10 Thoughts on Using Consequences

Consequences are a necessary tool in any parent’s discipline toolkit! Parents use consequences to teach teenagers to become responsible for their actions and to make good choices in their lives. Here are some of my thoughts on using consequences:

1. Consequences should not be used (or communicated) as punishment. Consequences will fail if they are presented as such.

2. Parents who use consequences as a tool to force kids into being obedient have goals that are both too small and short-term.

3. Remember the goal: Teaching teenagers responsibility for their own behavior.

4. Teenagers learn best when they experience the consequences of their behavior. Consequences hold teenagers accountable for their actions.

5. When teenagers experience consequences, parents are freed from threatening, screaming, yelling, spanking, nagging, and complaining. Actions–in this case, applying consequences–speak louder than words ever will.

6. As often as possible, incorporate natural consequences. These are the unavoidable results of one’s actions. A teenager not eating lunch because she forgot lunch money is a natural consequence. Burning your hand is a natural consequence of touching a hot pan.

7. At times, employing logical consequences can be useful. Although contrived, these relate logically to the behavior. They are constructed because the natural consequences are not immediate enough for the teenager to learn to be responsible. A teenager’s grades may have a huge natural consequence — for better or for worse — when he or she graduates from high school. But the natural consequence is delayed and may not teach a kid to act responsibly regarding schoolwork in the here and now. A logical consequence such as a reward for good grades or taking away privileges for poor grades, are examples of using logical consequences.

8. Logical consequences might be logical to the parent, but illogical to a teenager. Consequences must be logical to your teenager, if they are to be effective.

9. Using consequences never means that parents quit supporting and guiding their teenagers and leaving them to navigate life completely on their own. A study from the University of New Hampshire found that permissive parents, those who are non-demanding and set few or no boundaries for their children, produce children who are the least self-reliant and self-controlled of all parenting styles.

10. Hints for using consequences:
• Decide if the behavior is worth battling over.

• Present consequences as choice. Choices within limits provide teenagers with opportunities to learn to make good decisions because they make the decision. (“Either come home at dinnertime, or miss eating.” “Either drive the speed limit, or I will drive.” “You can either feed your dog or we will give it away.”)

• Consistently follow through if your teenager has chosen the consequences.

• Administer the consequence in a friendly, rather than hostile, punitive manner. There is no need for nagging or lecturing.

• Include your teenager in creating the consequences. Creating consequences are something you do with your teenagers, not to them.

• Separate your teenager from her behavior. One way: focus your attention back to positive things soon after the consequences are given.

• Never give a consequential choice to your teenager that you cannot follow through on, such as, “Either change your attitude or find another place to live.”

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Doug Fields

Doug Fields is the senior director of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of leaders, teenagers and parents each year. He’s also the author/co-author of 50+ books including: Parenting in a Screen Saturated Culture; Intentional Parenting; 7 Ways to be Her Hero – the One Your Wife Has Been Waiting For; and To Have and To Hold. In addition to Doug’s speaking and writing, he is also the co-founder of DownloadYouthMinistry.com and the youth pastor at Mariners Church. Doug has been married for more than 35 years to his wonderful wife Cathy, and they live near their 3 married children and 3 grandchildren in Southern California.

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