consequences for teenage behavioral issues. Using positive discipline strategies and occasional punishments can build teenagers’ self-esteem, self-confidence, and ability to navigate problems independently. Effective methods of discipline can include leaving room for natural consequences, instilling logical consequences, implementing reparations, and creating learning opportunities. Counterproductive methods may include corporal punishment, taking away healthy outlets, and eliminating all privileges. Online therapy may help parents of teenagers improve their disciplinary strategies.

Work Through Mental Health Concerns And Improve Your Parenting

Research from The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist points to certain parenting styles that can predict teenage experiences with behavioral issues. Negative reactivity is generally associated with elevated risks of behavioral issues, potentially making it important for adults interacting with teens to establish logical, low-reactivity consequences for poor decisions. There may be several strategies you can adopt that may help you teach teenagers about the consequences of their actions in a constructive way.

Make Space For Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are the results that are typically inherent in the aftermath of a certain action. They can be an optimal way for teenagers to learn about the real-life consequences of their actions. 

For example, if a teenager decides not to complete their homework, they may face the consequence of a poor grade on the assignment. Similarly, if they are given an allowance at the beginning of each month and spend it within the first week, they may be required to deal with the consequences of not having an allowance for three weeks.  

Allowing teenagers to experience the consequences of their choices without interference from adults can help them become more independent and aware of the importance of their own decisions. 

Instill Logical Consequences

Instead of sending a teenager to their room (at home) or detention (at school), adults may utilize consequences that are logical for the specific behavior. For example, if a teenager is engaging in dangerous behavior such as riding their bike without a helmet, a natural consequence could be removing bike privileges for a short duration.  

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Implement Reparations

When teenagers misbehave, some parents respond with a form of punishment called deprivation, which involves taking away desirable activities (such as video games or social time). Unlike deprivation, reparations involve the addition of tasks. This may be a more effective form of punishment for teenagers because it generally asks them to achieve a task to regain privileges, rather than waiting for a privilege to be given back after a set period. For example, if a teenager fails to complete their homework, a reparation task could be staying after school to complete homework. 

Create Learning Opportunities

You may make consequences and punishments more effective by double-checking that they are fair, reasonable, consistently enforced, and of limited duration (for reparations and deprivations). This form of discipline can function as a learning opportunity, rather than a seemingly unfair punishment.

Counterproductive Punishments

There are some types of punishments that can do more harm than good. These may include:

  • Corporal Punishment: Research demonstrates that physical punishments like spanking can cause long-lasting mental health harm to children. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that corporal punishment is typically ineffective at teaching discipline and that other punishments (such as reparations) are often more effective at addressing behavioral issues. 

  • Taking Away Healthy Outlets: Some social situations and extracurriculars can be important to teenagers’ self-worth and personal development. Depriving teenagers of their healthy outlets may be more harmful than helpful. 

    Work Through Mental Health Concerns And Improve Your Parenting

  • Eliminating All Privileges: If reparations and modest deprivation strategies are not working, some adults may try eliminating all privileges or withholding privileges for an extended period. However, if a teenager is grounded for a year, they may feel little motivation to improve their behavior.  

In some cases, it can be difficult to discern whether a form of punishment may be effective or counterproductive. If you are unsure, you may be able to seek guidance from other parents or teachers. You may also find community resources, such as parenting support groups and classes that teach communication skills, to be helpful. A licensed therapist who specializes in childhood development, behavioral health, or family therapy can be an excellent resource to help you establish healthy disciplinary strategies. 

Online Therapy May Help You Implement Effective Disciplinary Strategies

If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, it may feel more difficult to avoid using unfair, unreasonable, or inconsistently enforced consequences. Even severe stress without the diagnosis of a mental health disorder can make it challenging to discipline your teenager to the best of your abilities. Therapy may be a resource that teaches you how to handle your stress or other mental health concerns and helps you be the best parent you can be. 

Audrey Berdeski, LPC
I have worked with Audrey for about a month. She is kind, funny, and a good listener. She has helped me come up with better skills when dealing with my teenagers. I had a goal to be more in control of how I react to a situation, and she has certainly helped me do that.”

If traditional in-person therapy isn’t convenient for you, you may wish to consider online therapy. You may connect with a licensed therapist from anywhere with an internet connection at a time that works for you without having to seek out a therapist, drive to their office, or sit in a waiting room.

decade-long study found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be as effective as in-person therapy at reducing the symptoms associated with many mental health disorders. 


Helping teenagers learn about the repercussions of their actions can be challenging, and some forms of consequences may be more effective than others. When deciding on a particular punishment, it may be helpful to ask yourself whether you are establishing an opportunity for growth and maturity. As a general rule, natural and logical consequences, reparations, and learning opportunities are usually effective disciplinary measures, while eliminating privileges, taking away healthy outlets, and engaging in corporal punishment are generally counterproductive. Online therapy can help parents of teenagers reduce symptoms of many mental health disorders that can make it particularly challenging to set consistent consequences.

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