Reader Question of the Week: Appropriate Discipline for Teenagers

'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week’s question was asked on my Facebook Page with some intriguing discussion:

When disciplining teenage boys say, age 18, what types of punishments to you give when you really mean business??? And do you wives submit to your husbands even though you may not agree with HIS method, whipping for instance? (Spare the rod, spoil the child?)

What do you think? Let’s help her in the comments!

UPDATE: Thanks for all of you who answered already! I thought I’d better chime in soon, though, just to make my views clear. I think whipping is NEVER appropriate, no matter the age. I also think that there are many discipline techniques that are far more effective than spanking, and I am not a big fan of spanking at all, especially for children over 6. I think it CAN be done appropriately, but parents who can spank appropriately are also good enough parents that they can probably figure out alternative consequences that teach the reap/sow principle better.

As for discipling an 18-year-old, it’s too late. Whipping an 18-year-old? That’s assault.

The issue here is not one of submission; it’s how you help your son who is still living under your roof from your husband. And in this case, I’d be encouraging my son to get a place of his own, I think, and getting some others involved, because this is not appropriate.

Perhaps others think I’m being too harsh, but I do think this needs to be said.

UPDATE 2: There’s a giveaway for my book 31 Days to Great Sex going on this weekend over at Marriage for Champions! Enter here.


  1. ButterflyWings says:

    It honestly depends on the exact situation.

    First of all, if a child is under the age of 18 and your husband believes in whipping the child, I would NOT be a going along with it.

    It is illegal in many countries and states to use that sort of force on a child and is a serious criminal offense that can land your husband in jail and your child can be removed from you by CPS because they can label you as abusive by aiding and abetting the abuse.

    Over 18? Well then your child can’t be removed from you, but your husband can definitely be charged with assault and again, you can be charged as an accomplice.

    If your husband is doing something that is legally a crime, you do need to stand up and say no.

    If your husband is using violence as a means of “discipline” you need to stand up to that kind of abuse on behalf of your children.

    But if we’re talking about something like a little smack with an open hand, without an object, and you don’t like smacking, well that’s a little different. That is something that is not illegal (in most of the world) and can be good for a child if done properly. You might not like it, but it’s your husband’s right.

    The question really is – is your husband disciplining your child or abusing them? If he is abusing them, you have a duty to stand up TO him, if he is just disciplining more harshly than you would choose to, then you have a duty to stand up FOR him.

  2. I think it is too late to discipline an 18 year old boy. The discipline must be when they are growing up. You can kick them out of the house if they can’t behave and let life discipline them {and pray God will turn them around} but if they aren’t listening to you and obeying you at 18, I think it is too late to begin making them.
    Lori recently posted…Gluttony And Pleasing Your ManMy Profile

  3. I do believe that as long as they are under your roof, they heed to your rules, regardless of the age. Physical punishment, to me, is only meant for small children that do not always understand reason. For instance if my 3 year old ran out into the road on our property he would get a spanking because his action could have caused his death and he needed to remember what would happen if he ran into the road again.
    Teens have reason, no physical punishment required, in fact it could be quite demeaning. My favourite punishment was given by a friend. Our boys skipped in high school, a Christian tuition required high school. he figured out the exact cost per day of education and therefore his son owed him $62.73 for the cost of education he missed out on that day. My son was grounded for two weeks. I think the cash out of pocket hurt more.

  4. logical consequences is what is needed, I think. Spanking, if that is what is being talked about, ends between ages 5 and 7, generally. And 18 yr old boy? no. Now, I’ve heard of boys duking it out, which maybe Dad and Son need to do so (I tend towards letting boys be boys and sometimes it means a bit more violence that I would like). But that does seem a fine line to walk. Maybe “duking it out” should be more verbal or somesuch. But it does depend on the child.

    By and large, though, I think physical discipline is out on a child so old. But logical consequences are quite valid. For example, he wrecks the car, he looses all driving privileges and must pay to fix the car (deductible or such) or fix it himself (if that is his thing). Say he stays out all night without calling — he looses driving privileges, and gets extra work for his irresponsibility. Maybe he lies about something, there should be privileges he looses. If it is all out rebellion and defiance, it might be time to set him loose, let him suffer the consequences of the law (with proper warning that this will follow him the rest of his life), earning his own keep. Might be he just needs a job to keep him busy.

    Just ideas and stuff I’ve read. My little boy is only 20 months, so this is all forward looking. We use logical consequences already, though, as well. If he won’t stay seated in the stroller, he gets strapped in for a time. If he throws something, he looses it for a time.
    Rachael recently posted…Poor morals in children’s booksMy Profile

  5. 18 is too old to be “whipping” (I assume you mean spanking with some kind of implement). The child is by then a legal adult and as others have said the child could go to the police and have the parent charged with assault. Your husband needs to understand this.

    If the child is still living at home, they need to start feeling the consequences of their actions. He is an adult now. There will be adult consequences for his actions or lack thereof. Stop paying his cell phone bill and let it be turned off by the company if he’s going over on his minutes or texting. Don’t pay his car insurance or bail him out of tickets if he’s being irresponsible with his car. Don’t give him money if he is not managing his own wisely. If it gets bad enough, ask him to leave. I’m not saying any of this will be easy. But you’re the ones whose name is on the mortgage. It is YOUR house. You wouldn’t let some stranger come and live in your house and make your lives miserable by being disrespectful and not taking care of their own things.
    Melissa recently posted…Aging GracefullyMy Profile

    • I had to laugh a little here – not at the advice, because it’s good! Just that times have changed in the past 15-20 years or so … when I wanted a phone in my room or a cell phone growing up, I always paid the bill. And I earned my own spending money starting at 15 when I could get a job that paid enough for that. The areas I could have used discipline are the areas that didn’t already cost me personally. So I agree – logical consequences.

      I’d even take it a step further – sleeping in? Show him how the alarm works then let him deal with the consequences at his job or school. Better to lose a part-time job at 18 than his career at 40 while he’s supporting a family. If his actions don’t earn him the privilege of living in your home, show him how to fill out a rental application. If he’s out of high school, I’d charge a small rent anyway. It’s up to you if you want to use it to offset your own expenses or save it to help him buy a house or pay for college later. It’s not unkind, but rather loving, to expect a man to act like a man – even when he’s just 18.

      It probably sounds harsh to many, but I’ve always seen a main goal of parenting as raising an adult who can function well in life. An 18-year-old man should be at the point (or close to it) that he can handle living on his own without relying on mom and dad in the same way as when he was a child. If that’s not the case, a loving action would be to help him to reach that point of independence, not carrying him along financially. I realize all the financial support is conjecture – it’s not mentioned in the post. However, when an 18-year-old man is still being spanked, I have to wonder if he’s not still being treated as a child in other ways.

      • ButterflyWings says:

        I’m just glad to see some sensible posts about treating 18 year olds like adults.

        On another much different forum (for single mothers as I was one between my abusive first husband demanding a divorce to marry one of his mistress and marrying my second husband), I was made out to be an absolute monster because I suggested an 18 year old man get a part time job (or a full time one) around his studies because his single mother could not afford to pay the rent and feed her younger children and support him 100% financially too.

        (Here, not paying any child support is sadly too easy and even those dads who do pay, often only pay a few dollars, and once a child turns 18, no more child support even if the child is still a full time student or disabled or for any reason).

        The government gives a small payment for full time students who are 18-21 and living at home but if the one parent works even part time, usually they become ineligible.

        But yes… I was called a callous monster, and unloving mother and all sorts of horrible names for suggestion this MAN (not boy, as he was 18) should get a job and at the very least pay his own study expenses and preferably pay some board.

        We live in a generation of spoilt kids, and I know some single mothers feel they have to spoil their kids to make up for what their deadbeat dads have done, but it only does the children a disservice. Spoiling by his single mother is what made my first husband the violent, immature, selfish man he is today.

        Sometimes you have to be tough.

        But I do put the line at violence… violence like whipping only teaches kids that whoever is the strongest controls by force and as soon as they are away from the violence, they do as they please, and that usually includes using violence to dominate others

        • Oh, my goodness, really? My 18-year-old is currently working 3 jobs (one full-time, one part-time, one casual) so that she can earn money to move out. And she already pays for all her own clothes and her own cell phone and her own toiletries. Yes, people need to learn to stand on their own two feet.

          • ButterflyWings says:

            Yep, really. I was told that students shouldn’t work and the government should just provide welfare for all their expenses.

            When I shared how I worked 3 jobs (totally between 25-35 hours work every week) around full time university (30ish hours per week) and spent 15 hours travelling on buses to get to and from university, I was called a liar.

            The concept of an adult aged under 25 who actually worked to support themselves is a concept some people cannot comprehend. There is a huge welfare mindset here in Australia with a lot of people thinking the government should give them bucketloads of money to either sit at home doing nothing or to study (I have a relatively who is doing his 6th university, paid for entirely by the government, who also pays him welfare benefits to continue to study – he has no intention of ever getting a job before he retires in 5 years time).

            I was married at 19, my husband lost his job pretty much straight after we were married and 14 years ago, welfare for students barely paid for textbooks and transport to university – it was work or starve.

            Even if the government was as generous as they are now, I would still have worked. Admittedly, I wouldn’t have worked 35 hour weeks regularly around university, but I would have done what I have done for the past few years – worked part time around university. And some how juggled being a single mum too (because the Australian government insists single mothers work to receive any sort of welfare) with my daughter having special needs, and myself having numerous serious health problems and juggling 9 surgeries in the last 14 years, some of them quite major.

            Having a good work ethic is important. WhileI do think that mothers should be at home with their children as much as they can, if you’re and adult, and don’t have children, you should be out their earning a living unless you have a very good reason (eg disabled or a genuine full time care of a disabled family member).

            Too many healthy young adults with no spouse or child to care for think the government/society owes them welfare, or that their parents owe them a free ride. They need to lose that attitude

          • You sound like you’ve set a tremendous example for your kids – it will serve them well! Well done!

          • Christine C. says:

            I’m not from Australia, and where I’m from, students aren’t supported by the government….BUT I think that it says a lot about how we demean academia when we suggest that being a student isn’t a job.

            Let me put it this way: if a student is spending 18-20 hours in class per week, they should be spending at least the equivalent number of hours outside of class working on the subject matter covered. That alone adds up to almost 40 hours. When you add in things like extracurricular activities, internships, service learning, etc, that can add on a significant chunk of time, and some college kids have additional community and family commitments (church, babysitting, etc) to juggle. Like all of us, college students have to have some leisure time set aside for their own mental health, and they really need to be getting an adequate amount of sleep– to add employment on top of that seems excessive to me. You were clearly an exceptional young adult to be able to juggle all of your responsibilities, but I don’t think it’s fair or wise to expect all students to do that.

          • ButterflyWings says:

            I wouldn’t say exceptional… I was just determined to not lose a scholarship worth $25,000 that paid my entire university course fees in my first degree.

            And being a student is definitely a job, I agree.

            What I did after I got married was extreme and I paid the price in both grades and health and by the time I finished my course I was very sick and the botched delivery of my daughter finished off my health, but I do think there should be a balance of work and study for healthy young adults who don’t have kids.

            When I was working one and a half days around my course before my marriage, that worked well. I earnt enough to pay my other student fees (compulsary student service fees etc) and textbooks and to put a little aside to save up for a car. The $85 a week the government gave to full time students, I paid most of to my parents in board and a few dollars left for food when not at home.

            Working one and a half days gave me an employment record which employers then looked on positively. It gave me a credit rating so I could get a mobile phone. Students who don’t do some sort of work find it very hard to get work after they graduate. We have a massive overflow of university graduates and many cannot find work in their field – or any field at the moment. Without a work history, most employers just won’t give new graduates a chance.

            I wouldn’t suggest the crazy hours I worked, but one would hope, few people would end up in the situation I was in my first marriage – married man who I thought was a nice christian man, only to discoverd I had married a violent, cheating drug addict who had only pretended to be a christian. I would hope and pray anyone whose kids are the age I was never go through that when they get married.

      • Times HAVE changed, haven’t they? :-) When I became an adult my parents told me I could only continue living at home if I was either A) working full time, B) going to school, or C) some combination of the two. I still had chores and responsibilities and had to respect my parents’ house rules. It made sense to me!
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        • When I was 18 I was already married. Although we did accept a loan from my parents on one occasion, we expected to pay it back, not have it as a gift. Later, when I decided to go to college, I paid for it myself (I had a small student loan which I repaid). I can’t claim to have always been the most responsible person in the world or to have always made the best decisions. I did a lot of silly things when I was young and inexperienced. But I did always assume that I was responsible for myself and that my mistakes were my own fault. Living like an adult helped me become a better adult over time. I compare this to how the son of a friend was raised, with his parents always allowing him to come back home, making excuses for him, supporting him even though he didn’t work, rescuing him from his mistakes (including paying bail when he was arrested for DUI), etc. This fellow is now almost 40 years old and still behaves like a 13-year old (but a dangerous 13-year old since he is a substance abuser, has bursts of violence, and doesn’t support his child) who spends most of his time playing computer games. His life is meaningless — worse than meaningless, really, since he has caused so much trouble for other people. When his parents die there will be no one to support and rescue him, and I expect he will end up homeless. What a difference it might have made if they had started from an early age to teach him some responsibility.
          Rosemary recently posted…Learning and Practicing Responsible HonestyMy Profile

      • learning is fun! says:

        I’d have to agree, in that there are so many things now that are ‘expected’ by teenagers, that just weren’t when I was in my teens, 20-something years ago. I haven’t relied on my mother to wake me up since I had my first alarm clock in the FIFTH GRADE.
        As far as the whole ‘whipping’ thing goes (and I’m also assuming that this is simply referring to physical discipline, as a literal interpretation would definitely come with some serious legal implications), another thing to consider is that many teens, by the age of 18, tower over their parents, to the point where I’m sure there is some intimidation and fear on the parents’ part. I would agree that, in most ways, 18 is also too late for most kinds of discipline. The ‘child’ is – at least in Canada, considered an adult, and is legally allowed to vote, sign a contract, drive, etc – everything but consume alcohol. By the time they’re 18, the only recourse is to let them make the mistakes, and realize the real-world consequences of them.

  6. Hmm..this is way too vague. I think by the other comments that people are jumping to the conclusion that this husband is a tyrant. There is no example of the teenagers offense, what she means by whipping or anything for that matter. Before everyone overreacts and throws out jail & assault or assumes this husband is abusive, more detail should be given.

  7. I want to answer the second question first – yes.
    When disciplining children regardless of the age, that’s not the point in time to have a division; children pick it up and feed off of it.
    I have older children and i’m so glad to see a question that i can relate to.
    18 is not too old to discipline; it may be the last chance you get.
    discipline doesn’t always involve corporal punishment; it depends on the offense.
    because the question is relating to an 18 yr old boy/man and the husband was once that age and may have a better sense of what the young man is going through, I would defer to husband in dealing with the young man. Of course we would talk it out first – though dealing with an 18 yo, you might be too livid to have a proper conversation with each other.
    My last thought is I’d rather we deal with you, than have society punish you.
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  8. When I was 18 I was on my own my sister was on her own at 17 working full time paying her own way. It was always known in my house that 18 means you are out on your own, not as a punishment but that was just life. So by the time we were 15 we were all working full time and in school. All 4 of us kids went to college. I am different. I don’t tell my daughter she has to go at 18,( she is 15) so I’m not saying that’s the way to go for all but somehow I can not imagine disciplining an eighteen year old. He is an adult, if he can’t be respectful get him out. After 18 you are graciously letting him live with you, there is no obligation.
    Kristina recently posted…Christmas 2012My Profile

  9. I think in the first part about discipline, the best discipline is the rule laid out in Boundaries by Drs. Cloud and Townsend, ‘Reap What You Sow’. If the 18 year old has done something that is totally unacceptable to the parents, and he has alrealdy been warned about it, then whatever consequences were included in the warning, provided they are within the law, need to be applied. If that means that he was told if he did X again he would have to move out, then give him a week’s notice to move out.

    When it comes to submitting to her husband, the best model I can think of is the family as a ship with husband as captain and wife as first officer. In private, argue her case, but in cases where there is deadlock the husband should prevail unless what he is doing is contrary to God’s law. This is part of being a Godly wife.
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  10. I have many years before my boys reach their teens, but as a high school teacher I saw a successful, creative example of disciplining a teenage boy.

    The results of a rather bad school year for him were: 1. Moving from his “man-cave” basement bedroom to the bedroom next to his parents’ room, which was previously his little sister’s room and was still decorated with pink and purple butterflies. 2. The door was removed from his room (He could change in the bathroom for privacy.), and he was given a bed and space on the floor for his folded clothes, no other furniture. 3. He lost the privileges of his cell phone, computer, television, etc. 4. His mother gave him two weeks to choose a hobby; he did not take her seriously, so she decided he would participate in weekly swim events, and she dragged him to all of them.

    He actually seemed happier after all of the changes, and he definitely started the next school year with a better perspective. Granted, this young man was 15, not 18, so it might not be effective for an older teen.

  11. Anonymous says:

    As a mid thirty year old man, now father of two (one boy) I see things a little differently as I can still remember being eighteen although it fades a little every year. Men and boys think much differently than women and respond to different things. While I’d probably never, ever do it…I’d sure want my eighteen year old to think I’d do it. There are two things an eighteen year old boy/man fears, being humilated by his girl or the girl he hopes to be his and his father. Other than that he is invincible. My father is a decent sized man at 5’11 270. My brother who is 6’7″ 250 ex marine (who sent five guys home during boot camp with broken bones) still feared my father well into his mid twenties and well after he got out of the military. Me at 6’2″ 275 with shoulders as wide as bull and who once lifted a forklift that had tipped over felt the same. We were bigger, stronger and younger but don’t think we didn’t still have a little healthy fear…and that’s a good thing! And dad never abused us, & hugged & told us he loved us often, but as Bill Cosby said, “I brought you into the world and I can take you out!” And we knew that.

    It was uncommon, frowned upon but acceptable in the frontier (the only real history knowledge that I know inside and out) and I have to tell you if I thought my son did something worthy of it I’ll reserve the right and if that’s against the law I’ll pay the consequences. There are more important things and more important laws than mans. And don’t go thinking I’m some kind of abuser…the farthest thing from it. I must give my kids 20 hugs and day and tell them I love them just as much. I’m considered a gentle giant and a great dad.

    On the “law” thing…what kind of world do we live in where we can kill our unborn childeren (and in some countries and they’re pushing for it even after birth) but can’t swat an 18 year on the butt? Seriously, our laws…

    My kids listen to me because I love them with my whole heart and keep my promises, am firm and yet respectful of them. They know I’d die for them in a heartbeat without even a thought. But they have a little healthy fear also…and that’s the way it should be. That’s the way it was since biblical days until only recently…are we raising healthier kids today?

  12. What great advice, we have an 18 year old son still at home because he is going full time to school and working part time, he is responsible for his schooling, insurance and gas. we pay for his food and clothes. He recently made the comment that being an adult is expensive. My point to saying all of this is that our job as parents is to help them grow out of the house.

    A part of loving them is to also discipline them, starting when they are young, we should also be guiding them. When disciplining our children the goal is to teach them that there are rules in life and when the rules are broken there will be consequences, not to take out our anger on them or humiliate the. Spanking or whipping when you are 18 is humiliation, causing harm in your relationship and I think would be done in anger, not well thought out. I believe it needs to be something that gets them where their hearts are. I like what someone said about stop paying for their luxuries which is what cars, cell phones and internet are. I also like what someone else said, to giving them a time line to get a job and contribute to the household or move out. I know that is sounds cruel in a world where so many think we have to hand everything to our children. I believe that working for something makes it worth more. I also know that I am saying this when I only have one child in college and does what is expected and doesn’t give us trouble, We have four more coming up behind, not knowing what will happen with them. I am thankful for them and aware that we might have to make some tough decisions.

    I am thinking about the comment of the wife submitting to the husband, Yes he should have the final word but he should also listen to what his wife has to say on the matter, talk and pray together to figure out together what the right thing to do is. Raising children takes team work.

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