Dealing with Teens: Discipline & Responsibility


The fourth part in a series of questions and answers on teenagers

Here is the fourth question on teenagers, on discipline and responsibility, with some answers from Focus on the Family.


My preteen lacks maturity. He’s not disobedient or defiant, just irresponsible.

For example, he doesn’t put things away – he leaves his bike unlocked outside of the house where it could easily be stolen, and I’m constantly tripping over his clothes, shoes and toys.

How should I discipline him when he persists in this kind of behaviour?


Every parent has his or her own method of handling such challenges, and there’s a sense in which we’re hesitant to impose our perspective on your personal style.

At the same time, we feel pretty certain that rigid “discipline” isn’t the best way of dealing with a situation like the one you’ve described. As a matter of fact, a hard-nosed approach could prove counter-productive.

You don’t want to do anything that might have the effect of pushing your child over the line and transforming thoughtless irresponsibility into premeditated rebellion.

Natural Consequences

To the extent that you can, we recommend you take full advantage of natural consequences.

The bicycle left outside the house is a perfect case in point. If you live in a neighbourhood where theft is a real danger, warn your son of the potential results of his negligence. A word or two should suffice — constant nagging isn’t necessary.

After that, see if you can dredge up the courage to sit back and let events unfold as they will. If the bike is stolen, so be it.

If the boy comes to you complaining of his misfortunes and asking for a new one, calmly explain that you aren’t in a position to replace the bicycle at this time. Maybe he’ll get the point that it pays to put things away in a safe place.

Managing “Zones”

When it comes to his shoes, socks, clothes, and toys, you can appeal to a similar motivation by adopting the following plan:
Using a strip of masking tape, mark off a boundary — probably at the door of his room — between his personal “messy zone” and the habitable portions of the house where other members of the family are expected to live.

Then say, “Inside the ‘messy zone’ you can do as you please. But if you want anything that’s been left on the floor outside the ‘messy zone,’ make sure you pick it up before bedtime. After that, it will be confiscated and placed in quarantine until you have enough money to buy it back. The going price is one dollar.”

If nothing else, this is a good way to reduce clutter in the house. It can also provide you with a handy fund of money for fun family outings or pizza-and-movie nights.

Other Options

If these strategies don’t work, and if you come to the conclusion that there may be something more serious going on – for example, if you suspect that there are physical or emotional causes, such as ADHD, for your child’s inability to concentrate and follow through on simple tasks and responsibilities – you may want to make an appointment with a family counsellor who is trained to diagnose such conditions.

A trained counsellor can help you come up with a plan for dealing with the problem.

If you would like more help, Focus on the Family Singapore offers counselling at our office.

To make an appointment with a counsellor, simply call us at 6491 0700 or write to

Used by permission of Focus on the Family Singapore. For more parenting resources, visit

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