Appropriate Consequences for a Teen’s Bad Behavior
When 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.
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.