This post: Disciplining Your Teenager: 12 Logical Consequences That Work
It’s the biggest question mark in most parents’ minds – how to effectively and fairly discipline their teenager with plenty of love and logic.
“Am I being too harsh or too lenient?”
“What’s considered a fair consequence when my teen breaks my rules?”
“How do I stand firm when my teen pushes me to cave in or they engage in a full-blown power struggle?”
First, it’s important to recognize that disciplining your teenager isn’t about “teaching them a lesson” by putting the hammer down every time they mess up. (They’re teenagers. They’re going to mess up… a lot!) It’s about helping them learn, guiding them, standing beside them when they make a poor choice and helping them steer back to the right path without making them feel critically judged or ridiculed.
What that means is you need a “checks and balance” system in place when guiding your teen – one that includes fair rules, boundaries and consequences that are neither permissive nor punitive.
In fact, the right consequences hold the power to teach our kids important life lessons, including responsibility, accountability, problem-solving and respect.
The next time you’re faced with disciplining your teenager, consider these logical consequences that have proven effective.
Disciplining Your Teenager: 12 Logical Consequences That Actually Work
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The DOs and DON’Ts When Disciplining Your Teenager
Before you dole out consequences, consider these DOs and DON’Ts when disciplining your teenager.
Focus on the attitude or behavior you’re trying to correct, not your teen’s character. Criticizing who they are will only erode their self-esteem and trigger resentment which will only drive a wedge between you and your teen.
Take Your Teen’s Behavior or Attitude Personally
Teenagers (oftentimes, through no fault of their own) have a way of knowing exactly which buttons to push and riling us up. Your ability to remain calm, regardless of what your teen throws your way, is your superpower. You can’t parent effectively if you’re riding your teen’s emotional roller coaster right alongside them. Wait until they’re calm and ready to have a respectful conversation.
Be a Pushover
“Pleaaaase, can I go out with my friends tonight? I promise I won’t break curfew again.” “I swear, if you let me play my video game, I’ll do every chore you ask me to do.” I’m a firm believer that there are times when we should cut our teens some slack, but when they break our rules consistently, when they talk back repeatedly and think they can soften things simply by apologizing, or when they’re rude or disrespectful behavior becomes a regular occurrence, we have to take action.
And, perhaps even more importantly, when we lay down the law and put consequences in place, we have to stand firm regardless of how loud, sassy or convincing our kids become. Your teen needs to know you mean business.
Give Long-Winded (Boring) Lectures
Nothing will cause a teen to shut down faster than a long-winded lecture. Although it’s tempting to try to get your teen to fully understand your perspective, it’s best to keep it short, get your point across and walk away.
Engage in a Power Struggle
You can’t fight fire with fire. Don’t allow your teen to pull you into a full-blown argument, debate or power struggle. It will only escalate the situation and prevent you from having the clarity you need to make sound parenting decisions.
Let the Small Stuff Go
Not every snarky remark deserves your attention and not every mistake or broken rule requires a consequence. Your teen isn’t a robot. They’re allowed to have bad days and make mistakes. Take the small stuff in stride either by making a brief comment “Hey, I know you’ve been a little stressed lately, but you’ve been speaking to me in a tone that I don’t appreciate” or merely ignore it and go about your day.
Treat Your Teen with Respect
Your teenager wants to be treated like the adult they’re becoming, not the child they’re leaving behind. If you want your teen to treat you with respect, you have to treat them with respect.
Focus on Solutions Together
Open the lines of communication with your teen and focus on solutions (not punishment) together. “What can we do together to prevent this from happening again?”
Dive Into the “Why” of Your Teen’s Behavior
When our kids misbehave, quite often they’re speaking to us in code. It’s up to us to decipher the code. Talk to your teen. Ask why. Let them feel seen, heard, understood and loved. Are they hungry, tired, or stressed out because of school or issues with friends? Maybe they feel suffocated by your rules. Maybe they felt pressured by their friends. Maybe they’re remorseful, but they can’t explain why they did what they did. (Enter… hormones.)
So much of our teen’s behavior is directly linked to their growing brain. Read “10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Your Teen’s Brain,” for more information.
Think About Your Teen’s Unique Personality
What affects your teen? How are they motivated? What consequence would encourage them to think about their behavior or action and (hopefully) prevent them from doing it again?
Focus on the “Tiers of Discipline”
Before you toss out harsh punishment for something small your teen did (or didn’t do), take into account the “tiers of discipline.”
- Preventative Discipline involves establishing clear expectations ad ground rules. Your teen can’t follow your rules if they don’t have a clear understanding of what they are.
- Supportive Discipline entails “soft discipline,” including warnings, reminding and redirecting.
- Corrective Discipline involves discipline taken when supportive discipline doesn’t work, including, for instance, taking away privileges.
Remember the 3 R’s of Consequences
To be effective, consequences should be:
Make sure your discipline aligns with the extremity of your teen’s behavior. If your teen chose to text and drive, take away car privileges temporarily or download an app that restricts phone use while the car is in motion. If your teen broke curfew, make curfew earlier or don’t allow them to hang with friends next Friday night.
It’s easy to toss out consequences when we’re in the thick of our teen’s moody or sassy behavior or they’ve done something that fires us up, but unreasonable, unrealistic consequences simply set us up for failure and cause resentment in our teens.
Consequences should always be given with the intent of teaching our kids, not humiliating, criticizing or disrespecting them. Don’t allow your hype-up emotions to trigger you to say things you’ll later regret. Instead, be firm, direct, fair and always respectful.
Why Harsh Discipline Might Backfire: The 5 R’s of Punishment
Many parents are convinced that strict punishment is the best way to discipline teenagers. And, in their defense, they’re right – harsh discipline typically does stop the misbehavior in its tracks. But, according to Jane Nelson Author of Positive Discipline for Teenagers, at what cost long-term?
“As parents, we are often fooled by immediate results. But sometimes, we have to be careful of the long-term impact of harsh punishment,” says Nelson
One study that tracked nearly 1,500 students over nine years found that kids who were parented harshly were more likely to turn to their peers in unhealthy ways. It turns out, in many cases, “tough love” brought out the worst in teens’ behavior instead of getting them to toe the line.
According to Nelson, “Quite often when parents are too strict or clamp down too hard, their kids will typically adopt one (or more) of the Five R’s of Punishment.”
Considering the fact that harsh punishment typically involves grounding or restricted free time, teens have plenty of time on their hands to foster resentment. “This is so unfair. What I did wasn’t even that bad. It’s not like I’m going to do it again – they’re totally overreacting.”
Teenagers who face strict punishment will sometimes seek revenge on their parents to get back at them. “They think they’re winning, but I’ll get even. I’ll fight back and make their lives miserable.”
“They think they can control me – I’ll show them.” Whether they fight back verbally, do the exact opposite of what their parents ask or expect of them, or aim to get back at their parents in some other way, they’ll exercise their freedom to do what they want, when they want in their own way by rebelling.
Another downside of harsh punishment is that teens will often retreat and adopt sneaky behavior to ensure they become better at not being caught. They’ll also sever the lines of communication leaving parents in the dark. “Sure, I got caught this time, I just have to get smarter about keeping things from my parents to avoid getting caught again.”
Harsh punishment can backfire and strike straight to the heart of your child’s self-esteem. “I’m a bad person. My mom and dad don’t love me as much because I disappointed them. I’ve lost their trust and I’ll never get it back.”
Of course, there may be instances when harsh, tough punishment is necessary and you as a parent need to make that decision based on your own teen and the circumstances at hand, but according to Nelson, more often than not, positive discipline works far better long-term than negative discipline.
12 Logical Consequences That Work
Coming up with a consequence when your teen breaks a rule or is disrespectful can be difficult to do in the heat of the moment. To prevent you from fumbling or passing out a consequence that’s much too harsh or too lenient, walk away for a while and give it some thought. A cooling-off period will give you time to think so you can come up with a consequence that’s relevant, realistic and respectful. Here are a few consequences to consider.
1. Natural Consequences
If your teen chose to blow off studying for a big science test, they’ll likely fail or get a crummy grade. If you’ve told your teen time and time again to bring their dirty laundry down to the laundry room (or to do their laundry themselves) and they ignore your request, then they won’t have clean shirts or socks to wear – it’s on them.
Allowing your teen to suffer the consequences of their actions is a great way to teach them to be more responsible and self-reliant.
2. Loss of Privileges
Whether it’s limiting the use of their phone, taking away car privileges or saying “no” to video game time, losing privileges speaks volumes to teenagers. Just make sure the punishment fits the “crime” (so to speak). Don’t overreact and take your teen’s car privileges away for a week because they walked in the door 15 minutes past curfew.
3. Loss of an Item
If your teen constantly leaves their sports equipment, clothes, makeup or shoes lying all over the house and you’ve asked them repeatedly not to do it, take the items away for a period of time. If they care enough about the items they’re tossing all over the house, they’ll do a better job going forward of putting them where you ask.
4. Limiting Time Doing Something They Enjoy
All three of my kids look forward to spending time with friends on the weekends, which is why when I put a consequence in place that limits friend time, they always know I mean business. (Because this consequence typically stirs up a lot of emotion and, quite often, a battle of wills, I only use this consequence when my kids’ behavior truly warrants it.)
5. Stricter House Rules
Maybe it’s an earlier curfew. Or, maybe it’s not allowing your teen’s friends to hang out at the house. When disciplining your teenager, stricter house rules can be a “softer” consequence for teens who need a little reminder that it’s your castle, your rules.
6. Extra Chores
If you’ve asked your daughter repeatedly to pick up her disastrous bedroom and she always finds excuses. Let her know that if her room isn’t picked up by Saturday (always give your teen a little leeway to get things done on their timeframe), then she’ll be required not only to clean her room but also vacuum and dust the entire house. Chances are she’ll realize cleaning her room is far less painful than having to do extra chores.
7. Physical Labor
A simple consequence for teenagers is to ramp up physical labor. Have them clear their Saturday morning schedule to help mow and edge the lawn or put mulch down. Have them help clean the garage, wash and vacuum the car or paint the shed.
8. No Work, No Play
Does your teen need a ride to their friend’s house across town? Do they want to go to the movies on Friday night? Sure… no problem. BUT… you’re not driving them anywhere and they can’t go to the movies until they follow through with their chores or homework or responsibilities. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this a “consequence,” this is one of the easiest ways to get your teen to (peacefully) do as you ask. No nagging. No yelling. No pleading. Simply state what needs to be done and walk away. (You can also write it down. Check out our Mom’s No-Nag To-Do List.)
If your daughter took her sister’s favorite shirt without asking and accidentally ripped it, then she should be on the hook to purchase another one that is comparable. If your son took his brother’s earbuds and lost one, he needs to work extra hard at his part-time job to buy his brother new ones. Making your teen own up to their mistakes by enforcing a form of restitution is a fair consequence that teaches respect for others’ belongings as well as accountability.
10. Grounding (Use sparingly)
When I was growing up, grounding was the consequence of choice. Violated curfew? You’re grounded. Talked back? You’re grounded. Hit your sister? You’re grounded. And while grounding can still be an effective method of discipline, hopefully as parents we’ve learned the right and wrong way to ground our kids. If applied under the right circumstances and for the right length of time grounding can work. However, if it’s used too often, for the wrong reasons and for too long of a time, it can put a wedge between you and your teen.
11. Focus on Others
Is your teen acting entitled, bratty or spoiled? The consequence of their words, behavior or actions can be to spend time focusing on others. Perhaps it’s volunteering at a senior citizens center, working as a helper for a kids’ soccer or lacrosse team or perhaps just venturing over to their grandparents’ house and spending the afternoon keeping grandma and grandpa company. Sometimes, teenagers need to be reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around them.
12. Loss of Trust
Some teens’ behavior won’t be modified by their parent’s loss of trust. For others, it can feel like the end of the world. Deep down inside most teenagers truly want to please their parents. And, realizing that they may have lost some level of trust is sometimes consequence enough.
Disciplining your teenager can be challenging. You can’t force them to follow your every rule or jump when you ask them to do something, but you can inspire them and give them strength of purpose by building their self-esteem and recognizing and applauding positive behavior.
Talk with your teen, connect with them, find out about their life, their friends, what bothers them, worries them, and makes them happy. The more connected you are to your teen, the more influence you’ll have and the greater chance there will be that your teen will not only be respectful, but they’ll also abide by your rules.
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What tactics do you use when disciplining your teenager? Share your success stories in the comments section below!