Madeline, the parent of a teenager, has essentially stopped trying to get her teenager to follow her rules. She feels defeated and disrespected and like she is powerless in her role as the parent. Why does Madeline feel this way? She feels this way because in the past, when trying to implement consequences, it did not turn out the way she wanted it to. She felt like her teen still did what they wanted and that they were not impacted by the consequences issued or that they totally disregarded her consequences all together. And…even worse…during the times when they did follow her consequences,they made HER life miserable which caused her to just “give in to them”. After doing this for a while and feeling like a failure over and over, it makes sense that Madeline just gave up…however…giving up is not the answer.
Below are a few things to keep in mind when issuing consequences for your teenager that will help you feel more effective, more in control and most importantly, will help your teenager take responsibility for their actions:
First, think about issuing consequences BEFORE you are in a situation where you will actually need to do it. This will help you to not be reactive when a situation arises. Be clear that your teen will want any consequence you give them to be a consequence for you also (they are good at this) so prepare yourself for this. Know that your teen may complain a lot, may even try to up the ante to get you to back down, may try to annoy you or do things to intentionally frustrate you in order to get you to change your mind or reduce the consequence. Being ready for this will help you manage and tolerate it in the moment. Following through with a consequence is what makes it effective because your teenager will stop thinking they can get you to change your mind or reduce their consequence. I can’t stress enough how important following through is to this whole process. Be prepared. Try to anticipate how they will respond so that if they give you a difficult time, you have expected it which will help you be strong when you want to just not deal with it.
Second, consequences need to be time limited, should make your teen uncomfortable and should be enforceable. In the heat of the moment, you may want to tell your teenager they are grounded for a month or for the entire summer (or for the rest of their lives for that matter!). Or you may want to tell them they will never use the computer or their phone again. However, in going back to the first tip about thinking about consequences BEFORE a situation arises, you should try to think of consequences that are time limited, that make your teenager uncomfortable and that you can actually enforce. Making your teen uncomfortable is what will make them think about their behavior and think twice before they do the same thing the next time. One of the reasons parents often feel like a failure when issuing consequences to their teenagers is that they cannot enforce them. It is better to tell a teenager that they will lose their cell phone for a week and follow through with this (take the phone and make sure they cannot access it for the full week) than to threaten that they will be locked in the house for a month. There are 2 reasons why the first one is more effective. First, it is doable – you can take their phone and put it where they cannot have it for one week (hint #1…the trunk of your car is a great spot for items you are restricting your teenager from having, hint #2…if testricting them from a computer, just take the keyboard and wires and don’t worry about taking the entire thing if it is a desktop computer). Second, it will not lose it‘s impact. When consequences go on and on and on, teenagers forget what they were even for and just become resentful towards their parents. When consequences are enforceable and time limited, teens are best able to learn from them. Take time now to think about 3 consequences that you can use with your teenager – make sure they are time limited, that they will make your teen uncomfortable and that you can actually enforce them consistently. Having these ready and already figured out makes it easier when situations arise where you may be angry, frustrated or upset with your teenager. **It is also good for your teen to know what the possible consequences are before you need to use them – this can reduce their trying to negotiate or fight you about them when the time comes and you need to implement them.
Third, consequences should also be meaningful when possible. Try to have consequences that both make your teen uncomfortable and also have meaning associated with the problem behavior when possible. For example, your teenager’s grades are slipping, so taking away their phone so they cannot talk or text when they should be studying is effective, doable and meaningful. Having them help you with extra chores to save you time if they wasted your time by having to go pick them up after they told you they already had a ride home is meaningful, doable and time limited. Some of you may be saying, “How do I get my teen actually DO the extra chores?” or “How to I actually get my teen to come in earlier for a curfew – they will just stay out anyway”. I will address these types of issues in my next blog post since this is what gets many parents feeling very ineffective.
Finally, take time if you need to. Don’t let your teen put you on the spot. Even if you have thought ahead about consequences and have some in your back pocket that are meaningful, enforceable and time limited, this does not mean you cannot take time to think through what you want to do. Teenagers are great at putting parents on the spot. Give yourself permission to say to your teen, “I am upset with what you did and there will be a consequence for you. I am going to think about what will be best and will get back to you in the next half hour” (or you may tell them you want to consult their other parent). There is nothing wrong with this and it will help you really think it through which will help you follow through with whatever consequences you issue.
This takes practice and no parent does this perfectly all the time. However, if you think about the above, you will feel more effective, more in control and your teenager will be more likely to follow through with serving their consequences which will result in overall improved decision-making on their part. Stay tuned for the next post which will address situations where you issue a consequence and your teenager refuses to follow it.