I have heard frequently from parents of teenagers that they try to issue appropriate consequences when their teenager does something they should not, however, their teenager will not follow the consequences issued so I thought this would be helpful to discuss in a blog.
Here is a scenario – your teenager came home two hours late for their curfew last night so you told them that tonight they need to come in two hours early. Sounds reasonable, meaningful and like an appropriate consequence, right? So…what happens when your teenager not only doesn’t come home two hours early tonight but perhaps they come home late for their standard curfew again? Behavior like this is not only frustrating to parents but it can also make you feel really defeated and disrespected as well. It can make you start to question if you can actually ENFORCE the consequences you issue, which for some parents results in their giving up or in constantly “bargaining” with their teenager which only perpetuates your teens behavior further.
In order to be able to enforce a consequence, your teenager needs to believe there is no other better choice but to follow the consequence. They need to know that the consequences of NOT following the initial consequence are much more uncomfortable for them than the actual consequence itself and YOU need to help them see this (remember from the previous blog – consequences are effective with teens when they make them uncomfortable). How you do this is through your actions – they need to know, without fail, that you are going to hold them accountable and not give in or give up because they have worn you down. If your child has been disregarding your attempts to consequence them for some time, this will take some additional work because they are conditioned to think that they can get away with this without feeling too uncomfortable, however, once they are clear that you will follow through each and every time, they will start to do their part and this can absolutely work for you!
In using the example above about the curfew violation, many parents will say, “What am I supposed to do, lock them in the house so that they can’t leave? They will just walk out anyway if I try to ground them so how to I make them more uncomfortable?”. This is a valid question and what you need to do is really look at where your leverage is and use this. You have leverage, your teen depends on you for things that make their life comfortable and they do not want to lose these things. So, if they continue to disregard their curfew what other things can you restrict from them? Cell phones are HUGE. Teens are lost without them. I have heard so many parents say, “Well, I can’t take their phone in case there is an emergency and they need to call me”. What my response to parents who say that is – Take It! We all got by for most of our lives without cell phones and certainly grew up without them – if there is an emergency they will be near someone with a cell phone and I am sure they will figure out how to reach you. A teen having a cell phone is a luxury and one which they should earn by respecting you, as their parent. If your teen has the choice to come home on time and keep their cell phone ongoing OR to stay out and hour or two late and lose their phone for a week or two – I would be surprised if they did not think twice about coming home late. If you are concerned that they will just then go to their Facebook or IM account on the computer– eliminate their computer access also or make them use the computer for homework in a more public place so that you can monitor their use. Remember – it needs to be uncomfortable.
I know this seems like a lot of work but if you do it, and do it consistently, they will get it. They will learn that they will not get away with taking advantage of your rules. Your teen needs to know that you mean business and needs to realize that despite how grown up they want to be – that you are still their parent and provider and you provide them with access to many things that are very important to them BUT that these things are a privilege that they must earn. I used to work with a mother who would threaten to take her daughters phone away for a week if her daughter continued to speak with her disrespectfully. However, when the time would come, her daughter would put up such a fuss after just a few hours of losing her phone and become even MORE disrespectful that her mother would bargain with her and ultimately, this teen would get her phone back the next day. Do you think this “consequence” resulted in any behavior change at all? Of course not! However, when this mother worked consistently at not giving in, at not feeling guilty, at not trying to rationalize why giving the phone back was OK because she was worn out – it worked like a charm. After losing her phone on a couple of occasions for a week at a time – WITH NO EXCEPTIONS – things changed. They still had disagreements, however, this teen was suddenly able to stop herself in the moment and did not engage in that disrespectful behavior because she could remember how much she hated it when she did not have her phone for a whole week.
I am not suggesting that this is a piece of cake or a quick fix – especially if your teenager has been disrespecting your consequences over time, however, it is a fix that will work with some patience and consistency. I would suggest enlisting support for yourself when doing this which will help you remain consistent. You will be making your life much easier in the long run and will also be teaching your teenager to be more responsible for their actions. Below are some of the “privileges” that you may provide your teenager – think of how you can use them as your leverage when you are feeling like you have no control at all.
1. Cell phone
4. MP3 player / stereo
5. Driving them to social events
6. Allowance or just giving them money to go out
7. New clothes
8. High end clothes versus less expensive brands
9. Access to you car or having their own car
10. Your being quiet in the morning and allowing them to sleep in
11. Doing their laundry, etc.
12. Allowing them to have expensive objects in their room (computer, TV, stereo, iPod, etc.)
When restricting your teen from such items, you can simply say to them, “I’m sorry to have to restrict you from this or take this away but when you don’t respect my rules and consequences, I cannot allow you to have _________”.
For more tips or support on how to follow through and do this effectively, check out the How To Parent A Teen Website for our Free audio program AND LIKE us on Facebook to download a Free Report with strategies you can implement to get your teenager to act more responsibly.