As consequences used for young children -- such as time outs -- become less effective as children grow, teen behavior leads parents to look for new and more effective strategies to teach desirable behaviors. Discovering effective consequences for teens requires an understanding of what a consequence is and an understanding of what is appropriate as a consequence for teen behavior.
According to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, at The Free Dictionary website, a consequence is "something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition." Consequences can be negative, in which something is taken away, or positive, in which something is gained as a result of teen behavior. The goal for parents is that consequences help shape better behavior next time a teen is faced with a similar situation or choice. This best occurs when the consequence creates discomfort for the teen after an undesirable behavior or reward for a desirable behavior. Parents should avoid extreme consequences or consequences that do not give the teen a chance to prove himself as a better decision maker.
The use of natural consequences has become increasingly popular with parents and educators. Natural consequences occur as a result of a teen behavior. For example, if a teen is caught at school with items that are against school rules, a natural consequence might be that the item is taken away and the teen loses use of that item. Natural consequences work best for teens when parents simply allow them to occur. Parents should avoid arguing with the teen about the consequence and must avoid rescuing the teen from the consequence. A parent who writes a note asking for the item back from the school is not allowing the child to reap the benefits of natural consequences. The child does not have the important opportunity of experiencing rules and expectations of society outside of the home, nor does she learn to be responsible for her poor decisions.
A logical consequence should be enforced when a natural consequence would create danger for a child. For example, if a teen drives home after being caught drinking, the natural consequence could be deadly. In cases such as this, a logical consequence is a better choice. A logical consequence for this behavior might be that the teen is driven to all activities with friends until he proves that he is capable of better choices. Parents must be careful with logical consequences. Extreme consequences, such as grounding a teen for months, can backfire and increase rebellious behavior. Using shorter terms of punishment with frequent opportunities for the teen to prove himself by making better choices creates an atmosphere in which the teen feels some success and experiences the positive consequences of good behavior.
Positive or Negative
Another consideration for consequences if whether they are positive or negative. A positive consequence occurs when the teen gains something as a result of a behavior. Some positive consequences may work against the goals of improving teen behavior. Take the case of the teen that was drinking. If a consequence of drinking results in the child gaining positive attention from peers, the positive consequence can work to increase a negative behavior. The same is true for negative consequences having a positive effect on teen behavior. Parents should closely monitor these unwanted effects of positive and negative consequences and use logical consequences when natural consequences will not help to achieve the goal of creating better behavior in teens.