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Ask The Expert: Appropriate Consequences for Irresponsible Behavior

Dear Your Teen:

My 14-year-old daughter received a new computer from her grandparents. Two weeks into her freshman year, she accidentally spilled milk into the keyboard, and the computer died. My husband and I had been very clear that she shouldn’t eat or drink while on the computer.

We’re not sure it was an accident. She’d been complaining about her Dell computer.  She had a Mac for three years and did not like the new Dell. Her father and I agree that we want her to experience life without her own computer for a while. She can use our home computer under supervision for schoolwork or use the public computers at the community library or school. How long should we continue this ban?

EXPERT | Amy Speidel

Natural Consequences

Your scenario highlights a natural consequence. Your daughter’s actions broke her computer and you let her feel the loss of her personal computer, while still providing her the means to complete her work by using the family computer. That is a reasonable and appropriate consequence  that fits the situation.

The length of an imposed consequence is often determined by age and life events. In this case, it could be imposed until she is able to put some money toward repairs or into savings in case of another mishap. Or you can spell out what will happen should she prove to be reckless again (perhaps responsible for the repairs by doing jobs at home to earn money.)

Opportunity to Try Again

It is, however, important that she have another try. She can’t learn from the consequences unless she is given the opportunity to try again. And that may be very hard for you as you wonder whether she has actually learned anything.

It seems that you are also wondering how to set up an appropriate consequence in advance that might prevent your daughter from making irresponsible decisions. You need to establish an imposed consequence that is set up ahead of time. Hopefully, the threat of the consequence will act as a deterrent.

In your daughter’s case, an example of imposed consequence could be: “If you choose to be reckless with your computer, you will only be allowed to use the family computer. You will need to pay for the repairs on your broken computer or for the purchase of a new one.”  State the imposed consequence and then leave the power in the hands of your daughter.

There is no better way to learn the importance of personal choice. If she continues to be reckless, your job is to let the imposed, or natural, consequences do their work without your additional judgment.

This can be hard, as you might want to add a lecture on top of the consequence. That will actually water down the impact. She will be diverted from the upset she’s created and instead will direct her irritation toward you. Offer empathy instead. Say (with compassion), “It seems that your decision didn’t work out so well. It’s hard when things don’t go well. I’m guessing you might do things differently the next time. You’re going to master this one day.”

Amy Speidel is a Certified Parent Coach at Senders Parenting Center and an instructor in the Conscious Discipline Philosophy for parents and teachers.

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