When Your Teen Does Something ‘Bad’ Should You Punish or Let it Slide?

Our intern, Rachel posted an interesting question in our teen forums:

“So…..this topic came up in my mind recently. Sometimes i want my parents to limit me because it shows they care, but other times I want them to just let a tiny thing slide. Which do you think is a better technique? Is there a possibility that you could have a good mixture of both? What are signs parents could use to figure out which approach would be best for a situation? A quote I found: “American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons.” From Psychology Today”


Yes! Teens also worry about this delicate balance. Let’s take a look at what teen’s had to say:

“Most teens want their parents to always let their mistakes slide.
I am not really treated like a teenager anymore even though I’m 16.
A lot of people my age ask me how I feel about being treated like an adult…
“Do you feel like your mom doesn’t care about you?”
I like it, actually. I don’t need my parents to punish me to show that they care.
They show they care about me by giving me my much needed freedom and space.
They put all of their trust in me and I enjoy that much much much more than being punished.
= )”


“I think it should be a mixture. Most of my friends’ parents were strict though and the problem with that isn’t just the restrictions, it’s the fact that parents are quick to say “NO!” and don’t take the time to calmly explain why they’re saying no. I think the same would apply to parents who lets things slide. If they’re going to do so, great, but they need to explain why. (Ex: I trust that you learned your lesson…blah blah blah) Otherwise it’d seem like they don’t care.”


I think that balance is always important. But, what I advise most parents is to make a list of their priority rules–things that are really important to them. And choose to be strict on these rules, and loser on others. This way you are keeping your priorities straight and choosing your battles.

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3 Responses to “When Your Teen Does Something ‘Bad’ Should You Punish or Let it Slide?”

  1. a mom
    August 19, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    I have 1 teen and 1 almost teen. The older one says I am overprotective. The younger one thinks everything is fine.
    What i let my older one do depends on how she acts. She would like to just come and go a she pleases, but I cannot let that happen.
    I tell her I do not like it when she is the only white girl going swimming with a dozen black guys who are 5 years older then her. (nothing against black guys, but make it more mixed, will ya? maybe have some black girls come along too).
    I will not let her go for walks at 2am, neither alone(the recommendation here is for nobody to walk alone at night, not even 200pound guys), nor with 2 guys who i do not know personally, but know of(my bf is an ex-teacher and teachers talk amongst each other).
    They might all be perfect gentlemen to her, but her reputation would be ruined and I do not want to run the risk of her low self esteem getting further compromised by malicious gossip founded in truth, I do not want to risk her doing drugs (I am talking crystal meth and crack etc here, not just pot, she did THAT at 11). I cannot avoid all risk, but I do not have to hand her the keys and say “go for it”
    I also do not want her to get a disease. Pregnancy I am not half as worried about. A baby does not carry half the stigma that HIV does, and when there are 800 cases of HIV+ in a town of 15.000, that is a very high number.
    So, she will not get birth control pills. There are condoms with spermicide.
    Basically, she is allowed to go where she wants during the day, as long as she tells me where she is going. In the evening she has to be home by 9 weekdays, 12 fri&sat. She can go to parties as long as she does not break curfew. but if there is booze there and the cops raid the party and throw her in jail, she can wait there a day or two before I bail her out(I would like to forbid her going to any parties, but got told its counterproductive) She is strongly encouraged to bring her friends home when I am home, no matter what gender or colour.
    But if I catch her climbing out the window again, that whole deal is off. Did i mention she is 15?

  2. Shreya
    August 20, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    I understand that parents always have your “best interest” in mind, but to be honest, I don’t think that they fully understand the teenage mind. My parents always tell me that they understand everything because they were teenagers at one point. They were teenagers, yes, but they were teenagers in a society vastly different from the one that we live in today. They didn’t have the same lifestyle, trends, or problems, so they cannot actually understand what we, the teenagers, are going through.
    Another important point to bring up is that: more rules = a greater desire to break said rules. Rules make a teenager feel like they can’t be trusted to make good decisions for themselves. This often leads to a desire to rebel, because let’s face it: if there’s a will, there’s a way. No matter how many rules are in place, there is always a way to work around them. If a teenager has less rules, then he or she is more likely to make decisions with his or her parents in mind. This thought process is vital for when the teen goes to college, and doesn’t have mommy and daddy there to enforce the rules. I think that parents should express what they want a child to do, rather than telling them what to do. Guidelines work better. My parents give me no room for choice. They tell me what I can, or cannot do, and assume that I will listen to them (because if they find out otherwise, I’d get punished).

  3. Another Mom
    November 28, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    As parents it is so difficult to find a happy median that their teens can live with. We love you more than breath itself and want to protect you. With that said, we know we must let go, and let you experience life and the trials and mistakes that come along with making decisions for yourself.

    I like Shreya’s suggestion of guidelines. Though I still think that most teens who have guidelines or rules will still seek their peers suggestions first before considering their parents rules or guidelines. I’m just hoping that the combination will create a better outcome.

    We have three kids 23, 19 and 17. At times we feel we are the only parents parenting. My 17 year old has friends that are allowed to stay out all night, camp out with boys, some even have their parents consent to have sex. It makes it all the more difficult to help my kids make better decisions without feeling like we have too many rules.
    Trust is the biggest component a parent – child must have with each other. Kids need to trust when they ask permission to do something that they might not get the answer they were looking for, but trust we are making a decision to benefit them. Our 17 year old lied to us this weekend because she felt if she told us where she really was going we would not have let her go. Instead we found out and now she is grounded. It is hurtful to everyone involved. I wish I had a magic wand.

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