Disciplining teenage stepchildren

Julia Faulks / 30 January 2017

A step parent can feel they are in a difficult position when faced with disciplining their partner's children. Read our tips to find out how to deal with it.



Parenting doesn’t end with divorce, and if you’re in a newly blended family it could be the first time you’ve delved into the complex world of teenagers. So how do you discipline teenage step children without driving a wedge between you and your partner’s ex?

It may feel like a never ending battle when it comes to getting the right balance of being a friend and being respected as a parent. However, whether you become a step parent later on in a child’s life or you’ve been there from the beginning, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what your role is.

Read our 10 tips for new step parents

Agree on some joint rules

When a parent leaves the family home to start a new relationship there is often a lot of guilt involved. 

A parent who doesn’t see their teenager as regularly might be more laid back when it comes to making rules and will try to repair things by having less of a disciplinarian approach.

A parent may also be sad about the breakdown of their relationship and frustrated about someone they feel is stepping in to take their place as a parent. Equally, it could be that you feel their rules aren’t good enough and don’t agree with them or want to back them up.

“The step parent is laying down their rules in her house and mum doing it in their house and neither really supporting each other,” says Dr Rachel Andrew, Consultant Clinical Psychologist. 

“Ideally they would sit down and agree on some joint rules that might be beneficial for the children – and put them at the heart of it – so they know what they are doing at all times and they know what is expected of them. Then at both houses you would presume that would lead to better behaviour.”

Encourage discipline to come from your partner

Sometimes the best thing to do is take a step back and understand that if you’re a new member of the family, you’re going to be in a precarious position. 

It can take many years for children to understand you and respect your rules. They may also still be feeling upset and raw from the break up and subsequent new relationship.

“As a step parent it’s about trying to understand all of those emotions and to not to get too involved in the day-to-day battles while they are figuring everything out. If the discipline side of things come from the teen’s parents first, they are more likely to listen to them. Then later on it’s a good idea to work as a team and agree on the boundaries and consequences, along with what behaviour you expect while they are in your house.”

Looking at the wider picture

Teaching teenagers and young adults about the consequences of their actions in a calm and non patronising way is often the best approach, rather than yelling and screaming the house down. 

It’s also important to try and look beyond their behaviour and consider whether there is something else going on they may be worried about and need support to deal with.

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