The Most Effective Consequences for Teenagers

Consequences that will motivate your teen to behave next time.

Restitution can be an effective consequence for teenagers.
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Just because your teen has outgrown time-out (most of them would like to be sent to their rooms), doesn't mean you can't instill effective consequences. But it's important to find punishments for teenagers that will teach them life lessons.

By now, you only have a few years left to prepare your teen for the real world. And it can be tricky to strike a balance that gives your child enough freedom, while still giving him plenty of guidance.

Behave like an overprotective helicopter parent and your teenager won’t learn how to make healthy decisions. If you’re too permissive, however, he won’t gain the skills he needs to become a responsible adult.

Discipline Should Focus on Teaching, Not Punishing

Don't reserve discipline for serious rule violations. If your 16-year-old sits in his room and plays video games all day, he may not be misbehaving. But, that he might still need to discipline to help him socialize and behave more responsibly.

When your teen breaks the rules, follow through with negative consequences. Here are three consequences that can be effective teaching tools for teens:

1. Natural Consequences

Natural consequences can be one of life's greatest teachers. But, it's important to make sure that it's safe to use them.

Don't allow your teen to experiment with alcohol in hopes that he’ll get sick and it will teach him a lesson.

It may not work out the way you’d planned.

If however, you teen procrastinates doing his homework, getting a zero or staying after school may teach him a lesson.

So rather than nagging him to get his work done, give him a chance to either behave responsibly or face the consequences.

Natural consequences don't work with all teens, however.

So it's important to think carefully about whether your teen will learn from his mistakes if you don't intervene.

2. Loss of Privileges

Privileges should be earned, and if your teen isn't following the rules, don't let him enjoy those extra privileges. A logical consequence may involve removing a privilege that is directly related to the rule your teen violated.

If your teen misses her curfew on Friday night, don't let her go out with friends on Saturday night. Or, if she's not getting her homework done because she's playing video games, take away her electronics. Usually, taking away privileges for 24 hours is effective.

Consequences have to hurt. If you take away your child’s ability to watch TV but he spends the evening watching Netflix on his laptop, it isn’t likely to be an effective consequence. Choose a privilege that will help your teen think twice before making the same mistake again.

You can also have your teen earn privileges back. Just make sure you outline the steps he needs to take to restore his privileges.

Instead of saying, "You can have your phone back when I can trust you again," say, "You can have your phone back when you get your homework done three nights in a row."

Create a written behavior contract that outlines your expectations. Then, there won't be any questions about when and how your teen can regain his privileges.

3. Restitution

There are times when it is important to have your teen pay restitution. If he vandalizes the neighbor’s fence, don’t simply take away his phone for the day. Make him pay to repair the fence and in addition, make him do extra chores for the neighbor.

Even if there isn't a clear victim, you can still use restitution. If you discover your teen has been speeding when borrowing your car, make him perform community service activities before he can borrow the car again.

Assign a certain number of hours he must perform. When he completes his community service, you'll know he's trying to behave responsible enough to earn his privileges back.

Restitution is a good way to help your teen make amends with anyone he has hurt or put at risk. It can be helpful to ask for your teen's input into what sort of restitution he thinks would be fair. 

Sources

Dawn M. Zahrt, Marlene D. Melzer-Lange. Aggressive Behavior in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics in Review. Aug 2011, 32 (8) 325-332.

HealthyChildren.org: How to Communicate With and Listen to Your Teen

Stancheva-Popkostadinova V, Chincheva S, Stoyanova S, Sotirova V. Adolescents’ views of discipline methodsNeuropsychiatrie de lEnfance et de lAdolescence. 2012;60(5).