How Do You Discipline a Teenager?

Keep_CalmI’ve always been one to watch for a sign that might help me deal with whatever might be churning in my head.  That’s because whatever is churning in my head is also likely to make my stomach churn if it stays there too long.  Today, I saw just what I needed: keep calm and carry on.  And, it was literally on a poster. I couldn’t have asked for anything clearer.

The British Ministry of Information originated the encouraging slogan in 1939, but it was never used. It’s certainly been put to good use 70 years later. I’ve since learned that this slogan is available on almost everything from a postcard to a tea towel. You think I would have seen it at least once before now. But, then again, maybe I didn’t need to see it so much until now.

Today, I am thinking about how I cope with growing children and the growing complexity of problems that can come with the territory. This is because Bonni brought up the subject of disciplining children as they get older.
On reflection, I’ve been operating with optimism.  I chose to believe that those toddler time-outs plus the many times we asked Dr. Phil’s question:  “Is that working for you?” have accumulated in some brain reservoir so our kids can draw on those experiences during their teen years. Based on firsthand experience and anecdotes from other parents, I’m becoming more realistic.  I’m not a child-rearing expert but I’ve suspected that the teen brain struggles to transfer learning from those early-discipline lessons.

With preteen and teenage kids, the discipline issues can range from annoying (listening to an iPod past midnight on a school evening) to troubling (discovering that the real reason your child cleaned the carpet was because of the party at your house while you were out of town) to high-anxiety (getting a call from the police station that begins “Am I speaking to the parent of [insert name here]…”).

Although my children are my precious children I realize that they are not perfect children. And, my husband and I are not perfect parents. We’re loving and well-meaning parents and I’m going with the belief that those baseline characteristics will serve them – and us – well.

Bonni, as one mom to another, here’s the best advice I’ve received so far:
1.    Live in the moment.  Deal with what’s happening now and not what you fear might happen in the future.  So, while that late-night i-Pod party might warrant taking away the thing for a week, it is not likely to be a grave portent of the future.  Dealing with what is in front of me helps me to react more reasonably.

2.    Keep talking even if your children don’t appear to be listening. You’ll be amazed at what other parents tell you good things your children say and do when you are not around!

3.    Recognize when you need help.  If you’ve not successfully dealt with whatever problem is going on then look for guidance from someone who has.

My kids are older.  They leave the house without me. I know their friends but I don’t know everyone they meet.  The Internet opens up a whole new world of influence and temptation right inside my home.  I cannot be present to protect them from others – or from themselves – as much as I used to be.  I hope that they recall the lessons we’ve tried to teach them from early on.  And, I’ll discipline them using the guidelines above when they lower their standards.

Signs aren’t always so clear.  I’m grateful for the one that I saw today.  And, for now, when my kids leave the house I will continue to often replace “Good-bye” with “Remember your standards!”  Maybe I can get that printed on a poster.

FRONTLINE: Inside the teenage brain  helpful links included. Suggested reading from Claire Diemler, School Counselor, Webster Groves, MO School District:

·      Parenting Teens with Love & Logic by Foster Cline & Jim Fay

·      Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood by William Pollack and Mary Pipher

·      The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian

·      Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher (Also Ophelia Speaks by Sara Shandler)

·      Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman

Expert Mommy, Diane Asyre is a professional writer and owns Asyre Communications.


  1. D, I love that you appreciate and take note of the messages the Universe delivers to use daily, most especially the ones we need to hear in the moment. Keep calm and carry one… a great mantra for parenting teenagers, toddlers, and infants!!! In fact, not a bad one for life in general!

  2. Yes, that slogan is on the top of my mantra list too! Here’s the link to the Frontline program via PBS

  3. “Remember your standards!” this will SO become a regular statement in my home once the kids get a little older.

    what a nice reminder. I find this statement positive and empowering for a parent to say to their tween/teen kids as they head out into the world full of choices for them to make largely on their own as you are not going to be there…. not fear based like “Don’t do this/don’t do that.”

    thanks for this Diane, and i think the tea towels with Keep Calm and Carry On would look lovely in your kitchen. 😉

  4. karen kane says:


    Our third child (you know her well!) was the one who finally benefitted from a “be calm and carry on” mantra. As we experimented on # 1 and #2, we slowly realized the best solutions were usually the calmest ones. In our adult lives, we are most successful when we apply this same principle, so why not with our children? I’ve watched your boys grow up and witnessed you “practice what you preach”—it’s working well for you!

    Also, a special thank you to the person who contributed the “remember your standards” mantra. What a great reminder for our children, especially as they become more independent. With my last one on her way to college next year, I will be ingraining this into her thought process every chance I get….thanks!

  5. Diane – this is such wise advice. “Remember your standards” is superb – and the “keep talking” too – so often my seemingly sullen son would walk away then weeks later would bring up something I’d said with real interest (“what did you mean by…?). Also give time for lots of silence (e.g. in a car) and let them talk when they’re ready … then listen too. Don’t underestimate hormones too – they literally drive teens somewhat crazy.
    What’s lovely is the organic nature of discipline the way you present it: “Remember your standards” comes out of those early childhood and elementary years. It’s not as though your child has suddenly turned into an enormous bug! He is the same person and how you disciplined in those early years (lovingly, firmly, reasonably, fairly…) still applies. Lovely piece.

  6. Your comments are doing double-duty! Reading them reminds me the value of taking my own advice. Today we had the great “donut fiasco.” We left home early to buy donuts; son dropped the box of donuts while running to car – with me shouting to watch out for the slick pavement. Arrrggh! No broken bones, only broken donuts. Stayed calm (sort of) and carried on. Bought replacement donuts (because it is his birthday and I love him) and made it to school with two minutes to spare. Keep calm; carry on and be careful with those donuts!

  7. I love that saying in your image. I actually made it into a vinyl lettering transfer so you can put it right on your wall and remind yourself to “Keep Calm and Carry On”

    Great advice from everyone too on handling the teenagers. Mine are not there yet but will be soon enough.

  8. What a great idea to put the slogan on a wall! That’s much more reasonable than my idea of having it tatooed ; D

    Your wall inspiration will also help others deal with other kinds of trying situations. Thanks for sharing that and enjoy your kids as they come up on the tween/teen years. There’s plenty to look forward to. Cheers!