Teenagers don’t learn much from parental warnings nd lecturing. Most of us have tried that without much success. And unfortunately, one or both parents all too often cave in when when Johnny or Julie gets in trouble. Each time we do so, a valuable lesson isn’t learned and a mistake is apt to be repeated.
The point is, teens learn best by making mistakes and suffering a bit from the consequences. They remember the lessons when there are consequences because they are then able to figure it out for themselves.
So, you may ask me, “How do I know what kind of consequence to apply?” I tell parents that one way is to give the teenager a privilege. But teach them that they could lose that privilege if they don’t follow the rules. And when they don’t follow the rules, take it away for a time.
It helps to know what privileges your child values most. If they don’t value it, they also won’t learn from losing it. Is it time with friends, text-messaging, car privileges, the cell phone, music, the computer, or after-school events?
For instance, a consequence can relate to a privilege like the use of the car. A simple rule might be: “If the car isn’t home by curfew, then you won’t be able to use the car for a day.” If the teen continues to miss curfew, then don’t let him drive for increasingly longer periods. And don’t soften the blow by offering rides to school. Let him take the bus, so he learns, and learns quickly, from it.
By the way, should I need mention it, consequences for teenagers should never involve physical pain nor emotional badgering. A consequence is best learned if the parent of a teenager simply enforces the consequence but doesn't get emotionally or physically involved in it.
Most of all, keep it calm. Keep anger and that “I’m disappointed in you” statement out of it altogether. Even side with the teen in how sad you feel that they have to experience the consequence. Our goal with consequences is to make the teen angry at himself or herself for knowingly doing something stupid, not angry at you.
Letting your teen know what will happen well in advance is a key part of the learning process. Decide ahead of time what the rules and consequences will be so they don’t sound arbitrary or derived from anger when they are applied. Clearly communicate them to your teen.
If you haven’t done such a good job of communicating rules and consequences up until this point, then start by letting your teen know you’ve blown it when it comes to certain areas of discipline, and you will be making a change that affects everyone soon. Give them time to adjust to the idea that discipline is going to be different, before you let them know exactly how it will look.
Then, call everyone together and work out your ideas for rules and consequences together. Your teen may surprise you and come up with even stricter requirements than you originally planned. And, when it comes time to give a consequence, your teen will already understand exactly what to expect, and exactly why to expect it. In fact, they will tell you what their consequence is, because they weighed it in their mind and deliberately chose to accept it when they broke the rule.
Working out consequences well ahead of time helps everyone remain calm when your teen experiences the consequences related to breaking the rules.
Some parents are surprised by the concept of “managing consequences.” They manage their budget. They manage their calendar. They may even manage employees. But most have never heard of managing consequences.
But I can’t emphasize it enough. This is one of the most vital things you’ll do in parenting adolescents. If you want your teenager to become responsible and mature, you have to let them take responsibility for their actions and feel the sting of consequences.
There are two sides to consequences — the tough side that says to your teen, “I will allow painful consequences to take place in order to teach you when you do something wrong.” This is a big shift from parenting younger kids, when our main goal was to prevent our children from getting hurt simply because they don’t know any better. And the tender side which says, “I will always love you no matter what you do and it truly hurts me to allow consequences in your life.”
Your teen wants to experience the strength of a warrior and the tender, caring side of somebody promising to help them get through their difficulties. So, even if you are dealing with painful consequences, make sure your teen knows you love them, no matter what they’ve done.
Consequences, when applied correctly or allowed to happen naturally, change your child’s thinking. They teach adolescents how to think or act differently the next time.
So, take time to call your family meeting and begin developing, communicating and enforcing rules and consequences in your home.
Mark Gregston is a bestselling author and the Founder of Heartlight Ministries (www.heartlightministries.org/) a therapeutic boarding school for troubled teens.