As your child moves from childhood to the teen years, you must adjust your style of discipline. Two things to consider:
- As you child gets older, your relationship with him or her is your most important leverage. Make sure that you are making time to do fun things together, creating opportunities for conversations, recognizing their good qualities and accomplishments, and earning their trust and respect. Without a good relationship with your teen, consequences will have very limited effect. In fact, attempts to impose consequences on your teen can backfire if you have a relationship that is characterized by conflict or disconnection. A good relationship will motivate both of you to respond appropriately to preserve the integrity of the relationship.
- Remember, “discipline” is not just punishment. The purpose of discipline is to teach or instruct, not just impose consequences. Any consequences should be designed to help your teen learn and to prepare them for the future. Consequences should not be designed just to make your teen miserable or to make you feel better.
Keeping those two points in mind, here are a few types of consequences that work for most teens:
Meaningful discussions: After some misbehavior, have a real discussion (not lecture) with your teen about what happened as a result of their behavior. Whose lives were affected? How were they affected? What worse thing could have happened? What might happen if the behavior continues? Ask them questions to help them reflect upon the natural consequences of their behavior. Don’t answer the questions for them…let your teen learn how to connect the dots.
Community Service: If your teen’s behavior has caused harm or loss to another person or property, consider requiring them to do some community service, such as volunteering at a food bank, nursing home, or homeless shelter.
Loss of privileges: Remove or cut back one of your teen’s privileges for a short time. You should talk to your teen prior to any withdrawal of privileges to discuss the connection between the specific expectations and their privileges. In other words, in the heat of the moment, don’t impulsively decide to take away your teen’s cell phone for a month after they break curfew.
Considerations for taking away a privilege as a consequence:
- Make sure your teen knows how to earn back the privilege
- It is something you can enforce (if you remove TV time, for example, how will you regulate this when your child visits a friend’s house?)
- The consequence fits the “crime”
Some privileges to consider restricting include curfew times, computer use, driving, the number of nights they can go out of the house, cell phone use (choose this one sparingly), video game access, allowance, and entertainment options.
Apology letters: In situations where your teen’s behavior has hurt someone else, you might require them to write a letter of apology that you approve and then accompany your teen when they deliver the letter. Make earning back a connected privilege contingent on completion of and delivering the letter.
Making Restitution: Have your teen think of how they can “make restitution” for their actions. For instance, if they broke something, they could repair it or buy a replacement. It is a great problem solving and social skill for your teen to add to their repertoire if they are able to learn how to “mend fences” after negative behavior. Plus, the process of having to think of a way to undo some of the damages that they caused will help them think twice before they do the same thing again. Earning back a privilege lost due to misbehavior could be contingent upon making restitution.