Get on the Same Page About Discipline

Work Together Towards Effective Discipline

It’s incredibly important for parents to come together when it comes to disciplining teens. It’s not uncommon to have different approaches. We are all influenced by the way we were raised. We come to the table with different philosophies and tactics. This can become even more challenging for parents disciplining from different households or locations.

In many ways, young people benefit from having parents with diverse views. They learn that two (or more) people they love, and who care about them, have different ways of looking at the world. This helps them understand that the world is complicated. That good people can think differently, while still bringing important and valid ideas to the table. However, we must be mindful not to vary in our views on discipline. It undermines young people’s well-being. It can also undermine the parents. After all, what teen wouldn’t choose the more lenient option of discipline? It can result in parents being pitted against each other and that leads to adults holding less influence.  

Disagreement is expected. But, we must learn to resolve disagreements amongst adults and present a unified front to our children. It’s ok to say that although you held different views, you came to a compromise. This is because of how much you both care about your teens’ well-being.

We must be mindful not to vary in our views on discipline. It undermines young people’s well-being. It can also undermine the parents.

Parenting from a Distance

Discipline is such a central part of parenting, that we need to make every effort to include all parents. There are many circumstances where a parent is separated by distance. This may include military service, extended business travel, divorce or separation, or incarceration. There are things we can do as a family to enable the best of parenting to occur even at a distance.

One strategy is to design an Adolescent Responsibility Contract (ARC). These agreements should include privileges children want to earn as well as expectations that caregivers have. There are clear consequences established for not meeting expectations as well as a path to regaining the requested privileges. The young person and all primary caretakers work together to build the agreement. You can design them from just about anywhere  — together or from a distance.

Build it Together

The ARC is created together so that even distant parents are virtually “present” when something goes wrong. All voices are represented on the contract, so if one parent is not physically there, their presence is felt.

If one parent is only brought to the table after something goes wrong, they may become the “enforcer.” Children learn to hear, “Wait until your father hears about this,” or “Your mother is going to be so upset!” This can create tension in the relationship. But with predetermined consequences established, resolutions can be immediate and therefore more effective. Instead you can say, “Remember we all agreed as a family?” Precious communication time is preserved for focusing on what the children are doing right. The parent at a distance gains the ability to concentrate on reinforcing the positive. This is not a lesser role, it is perhaps the most important element of discipline. And it may be especially important for families in which one parent is on military deployment.

Share this piece with your spouse or partner and devise your own ARC today! That way, you can focus on raising healthy, successful children together, even when you aren’t in the same place. Our Youth Advisory Board developed a prep sheet just for teens — share it with your child in preparation of this important conversation!


Effective Discipline Strategies

Discipline isn’t always easy. Here are key principles to keep in mind to ensure teens learn lessons and follow rules.


Set Clear Limits

Limits should ensure safe and moral behavior, while also allowing children to stretch, make mistakes and learn lessons.


Expand Limits

Allow children to broaden limits one step at a time. They are more likely to succeed when new privileges are earned through demonstrating responsible behavior.


Make Rules About Safety

Rules are more likely to be followed when it is clear they are established to keep children safe.


Relate Consequences to Actions

Offer consequences that make sense in light of the offense.

About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit

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