As parents, we know our teens are going to make mistakes. Sometimes these are small mistakes, and other times they are pretty big mistakes….mistakes that fill our souls with fear for our teen. What comes of these mistakes can vary, but one thing is for sure…eventually there are consequences for their actions. Consequences can take many forms. They can happen naturally or they can be imposed on teens by parents, teachers, administrators, or other authorities. They can be immediate, or they can be the result of events that take place over several months or longer.
You have probably heard the term natural consequences. In their purest form, natural consequences don’t require any intervention. For example, a boy who is running through the hall at school falls and hurts himself, or a girl who is being mean to a friend is ignored during lunch time. That sounds simple enough, right? The problem lies in the fact that our teens do not always get natural consequences for their actions. In fact, sometimes they are rewarded instead! Maybe the boy who ran through the hall gets the best presentation time because he got to the sign-up sheet first, or the girl who was mean to a friend is flooded with affection by the other girls who want her attention. What if natural consequences don’t work?
When consequences don’t naturally happen, parents try to instill logical consequences. These are consequences that make sense, or match the behavior that is being discouraged. When a boy “borrows” the car without asking, he loses driving privileges for a period of time. When a girl posts something inappropriate on her Facebook wall, she loses access to her account for a period of time. Experts suggest giving logical consequences as often as possible. Again, that sounds simple enough, right? Not always! Sometimes the logical consequence does not come to us, or we simply react with whatever comes to mind first. Your daughter fails to turn in her homework and you give her extra chores, or your son misses his curfew and you take away his cell phone. The consequences don’t really match the behavior.
How can you get better at using logical consequences? One option is to allow the natural consequence to happen, even when it is difficult for you as the parent. For example, let the daughter that isn’t turning in homework get the grade she earns. As hard as it is, this can create an opportunity for discussion around how she feels and what she would do differently. She will have to own it completely. When we as parents take responsibility for their grades, they don’t have to own their choices. Another option is to ask your teen what he/she thinks the consequence should be. Often, their consequence will make sense and be harsher than the one you would have given. This allows you to talk less and listen more. Asking questions like, “What do you think we should do” or “How are we going to handle this? can get them engaged. Finally, make it clear when there isn’t a choice. Every family has their own beliefs and values that set the foundation for how the family works.
What can you do if the consequence doesn’t work?
- Ask yourself if the consequence fit the misbehavior. The farther the consequences get from the behavior, the less likely they are to work.
- Give yourself some time. Don’t feel pressured to give an immediate consequence; sometimes you have to think about it for a while. Tell your teen how you are feeling and set a time to talk about it in the near future.
- Search for the natural consequence and ask yourself if you are willing to let it happen. While these are not always immediately apparent, they can surface when you take time to think.
- Consider timing. Making decisions in the heat of the moment can be difficult or lead to impulse reactions. Give yourself, and/or your teen the necessary time to calm down.
- Remove the anger. Say how you feel or how you imagine this makes your teen feel. You can empathize and be kind at the same time that you give a consequence.
- Establish respect. Make sure your teen knows you are upset with the behavior, but still accepts him/her.
- Encourage positive behavior. Try to catch your teen being “good” by acknowledging when they are helpful, caring, cooperative, and supportive.
- Give yourself a break! This is hard work sometimes.
- How and Why Teens Manipulate Their Parents (webmd.com)
- The four keys to responding constructively and not giving in (psychologytoday.com)