Appropriate Consequences for a Teen’s Bad Behavior

eyerollingWhen a teen breaks the rules or behaves poorly, parents must step in and ensure that there is a consequence. It’s important to understand that punishment is not the goal in a parent’s discipline, but rather providing a lesson. Learning from your mistakes is often life’s best method for growing and improving.

Here are some ideas for appropriate consequences when your teen misbehaves:

Ignore Mild Misbehavior

Ignoring behavior can be a very effective consequence to minor irritations, but it’s very important to carefully choose which behaviors you will ignore. Serious or unsafe behaviors should never be ignored. Mild misbehavior is something that is irritating or annoying, but does not harm humans (including one’s self), animals, or property. These types of unwanted behaviors tend to correct themselves over time, especially if you don’t overreact to them or reinforce them with a great deal of excited attention.

Allow Natural Consequences

A natural consequence is something that automatically results from a person’s action. Natural consequences show teens the reasons for your rules, and provide a correction without the parent having to do anything, which can prevent teens from developing resentment at a parent for “punishing them.” They can experience first-hand why the rules exist and what the results are when the rules are broken. Generally, natural consequences help them learn best. The key is for parents to avoid “rescuing” their teen when a natural consequence occurs. Sometimes the consequence feels too severe to a parent and they want to step in, but that ruins the lesson. Examples of natural consequences are:

  • When the teen refuses to do his homework, he faces the consequence of getting a zero or having to stay after school to get it completed. Parents don’t need to nag him to get it done because the consequence should get his attention better than nagging. Parents shouldn’t rescue their child by letting him stay up late or skip school to finish the assignment.
  • If the house rule is that mom only washes clothes that are placed in the hamper, then the teenager faces the consequence of not wearing the clothing article, washing it herself, or wearing it dirty.
  • If the house rule is that the teen receives an allowance on Friday, but the teen spends his entire allowance Friday night, then the consequence is that he will not have any money for the remainder of the week.
  • If your heavy-footed daughter gets a speeding ticket, the consequence is that she must earn the money to pay for the ticket.

 

Provide Logical Consequences

Sometimes natural consequences don’t work because they aren’t a strong enough deterrent or because the natural consequence is dangerous. For example, the consequence of not wearing a seat belt could potentially be death, so a natural consequence in an area of safety is not appropriate. In these situations, parents will need to develop a logical consequence to promote the desired behavior. Logical consequences should be directly related to the misbehavior and should not threaten or punish the teen. In our seatbelt example, a logical consequence for getting caught without a seatbelt is losing access to the car for a week. Another example: if your teen is having difficulty getting up in the morning for school, a logical consequence would mean an earlier time for “lights out” at night.

Assign Extra Chores

Sometimes there are not natural or logical consequences for misbehavior, but it still needs to be corrected. For example, if your son speaks disrespectfully to you, you can assign him the chore of cleaning the dinner dishes that evening in addition to his regular housework.

Opportunities for Restitution

When a teen’s actions hurt someone else or damage property, you have the perfect opportunity to allow your teen to make amends as a consequence. This is an excellent lesson in the making and also encourages empathy for others. Restitution gives your child a chance to try and repair some of the damage that may have been done. For example, if your teenage son vandalizes the neighbor’s fence, he should pay to repair the fence and do a few extra chores for the neighbor, or if your teenage daughter borrows her sister’s shirt without asking and then rips a hole in it, she should buy her sister a new shirt and make her bed for a week.

Restricting Privileges

Probably the most common form of consequences parents impose is “grounding” or restricting their privileges. There are a few guidelines for making this work:

Types of Privileges to Restrict. You must take something away from your teen that he really enjoys to make this consequence effective. It should cause your teen some discomfort to lose, but not be out of proportion to the misbehavior. For example, you shouldn’t make your child quit their favorite club or team because they missed curfew one night. Additionally, sometimes you must take away more than one item to really make an impact. For example, if you take away just the TV, your teen may end up watching TV on their computer, so there was no pain. Driving without a seatbelt might mean losing driving privileges for a week.

Explain Restriction Limits. Parents need to specifically tell their teen when or how they can earn back those privileges. Sometimes it makes sense to take something away for a set amount of time, while other times it’s more appropriate to have your teen “earn” back the privileges. Parents should not be vague – like “You can have your privileges back when you start behaving” – which will lead to frustration and resentment. Let’s look at the two types of restrictions:

  • Time Limited Privileges. This is when you take something away for a set amount of time. You tell them they cannot do something specific for 24 hours or a few days for a more serious or repeated offense. Never take something away for weeks or a month because it loses its effectiveness.
  • Earning Back Privileges. This is when a parent establishes a clear guideline of how their teen can regain their privileges. It’s important that your teen understand exactly what they must do to get his privileges back. A good example of this type of restriction is if your teen is late for his curfew, set his new curfew one hour earlier. Tell him he needs to behave responsibly for two weeks by being home on time and getting all of his chores done on time before he can earn back his later curfew. Then, leave it up to your teen to take responsibility for earning privileges back.

Following through with Restrictions. Restrictions only work if parents don’t give in or give up just because their teen whines or promises to behave. You must see the consequence through in order to see behavior change. If you don’t think you can actually follow through on taking his phone away for an entire day, don’t threaten to do so. You lose all your power. Only take away those things you are willing to live without and then follow it through. By choosing good restrictions and following through on those consequences, parents will see the behavior change they want.

29 comments

  • What do you do when consequences do not affect your kid at all?? Example: kid doesn’t do homework & receives zeros but he doesn’t care that he gets zeros and never tries to bring up grades or do homework ever.

  • Hi my father is makeing me think of a punishment for me and I can not think of one I am 14 and I lied to him but the reason I lie to him is because I feel trapped and do not know what to do I tell myself no don’t do that but I still do that I feel like I am not in control please help me.

    • HI ALEX. I DON’T KNOW HOW IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DAD BUT I THINK THE BEST THING FOR YOU TO DO IS TO SIT DOWN WITH HIM AND HAVE A GOOD CONVERSATION BETWEEN YOU TWO. EXPLAIN TO HIM WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGTHS AND HOW DO YOU FEEL. IT IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT THAT YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF HONESTLY AND TRUST YOUR DAD’S DECISIONS. BY 14 YEARS OLD YOU SHOULD ALREADY KNOW WHAT IS GOOD AND BAD. AROUND THIS AGE WE ALL HAVE STRUGGLED AS WE ARE DISCOVERING NEW THINGS IN LIFE AND WE START TO SEE THINGS DIFFERENTLY. JUST BE CAREFUL WITH THE DECISIONS YOU MAKE. LYING BRINGS A LOT OF CONSEQUENCES BEHIND. SOME HAPPEN INSTANTLY OTHER TIME IT MIGHT DELAY THE CONSEQUECES A DAY OR TWO. ANYWAYS, IT MIGHT GET YOU “OUT OF TROUBLE” IN THE MOMENT BUT EVENTUALLY THE TRUTH WILL ALWAYS COME OUT. I PRAY THAT EVERYTHING GOES WELL. TAKE CARE ALEX.

  • Her mom passed away and i took her in she is a 16 year old girl.she had a bad past such as drinking and going out with older guys till late.After 3 months we were told that our security was seen with a teen but was told it was not her,so she came to us and told us and we took her phone for almost 2 months.The other we went to a wedding for a day and left her with her granny and cousin and she went out to the park with a boy without telling us or the granny she only told the cousin and we took her phone for almost 4 months again, when gave her phone back we told her not to talk with older guys and people she does not know but she still do that and we also had multiple meetings with her we don’t know what to do

    • That is the EXACT opposite of good parenting. Those time frames are much too harsh for what the child did and will only reinforce the idea that they should hide things from you. When I see parents parent like this, their kids are always the ones sneaking around the most

  • These are young child consequences. These don’t work with teens. The consequences need to be harsher. Don’t take this bad advice and think that you are going to help your child.

    • thats not true, as giving out harsh punishments to teenagers are only going to make them resent you. they might do what it takes to get it back but if its an unfair punishment, dont expect them to respect you afterwards. there is limits to what you have the right to do as a parent. sorry if this upsets anyone here

      • If kids are doing disrespectful things to get punished for… that means they don’t respect their parent in the first place!!

      • The reason these kids act like they do is because of parents who want to be their friend. Your their parents first and then their friend. I was best friends with my mom after I became an adult and was on my own. It was then that I realized that what she did was not to be mean to me, but to help form me into the man I became with morals and values, hopes and dreams and goals to achieve. Kids now have no common sense and no will to learn or work.
        Every kid needs a ass whooping at some point in life. Quit being scared and teach them what life is like once they leave home.

    • Maria Elvia Torres

      Please HELP!! any advice will be helpful, My daughter is 15 and was caught with 5 other girls in the bathroom passing down a Vape got suspended for 3 days. What can I do as a punishment?

      • Give your 15 year old as much information as you can regarding the dangers of vaping. Open up a line of communication with her about peer pressure and give ideas how to deal with peer pressure. Tell your teen to use you as an out. ” I can’t, my mom will kill me, but you go ahead.” “My mom always finds out so I’m out but catch up with me later.” This leaves the person not feeling like an outcast or that your teen is better than them. Kids do stupid things. They will make bad choices. Let them know you don’t expect them to be perfect but you do expect them to follow your house rules. No vaping! Vaping is a gateway to kids doing drugs. I don’t know that you necessarily need to add a punishment. It happened at school, school dealt with it and gave the consequence. Find out if your teen eels she needs to do this to fit in. If she feels that way maybe hanging with a new crowd might be helpful. We are all trying to figure life out as we go. Let your teen know you are learning with her. It’s a different world than what I grew up in. Glad there wasn’t cell phones and social media in my day………It’s all evidence now. Somebody is always watching, cameras are everywhere. They don’t stop the behavior but much easier to get caught making poor choices. Hang in there. She’ll get her karma child one day.

  • tiffanysadler31

    My 15 year old daughter has been lashing out for the past year. I have tried talking to her, grounding her, taking things of importance to her away, nothing seems to work. She is completely failing school, simply bc she refuses to do the work. I have spoke with her guidance counselor about her grades and missing assignments, and was ensured that she is very smart and understands the work just that she wont do it. She has been lying, sneaking out, vaping, smoking weed , and has also become sexually active. Her aggression has become very disrespectful calling me the B word and telling me she f ing hates me but not so nicely worded. I am at a loss on what I should do to help her.

    • She needs professional help from a therapist maybe medication. Something deeper is going on for her to be self destructive. Also, she needs birth control asap. I know these things because I was just like her when I was a teen. All of the behaviors you listed are text book cries for help. She feels no purpose to her life and is lost in the chaos of adolescence but she is still a frightened child. I hope you are able to get her the help she needs before she makes a huge mistake.

    • She does not need medication!! I cannot stress that enough! She needs structure and you need to work on your relationship with her. Get a takeout dinner for just the 2 of you and just talk to her about how her actions make you feel. Get an alarm system or cameras so she cannot sneak out. Take her phone and all electronics. Then she can’t contact anyone to sneak out with. Start going to church with her. Take her to school and pick her up everyday so she can’t do any of these things. If she calls you a bitch, smack her! Seriously! I don’t understand why parents are so scared of their kids! Stop being a pushover and put your foot down. You are the parent and she is the child! Hopefully it’s not too late to establish who is boss in your home. And if she doesn’t want to abide by your rules then send her to bootcamp. Usually, I would not suggest bootcamp but since you have let her get away with so much without harsh punishments, it might be your only choice.

  • what would be a good consequence (besides grounding) for a 16 year old girl after finding out she has bad grades?

    • No friends, no phone, no car, no nothing.

      • I’m amazed that works with girls. With boys, that would just make the boy so stressed out by not having any “down time” that his grades will slip even more. He will probably lose interest, because what’s the point if he’s just going to fail anyways.

  • my daughter is 14 and has been acting out(as in vaping and drinking). I’ve already taken away her phone, her makeup and her social life has been restricted so she’s not aloud to go out or hangout with friends unless someone like her older sister, my husband and i are with her. She’s also been caught having social media multiple times when told not to. My husband wants her to come up with a list of things she can do to help earn back her privileges. Although she has to come up with the list i also want to have a backup list just incase she can’t or won’t come up with anything. Any ideas??? PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!

    • Parenting is such a difficult process! There is no one right answer that fits for all teens or families, but you’re on the right track in trying to develop a list for your daughter to earn back privileges. This is a positive way to reward good behavior and also provides clear expectations so that your daughter knows what she needs to do to be successful. First, please read our previous blog: https://middleearthnj.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/helping-teens-regain-your-trust/ which talks about how we can help our teens regain our trust when they’ve made mistakes. Second, have a family meeting where you and your husband sit with your daughter and discuss what privileges she would like to earn and what actions she would need to take to earn them back. That way, you’re brainstorming together, both offering ideas for her success. Getting her feedback will help her buy into the process and give you valuable information about what privileges are most important to her. Ideally, when you work together this way, it will create a feeling of a team working together towards a better future instead of a ‘me against them’ mentality that teens sometimes feel. Best of luck!

    • She is allowed to see her friends? Even supervised? LOL! NO!

  • Help please,

    My 14 year old recently decided it would be a really good idea to take some alcohol from his father (he took a little bit out of a few bottles, a mix of bourbon, whiskey and rum probably around the 300-400 ml mark. He then drank it during interval at school the next day, got horribly drunk, vomited over a teacher, a office worker, himself, had an ambulance called etc. He was stood down from school for a couple of days, but as a parent the level of the consequences are quite hard to set. He doesn’t fully understand the serious nature of his actions, and thinks we as parents have been too harsh. He has had his phone and skateboard taken off him, and he is currently grounded until the end of the year – this is negotiable, if he can show some effort and take some form of responsibility for what he did the grounding will be lessened. I’ve had many opinions from other parents, the school and him and his friends, some think it is too much, others think not enough.

    • I’m so sorry that you are in this difficult situation! It’s so hard to know what to do when our children make big mistakes, and everyone around us will always have very different opinions on how to handle it. Ultimately, you need to go with your instinct and what you think will work best for your family. We also recommend that you read our previous blog about how we can help our teens regain our trust after a big mistake: https://middleearthnj.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/helping-teens-regain-your-trust/

      We also always encourage families in these situations to seek out family counseling. Sometimes an outside observer can offer ideas that we never think of ourselves! We wish you the very best of luck!

  • Hi
    I have a 17 year old son who lives with his father full time,,i have noticed lately that his stories are untrue and he has broken many promises, ,,won’t visit me when we plan it so,,i called his friend to see if he was ok ,,has i had not heard from him in 2 weeks,they told me he was acting like a jerk and was chasing a new girlfriend and picking the best plans over others,,how to i get thru to him as i don;t have much to take from him as a consequence ,,except the cell phone and that is the only way i stay in contact with him,,any advise ??

  • Stephanie Welch

    My tween aged daughter in an angry outburst broke the neighbor kids bike by stomping on it abd actually breaking the hand break mechanism. Her Dad and I had to pay 100.00 for a new bike. How can I apply a cinsequence that will work since she is not working age to earn money. For this a common problem for me when applying consequences thst will work.

    • This is an excellent question! By the time children are tweens, they should be earning money in some way so that they can begin learning how to manage money – budgeting, saving up for items, etc. Although this age is not eligible to get a job at a business, they can do odd jobs for friends and neighbors, such as babysitting, mowing the lawn, pet sitting, or helping an elderly person with household chores. Another way that tweens may obtain money is through a weekly allowance. The idea is to instill responsibility, so allowances should be discussed in reference to growing up. As you grow up, you get greater privileges and responsibilities – so you can increase both their chores (contribution to the household) as the increased responsibility and provide an allowance as an increased privilege. When tweens have ways of earning money, parents are then able to provide a natural consequence of paying for something they break. In your case, since your daughter does not currently have money, it would be best to develop a payment plan for her to pay you back. She can do that either by picking up odd jobs and paying you the money or by working around the house and doing extra chores to pay you back with her time and labor.

  • The highly effective method of disciplining teenagers is known as the three R’s of logical consequences for teens and although very simple, it does work very well. The three R’s are related, respectful and reasonable. Basically the punishment for teens must fit the crime.

    • my husband and I are at a lose as to what reasonable punishment is for my 16 yr old daughter. This is the second time my daughter has brought her boyfriend in the house while we werent home. The first time was her first boyfriend. Both times they were having sex. The rules are that no boys in the house if we are not there. She is also not aloud in his home unless his parents arent home.

      • You should sit down with your daughter and explain to her tt u also hv been a teenager and u know the consequences of her behaviour.Tell her tt the fact tt the boy’s parents are also applying the same rule as theirs it shows tt there is a reason behind it show her that you care about her future and you want nothing bt the best out of her

      • She should not be permitted to be unsupervised. She hadn’t earned the privilege of privacy or earned your trust. Go back to basics…young child basics and make her earn it and learn it all over again. She won’t like it, but too bad. You don’t like her behavior. Your crackdown will hurt her feelings. Her behavior had legal, medical, mental, and financial consequences.

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