The joys of parenting include disciplining your child when they do something wrong. But what do you do when your teen is no longer a small child who you can give a time out to? Take a look at these effective consequences for teens, and why they work so well.
An effective consequence is one that should encourage your child to change their behaviour. Perhaps they are not abiding by your house rules, or they aren’t being respectful to people, or they are lying. Then you need to find a consequence that will help change that behaviour.
Really effective consequences, for teens or any age, are ones that are connected to the original behaviour, and are both task- and time-specific.
Setting the Rules
Set Clear Rules
Tweens and teens push boundaries to see how their parents will respond. It’s important to establish clear rules, and to have consequences for breaking those rules. For example, the punishment for breaking the curfew might be that your teen has to stay home the next weekend.
Tip: You’ll get less resistance if you involve your kids in designing their own consequences. Just don’t forget that you still have the final say.
Ignore Mild Misbehaviour
There’s that old saying “pick your battles wisely” and you don’t want to be heavy handed by trying to give a consequence for something that’s actually a minor misbehaviour when you think about it, as irritating as it might be.
It’s obviously important to choose which behaviours you are going to ignore. Unsafe or serious or unsafe behaviours should never be ignored.
Mild misbehaviours are usually irritating or annoying, but don’t generally harm humans (including one’s self), animals, or property.
And minor unwanted behaviours tend to correct over time, especially if you don’t give them attention or overreact to them.
Put It in Writing
In order that there are no misunderstandings, some parents create a formal list of house rules, or write a behaviour contract that both they and their teen sign. The good thing about this is you can put up the list or contract on the fridge or somewhere obvious where everyone can see it.
Your house rules might include times for curfew, and specific responsibilities that you expect your teen to do like put out the bins or walk the dog after homework is out the way.
The contract or house rules should also include consequences, for example, “Anyone who breaks one of these rules loses their wifi access for a day.”
Then if your teen does fall out of line, you have the list or contract to point to.
Examples of Effective Consequences for Teens
Loss of Privileges
You must take something away from your teen that he or she really enjoys to make this consequence effective. It should cause your teen some discomfort to lose the privilege, but not be out of proportion to the misbehaviour.
As an example, don’t just take away their phone just because they were rude. Instead ask your teen what acceptable behaviour they could show instead of being rude if they are feeling frustrated, and ask how you can help remind them to do that acceptable behaviour. Asking your teen, instead of reacting, can also help deflect anger and frustration.
In order to choose the right privilege to use as an effective consequence, you have to know your teen. What are they interested in? What would really impact them if they lost it for a short period of time? The privilege should be an activity that your child will actually miss. Withhold that privilege until your child completes the task you’ve set for them.
Sit down with your teen and come up with a list of privileges and consequences together. There are a few advantages of this approach.
- You are working as a team to solve the problem.
- It can help parents identify things or activities your teen loves.
- It sets out clearly what the consequences will be for certain infractions, so not only will your teen know what happens if they break a house rule, but also parents don’t have to come up with something in the heat of a difficult moment.
Privileges could include:
- WIFI access
- Devices and screen time (tablet, laptop, phone, gaming, etc)
- Getting to go out with their friends
- Use of the car
You can also have your teen earn their privilege back. Just like outlining consequences, outline the steps they need to take to restore their privilege.
Instead of saying, “You can have your phone back when I can trust you again,” say, “You can have your phone back after you have your homework completed.”
Restitution gives your teen the chance to try and repair damage that was the result of their action. It can be a valuable way to learn a lesson and learn some empathy for others too.
So for example, if your daughter borrows her sister’s clothing and rips a hole in it, she should pay to have it repaired or replace it. Or if your son damages the neighbour’s fence by crashing his bike or his skateboard into it, he should pay to repair the fence and do a few extra chores for the neighbour.
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.
If your house rule is that clothes only get washed that are placed in the dirty clothes hamper, then if your teen doesn’t comply and leaves them on the bedroom floor, the clothes don’t get washed. The consequence here is that they will have to either wash the clothes themselves, not get to wear the clothes they wanted, or wear them dirty.
Alternatively, if in your house they get an allowance but spend the entire allowance at once, then the consequence is that they won’t have any money until it’s next allowance day.
If your teen doesn’t do their homework, school may teach him a lesson by giving them extra homework, detention, or a zero mark or getting them to stay after school to complete the missed homework.
Rather than you nagging them, give them the chance to either behave responsibly or face the consequences. Think carefully about whether your teen will learn from his mistakes if you don’t intervene because they’ll realise from the natural consequences that happen.
Logical consequences are ones that are a good fit to the “crime”. So for example, if they get caught speeding in the car, they lose access to the car.
Or if they are having difficulty getting up in the morning for school, a logical consequence would mean an earlier lights out time at night.
I love this story I came across: A son’s morning chore was to get the pooper-scooper and clean up the dog poo in the garden. When the boy wasn’t doing this, the parents came up with this creative solution, after he had done poop patrol, he would need to run through the back garden barefoot. From then on, their garden was perfectly clean!
You could create a Job Jar filled with annoying or unpleasant (but necessary!) chores like:
- Cleaning the toilet
- Moving and vacuuming under the living room furniture
- Weeding the garden
- Doing poop patrol in the backyard
- Defrosting the freezer
- Reorganizing the pots and pans cupboard
If your teen breaks a house rule they have to take a chore from the Job Jar as a consequence.
Finally, some advice about grounding. We used to be the generation that was automatically grounded when we had done something wrong, because our parents knew that we met our friends that way. Now, while grounding might work for some teens, it is not always one of the most effective consequences for teens as they network and connect with their friends in a different way than we did.
If you do decide on grounding, here are some tips:
- Define what grounding means for your house rules and when it will be applied.
- Don’t ground your teen for too long; a month would be ineffective, for example.
- Do allow your teen to reduce some of the grounding time by doing extra chores or volunteering or even sitting down and writing a plan for how they can improve their behaviour.
If you do opt for grounding, don’t cut off all social contact for your teen. So if she isn’t allowed to meet her friends, don’t ban her from texting or messaging her friends, remember that FOMO is powerful and as she will be in touch with what is going on, she will hopefully feel that pain and determine not to miss out next time.