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How to Teach Teens Self-Control

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At the end of every school year, if you work with teens, you hear the same story. Someone goes to a party and drinks too much. That was the case a couple of years back. A girl went to senior week and drank so much she passed out on the beach. Apparently her “friends” were more concerned about getting in trouble than they were about her as they impulsively chose to leave her there. Fortunately, a group of strangers made sure she was safe and got help. That same week a different teen girl told me she got in trouble. I was surprised because this girl was a model citizen: moral, academic, athletic, responsible, and pretty. When I asked why she said her brother made her angry so she punched him in the face. I wondered why it’s so hard for teens to control themselves.

Teens are able to understand the idea of consequences and that they can choose good or bad behavior. But be aware that the part of their brain that can help them exercise self-control is still not fully formed. It won’t reach that point until they’re in their mid-twenties.  So, even though your teen no longer looks like a little kid, they still have a lot of kid left in them. Here’s how you can help to teach self-control for kids turned teens.

1. Draw a mental picture.

A simple illustration to help them grasp the basics of self-control is to ask them to imagine a stop sign that must be obeyed before they leap into a situation.

2. Cool down.

Encourage your child to walk away from a frustrating situation for a few minutes to cool off instead of having an outburst if they don’t get their own way.

3. Identify the trigger.

Encourage them to think about what’s causing them to lose control and then analyze it. Explain that sometimes the situations that are upsetting at first don’t end up being so awful after all.

4. Consider consequences and options.

Remind teens to think about long-term consequences. Urge them to pause and evaluate upsetting situations before responding and talk through problems rather than losing control, slamming doors, or yelling.

5. Set clear guidelines.

Be clear about your expectations and the amount of self-control you expect your child to exhibit. For example: “Josh, you can play video games after you clean up your room. That means clothes off the floor, dresser drawers closed, and bed made. Do that first, let me check out your room, and then you can play.”

What have you done to teach self-control to your teen?

Adapted with permission from KidsHealth.


What do you think about when you have to make a decision?

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