If you’re the parent of a teenager, you know how difficult it can be to come up with creative and natural consequences for teens’ behavior when they don’t make good decisions.
By middle school and especially high school teens are usually past the temper tantrum stage but finding new ways to make parents frustrated.
Those teenage years bring with them increasing peer pressure and learning new skills like driving which can be a big deal but also sometimes increase the power struggles that come with becoming a young adult.
They seem to think that they are invincible and that rules don’t apply to them. It’s important for parents to establish a system of discipline early on, and stick with it.
So take a deep breath and read on for a disciplined list of effective consequences that have been proven to work like a charm!
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How to Choose The Right Consequence?
Positive reinforcement for good behavior is motivating. Losing privileges can also be motivating to make better choices the next time.
Finding effective ways to discipline your teenager depends on the offense but also on your teen’s personality.
If your teen is always on their cell phone, losing that privilege is very motivating. However, if it’s a necessity to speak with their boss or need it to do homework, then taking away their phone isn’t going to work as a consequence.
While taking away something they love like sports may sound like a good idea at first. The fact that it impacts the entire team or your teen really needs a healthy outlet for stress just ends up defeating the purpose of teaching them a valuable lesson.
Discipline should be a learning experience and a deterrent to hopefully keep them from repeating the same mistake next time, not a way to be spiteful or get in the way of having mutually respectful parent-child relationships.
Also because mistakes are part of the human experience kids shouldn’t be excluded from family time resulting in them thinking they aren’t worthy of being part of the family.
Not defining your teen or your relationship based on their behavior and giving kids the opportunity to learn and grow is important.
There can be times when they have to be removed from a situation but not necessarily left out completely. Losing some time during an activity isn’t the same as not going on vacation with everyone else.
This doesn’t mean to say you don’t sometimes have to be the bad guy. You are still the parent, not their friend which means you have to be the one making the hard and unpopular decisions.
Implementing Discipline During the Teen Years
Have Clear Rules and Expectations
Make sure they know what is expected of them and what will happen if they don’t meet those expectations.
It’s also important that you are specific with your expectations.
Don’t just tell them to be good, tell them what that means.
For example, if you don’t want them to swear, say “I expect you not to use profanity.”
If you don’t want them coming home late, say “I expect you to be home by 11 pm.”
The more specific you are with your expectations, the easier it will be for your teen to meet them.
Use Positive Reinforcement
One of the best ways to get your teenager to behave is by using positive consequences.
Praising them when they do something good, even if it’s small, can go a long way.
It shows them that you’re proud of them and that you appreciate their efforts.
Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, can often be counterproductive.
It can make your teen feel like they’re never good enough and that you’re always disappointed in them.
Include Them in The Process
Including them in setting curfews and other house rules is a great way to help them understand why the rules are in place and what will happen if they don’t follow them especially before getting out into the real world.
I don’t mean letting them make the rules but you’d be surprised when you include them. Sometimes the limits they suggest for screentime or ideas for consequences are better than what we might come up with.
When they’re included they feel respected, included and can be more likely to go with the flow if they participate in the process.
Including them is also a great way to open up hard conversations and either head off issues before they start or figure out why certain behaviors are happening.
If your teen is habitually late, coming up with a logical consequence together can be very effective. Perhaps they can’t go out on weekends until they’ve shown that they can be responsible during the week.
Make Short Term Consequences, Reevaluate if Necessary
We’ve all flown off the handle and said, “you’re never having a sleepover again” or “I’m taking your phone for a month”, only to realize that’s never going to happen.
Then what happens is we look like we overreact, can’t hold to our promises, or appear to be a pushover when they complain.
By taking a bit of time to calm down, setting an appropriate punishment, and being sure to follow through, we can remain in charge.
At the same time, if we need to extend the punishment or implement a stronger one because the behavior is continuing we can also do that.
Choose Your Battles
One of the most important things you can do as a parent is to choose your battles wisely.
Remember, teenagers are trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for. So, it’s important that you allow them to make some mistakes along the way.
That doesn’t mean you let them get away with everything, but it does mean that you need to be selective about the things you choose to discipline them for.
The most important thing is to be consistent with your consequences and make sure they are appropriate for the offense. With a little trial and error, you’ll find what works best for your teenager.
Using Positive Consequences for Teens
I mentioned positive reinforcement earlier. Can these be viewed as bribes? Maybe, it depends on how and why the reward system is used. This can be effective if you do it right.
So what’s the difference between positive reinforcement and bribes?
Positive reinforcement rewards good behavior. Bribes are in response to bad behavior.
Positive reinforcement exists under two conditions:
- The reward comes after the good behavior.
- The behavior is something you want to occur in the future.
For example, getting out of bed in the morning without issue can result in extra screen time or a later bedtime. If they’re difficult in the morning, bedtime remains the same.
On the other hand, bribery comes after the bad behavior out of frustration to make it stop. Think back to toddler days of handing out a snack or offering to buy a toy when they wouldn’t behave in the store.
Positive consequences can also be used to keep grades up. If your teen has struggled with grades but is doing well, encouraging them to keep up with a reward can work.
While behaviors and grades should be maintained for the sake of it being the right thing or it feels good to do well, some kids need to learn to strengthen their motivations.
Also, for some teens who don’t care about negative consequences, positive reinforcement might be the answer.
Using Negative Consequences
Sometimes positive reinforcements just aren’t going to cut it.
Lying, stealing, smoking, and using alcohol or drugs are just a few examples of when a much stronger approach has to be used.
In extreme circumstances, some boarding schools specialize in using strategies to teach young people how they learn best, both in and out of the classroom. They can help instill structure, self-discipline, and motivation that help teens succeed in school, in college, and in life.
Allow Natural Consequences
Instead of running to the rescue every time your teen forgets something, let them be without it. If they get a demerit for forgetting their school ID or they’re cold because they forgot their coat, they’ll remember on their own better if you don’t bail them out.
The consequences they receive at school, their job, or with the law should be respected. If your teen broke school policy or the law they should face the consequences at school or with the law, not have parents try and get them out of it.
Provide Logical Consequences
Logical consequences are the natural outcomes that result from a child’s actions with others or property. Following through on logical consequences means that the adult guides the child to take responsibility for any harm caused or damage done. The intent is to teach your child that every action has a reaction.
Examples of Logical Consequences
Timeouts and Breaks
Teens having disrespectful outbursts with screaming, breaking things or physical altercations need to go quiet down too.
Going to sit in their room (without the benefit of screens and phones), so they can calm down should not only be enforced if necessary but taught as a way to help self-regulate. Timeouts should last for one minute per year of age.
While timeouts are usually a tactic used with younger children, teens who display Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), this is an appropriate consequence.
Loss of Privileges
This works well for a variety of discipline issues such as not keeping grades up or skipping chores.
This is another effective consequence that can be tailored to your teen’s personality and offense. Some privileges that can be taken away are phones, computers, driving privileges, and going out with friends.
This is a popular consequence that can last for a day, a week, or even a month. It’s important to be clear about the rules that are being broken in order to avoid any confusion.
Paying a Fine
This consequence is perfect for offenses such as swearing, breaking curfew, or not doing chores. The amount of the fine should be based on how serious the offense is.
Discipline with Extra Household Chores
Chores are just a natural part of everyday living. Teens should have regular chores to practice life skills, learn responsibility, and realize that being part of a family means helping others.
However, adding an extra chore or two can be a good choice as a negative consequence of breaking rules or not following through with chores they skipped. It could also be effective to have to take on a sibling’s chores for an offense against the other sibling.
Writing a Paper
This consequence can be used for less serious offenses such as talking back to parents or being disrespectful. It’s important that the paper has a specific topic, such as why it’s wrong to talk back to your parents or the importance of being respectful.
Loss of Help
As a parent, this can be a hard one. But if you’re trying to help your teenager do homework, learn to drive, or do other projects and they are being rude and disrespectful, you don’t need to accept it.
This consequence can be used for more serious offenses such as stealing or cheating. But it can be an eye-opener for teens who are constantly ungrateful. It’s important to find a community service project that your teen is interested in and make sure they understand why they are doing it.
Opportunities for Restitution
Making restitution means repairing the damage that was done. If your teen stole something, they need to return it and/or pay for what was stolen. If they damage something, they need to repair it. The same goes for something they borrowed that was lost.
This is a good consequence because it helps teach them how to take responsibility for their actions.
A Word About Technology
It’s important to be aware of the role technology plays in our lives. There are positives and negatives to using technology, it can have a negative influence on teens. But unfortunately (mostly) necessary in modern society of spread out communities, busier teens and parents, and lack of landlines.
That’s why it’s important to use this consequence sparingly. If your teen is constantly breaking curfew or not doing their chores, then taking away their phone or computer privileges is a good way to get their attention.
But if you take away their phone every time they forget to do something, they’re going to start resenting you. And that’s not what we want.
So, what are some good consequences to choose from?
Here is a recap discipline list of consequences for teenagers that have been proven to work:
- Take away screen privileges like phone, TV, social media, and video games
- Restrict or stop going out with friends
- Make them do chores
- Participate in community service
- Have them write an essay on why what they did was wrong
- Make them apologize to the person they hurt
- Make them pay a fine
- Losing privileges like rides or driving
- Take away their allowance or extra money
- Stop helping them with homework or other projects
- Ground them for a certain amount of time
- Take away their favorite item
- Send them to their room for a certain amount of time
- Don’t allow them to participate in fun activities like sleepovers or parties
- Speak to their teacher or coach about the situation
- Make them read a book on the topic they disobeyed
- Call their grandparents or another adult they look up to and tell them what happened
- Have a family meeting to discuss the situation
- Write a letter to the person they hurt explaining how their actions made them feel
- Force them to go to counseling or therapy, especially if the issue involves drugs, alcohol, or harming others.
We hope that this list of consequences will help you in disciplining your teen.
Remember, the most important thing to remember when creating your discipline list of consequences is to be consistent. Once you’ve decided on a consequence, make sure you follow through with it each and every time.
How do I discipline a teenager who doesn’t seem to care about consequences?
This can be a tough situation. In most cases, you just may not have hit on the right one. Despite what they tell us, they usually do care about something. Find that something, that motivator, and you will have the key to the right discipline.
It’s also not particularly about whether they care or not, the idea is to teach them responsible behavior. It’s not a debate or popularity contest.
For more ideas, this is an excellent article on discipline for teens, from a website I turn to frequently for parenting advice.
The most important thing to remember when using any of these consequences is to be consistent. If you don’t follow through with the consequences, your teen won’t take you seriously and they’ll continue to break the rules.
It’s also important to be fair. If you’re constantly punishing your teen for every little thing they do wrong, they’re going to start feeling resentful. And that’s not going to help anyone.
I hope you find this list of consequences helpful.