10 Powerful Habits to Help Your Teen Improve Their Self-Discipline

Here's how to help your teen avoid caving in or coming up with excuses

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: 10 Powerful Habits to Help Your Teen Improve Their Self-Discipline

“My son is smart… far smarter than he even realizes. Yet, when it comes to his grades, he just doesn’t put forth the effort. Sure, he’ll set a goal to try harder, but he never sticks with it. In a matter of months, he’s back to his old ways playing video games for hours after school.”

“My daughter’s dream is to make the girls’ high school lacrosse team. She doesn’t know if she’s good enough to make the team, but instead of setting a goal and trying hard to improve, she lacks the resolve and discipline to make her dream come to fruition. It breaks my heart because I know she has what it takes… if she just tried.”

Call it what you like – self-discipline, self-control, willpower, resolve – it’s these qualities that set the go-getters apart from the rest.

So, how do we light a fire under our kids? How do we encourage them to strive for something they want and go after it with resolve and dedication? How do we teach them to set aside distractions, temptations and even naysayers so they can focus on things that can really make a difference in their life?

It all starts with self-discipline…

According to Brent Gleeson, author of “Embrace the Suck: The Navy Seal Way to an Extraordinary Life,” it might be hard for our teens when their schedule is already jam-packed and the lazy lure of sleeping in until 2 p.m. on a Saturday sounds far better than getting up and doing anything remotely productive, but he says, “Studies show that people who have self-discipline are much happier.”


“Because people with self-control and discipline actually accomplish more of the goals they truly care about,” said Gleason.

What is Self-Discipline?

Self-discipline is the ability to control your feelings and actions: to make yourself do things that should be done, to set goals and stick with them, to overcome weaknesses and to pursue what you think is right despite any distractions or temptations that might tempt you to abandon them.

In our teen’s world that might mean setting a goal to raise their Chemistry grade, planning to sit down every Saturday afternoon for two hours to complete college applications, making a vow to spend less time playing video games, or making a promise to themselves to work hard and earn enough money to put a down payment down on a car.

Benefits of Self-Discipline

Aside from the pretty cool feeling of checking something off their to-do list, there are other “hidden benefits” of self-discipline that can do wonders for our kids.

Reduces Anxiety: When our kids feel more in control of their actions (and consequently, the outcome of their actions), they’re less likely to feel anxious and stressed.

They’ll Feel Happier and More Confident: When our kids see the fruits of their labor paying off, it’s an empowering feeling that will not only make them happier but also boost their desire to try even harder.

Increases Their Ability to Achieve Long-Term Goals: In the instant gratification world our kids are growing up in, it can be hard to get them to tackle goals that require “stick-to-it-itveness.” But with self-discipline, they’ll begin to realize that they can accomplish just about anything they set their mind to.

Resilience Starts to Kick In: The more accomplished they become focusing on self-discipline, the more they’ll be able to stay on track despite any obstacles that are tossed their way.

10 Powerful Habits to Help Your Teen Improve Their Self-Discipline

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According to Gleeson, when our kids have more self-control, they’ll spend less time indulging in behaviors or activities that don’t align with their goals and values. “They’ll become more decisive. They won’t let impulses or feelings dictate their choices. They’ll become the architect of their own actions.” Here are 10 habits to help your teen improve their self-discipline.

#1 Know Your Strengths and Own Up to Your Weaknesses

Every one of our kids has strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps your son’s biggest weakness is junk food (even though he knows he should eat healthier) or spending too much time playing video games and your daughter’s weakness is getting lost scrolling through TikTok videos when she knows she should be studying for that big test tomorrow.

Self-awareness (and acceptance) is a big step in developing self-discipline. Once they accept their weaknesses, they’ll be better equipped to set goals to strengthen them. They’ll soon find that most of their weaknesses can be overcome with dedication and self-discipline.

#2 Count Down to Action

According to Mel Robbins, author of the best-selling book, “The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work and Confidence with Everyday Courage,” our kids are never going to want to do the things that will make them better, that will help them reach their goals, that will improve their life. Those things take work and effort and stamina and self-discipline. Those things are hard! Chillin’ out, watching Netflix and Facetiming friends sounds so much more appealing. 

That’s why our kids need to trick their brain. According to Robbins, “The moment you feel yourself hesitating on something or making excuses to do something you know you should do, count down 5-4-3-2-1 to activate your prefrontal cortex and interrupt the habit of overthinking, self-doubt, fear and idleness.” Then, MOVE FORWARD. Don’t wait. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t make excuses.

Don’t miss Mel’s powerful TED Talk that’s garnered more than 10 million views across 37 countries: Mel Robbins: 5 Second Rule TED Talk

#3 Write Down Your Goals and Put Them Where You Can See Them

There’s plenty of impressive science that backs up goal setting. Yet, it’s something our kids are never encouraged or taught to do. In fact, a Harvard Business Study found that the 3% of students who had written their goals down, ended up earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together, just ten years after graduation.

Whether they write them down and put them above their desk in their bedroom, in their car or on the refrigerator (where you know they’ll see them several times a day), encourage your teen to put their goals (regardless of how small they might be) front and center. Their mind is a pretty powerful tool… the more they see their goals, the more likely they’ll be to push forward.

#4 Break Goals Down into Actional Steps

Setting the bar too high can be overwhelming. Instead, encourage your teen to break their goals down into smaller, actional steps. If their ultimate goal is to run a marathon, take shorter quarter-mile runs until they slowly build their endurance. If their goal is to get a great score on the SAT, start out small by carving out 30 minutes three times a week to study. 

The trick is to not allow themselves to become discouraged or frustrated with the process. Plus, research shows that when you make progress  – any progress – it can increase your satisfaction and make you feel empowered.

#5 Keep Your Eye on the End-Goal

It’s easy for our kids to find excuses to abandon a goal. In fact, millions of people who set resolutions at the beginning of each year, give up by mid-February. That’s why our kids need to remind themselves often why they set that goal in the first place – because it’s going to make them happier, because it will improve their life now and/or in the future, because they’ll prove to themselves that they can do it and they are capable.

#6 Remove Distractions & Temptations

Research has proven that our environment not only affects our choices but oftentimes, it can be stronger than our willpower. Proof in point, a study conducted at Cornell University found that people who kept fruit on their kitchen counter weighed on average 13 pounds less than those who didn’t.

If our kids want to eat healthier, they need to keep junk food out of sight. If they want to stay more focused when studying, they need to turn their phone off or put it in another room.

#7 Put the Big Rocks First

Well-known time management expert and author Stephen Covey first introduced this concept more than two decades ago and it’s still just as relevant today. The idea is that you tackle the most important things first, so you won’t get bogged down, exhausted and distracted by all the small (draining) stuff.

If your teen has a big test to study for, they need to do that first before they tackle smaller homework tasks so they don’t run out of mental willpower, time or energy. In other words, they need to prioritize what’s important and what can wait.

#8 Put a Reward in Place

Call it bribery if you like, but I’ve learned with my own kids that a little incentive can be a powerful motivator. Sometimes, something as small as agreeing to buy your teen a video game or a name-brand pair of jeans if they pull their math grade up a notch is all they need to get motivated.  (Experts agree, though, that constant rewards for tasks our kids should be doing won’t serve them well in the long run, so use rewards sparingly.)

#9 Get Friends or Family to Hold You Accountable

Whether you do it or your teen solicits the help of a sister, brother or BFF, they’re less likely to quit or cheat on their goals if someone is keeping tabs on them and cheering them on. 

#10 Remember… Change is Never Easy

According to LifeHack, a website dedicated to helping people reach their goals, “Creating new habits is hard because our minds are wired for familiarity.” Our kids will be fighting a battle against themselves. They will face self-imposed setbacks, temptations, and failures. The trick is to barrel through obstacles and never give up on their vision or goal. 

Help your teen improve their self-discipline by encouraging them to view their efforts as an investment in themselves

If you enjoyed, “10 Powerful Habits to Help Your Teen Improve Their Self-Discipline,” you might also enjoy reading: 

Disorganized and Distracted: 6 Tips to Help Your Teen Tackle Homework with Confidence

10 Smart Study Habits to Help Your Kids Ace Their Classes

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