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How To Discipline Teens: Do You Always Need Consequences?

A recent conversation with a good friend, who is a wonderful parent, made me reflect on Miguel Brown’s Blog on how to address teenage behavior that is unacceptable.

I’ve discovered that we all have our own barometer of what we feel is appropriate behavior for our own teens. But I would imagine there are a few “common denominators” that most of us find universally unacceptable. For my girlfriend and me, it continues to be dishonesty.

How do we punish or reprimand behavior that is legitimately age appropriate but nonetheless warrants a consequence? And how do we do that without alienating our teenager in the process? I have had wonderful discussions with parents who struggle with this dilemma. And sharing these concerns opens our eyes to the viewpoint of our teens. For me, I believe that communication, not persecution, is the critical component that promotes a change in my children’s behavior.

Actions And Consequences For Teenagers’ Behavior

Understandably, this is the stage where most teenagers will make mistakes. Some will engage in behavior that is reckless and dangerous, and worthy of consequence. Others will toy with white lies that, while meaningless, expose a need for discussion. I have held back on grounding my own teens in exchange for frank and (at times) painful conversations that address our family’s expectations.

I have found that when I impose a harsh punishment, the anger that my teenager feels can overpower the lesson I want them to learn. We end up battling the emotional backlash and losing the opportunity to address the behavior. Knowing when to lower the boom and take away a cherished activity or special treat remains the cornerstone of how to discipline teens properly and effectively. Brown’s “nuclear option” beautifully describes the dangers in a knee-jerk reaction that only increases the disconnect between teens and parents, instead of repairing it.

My girlfriend recently navigated this painful path with her son. His behavior had not been meeting her expectations. It certainly did not deserve to be rewarded with a planned spring break trip with his closest friend. After all, he was beginning to act out in ways that suggested he was turning away from his parents. On one hand, allowing him to go on this beautiful vacation seemed to be counter-intuitive, as if he would suffer no consequences at all for a recent incident of outrageous lying.

On the other hand, she gave serious and careful thought to the benefits of having a hard-core discussion with him. One that addressed the need for trust at the most basic level, and gave a few concessions on both sides to allow for some growth. Her ultimate decision? To let him travel with his friend and family, but with the understanding that conversations would continue regarding his behavior. This helped to ensure that her expectations about his behavior would remain intact.

Appropriate Discipline For Teenagers Isn’t Just Punishment

Doing something out of fierce love for our kids doesn’t make our decisions “bad”. After all, it’s not for anyone else to judge how we parent our teens. But I have never felt wrong with this explanation to my own children. “I am doing this for you because I love you deeply. I want this for you, regardless of the fact that at this moment in time you might not deserve it.”

A nuclear weapon-style consequence damages everything in its path, especially the relationship with our teenager. My hope is that the alternative I describe here will have the desired impact on my teenager, while also protecting what matters most—our relationship.