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Implementing Effective Consequences for Teenagers

Are you dealing with a disrespectful teenager? Don't let this behavior go unchecked, or you'll soon have a disaster on your hands. Teenagers need to know that their actions have consequences, but as a mother or father, you need to ensure that you enforce effective consequences for disrespectful behavior in teenagers – both at home and school.

As a former disrespectful teen, I remember all too well being on the opposite side of the fence. I hope the following tips for dealing with disrespectful teenagers will help you establish effective consequences:

1. Choosing effective consequences for your disrespectful adolescent shouldn't be difficult. You either give or you take away: You give additional chores or work assignments, and you take away personal entertainment access. You must decide on a time period for the effective consequence to take place. Does one smart remark earn one missed hour of video games? Does a detention at school mean one night being grounded?

2. Consequences should be closely related to your teen’s misbehavior (e.g., if your son comes in late for curfew on Friday night, set his curfew 30 minutes earlier the next weekend).

3. Continued misbehavior requires a warning of the consequence. Move closer to the teen than normal conversational distance and make direct and prolonged eye contact. Be very specific about your expectation and the time frame for compliance. Tell him exactly what the consequence of noncompliance will be. Walk away and give him the opportunity to comply. If the warning doesn't work, send the teen to another room while you both cool off. Ignore arguing and expressions of anger. After a few minutes, go back to your teen. Speak calmly and without emotion. Explain that the consequence is now in effect and how long it will last.

4. Dialogue with your adolescent about her disrespectful behavior. See if you can locate the source of your adolescent's disrespectful behavior by chatting candidly and frankly. Part of the battle in adolescence comes from being forced to transition between childhood and adulthood with a shaky balance until your adolescent has found her footing. Ease the transition and show your respect for your adolescent by talking to her as you would any other grown-up.

5. Don’t debate—it will only make things worse and result in a power struggle.

6. Don’t overreact or under–react. Moms and dads can often be too intense (e.g., make the consequence too long or difficult) or too permissive (neglect to follow through on giving a consequence).

7. Don't discount the teaching effect of natural consequences. For example, if your teen refuses to do homework, he'll get a bad grade. If he shoplifts and gets caught, he'll probably have legal problems. These are the logical consequences for the misbehavior. Let your teen experience them.

8. Don't keep a running tab of your teen's misbehavior. Implement consequences for misbehavior, and then let it go.

9. Evaluate your own actions. Actions always speak louder than words, so make sure that what you say matches up with what you do. Any discrepancies will be noted by your eagle-eyed disrespectful adolescent and may even be brought painfully to your attention. Telling an adolescent not to smoke when you've been a pack a day smoker since you were his age wouldn't accomplish anything.

10. Have patience. Though it may have seemed as if your well-behaved youngster transformed suddenly into a surly adolescent, the truth is that these patterns of disrespect in adolescents don't develop overnight. You won't be able to resolve the problem instantly, so don't expect that you can. By holding true to the effective consequences that you decide on for your adolescent, you must be consistent for at least thirty days before you can see any lasting effects.

11. If you find that the consequences you’ve given aren’t effective, there’s nothing wrong with going back to the drawing board. If you’ve assigned too harsh of a consequence, you may need to rethink what you’ve said and come back with something else. Also, you may need to change the consequence because your teen isn’t taking it seriously.

12. If you’re feeling frustrated or angry, you might say, “Let’s talk about this when we’re both calm. I’ll get back to you later in the day.”

13. If your adolescent is being disrespectful to others at school, schedule meetings with your adolescent's classroom teachers to discuss the problem. Many teachers have dealt with similar problems from similar adolescents and may be able to offer advice, support, and resources to help.

14. Make sure the consequence you give your teen makes him uncomfortable (e.g., it would be meaningless to take away a video game from a teen who doesn’t like them very much).

15. Once the child has been disciplined, resist the urge to keep reminding him of the past offense.

16. Remember that an effective consequence is (a) clear and specific, (b) logically related to the misbehavior, (c) time-limited, and (d) varied.

17. Remember, if you’re out of control, it reduces your authority.

18. Remind your adolescent that he is loved. It might sound a little too new age for your taste, but all human beings need to feel loved. Disrespectful behavior often comes as a result of nothing getting enough loving attention. By reinforcing your positive feelings about the adolescent, you let your child know that you care. Your adolescent might scoff at your open admission of love, but deep down, adolescents need to hear this message.

19. Take a deep breath. The old trick that tells you to count to ten and take a deep breath before scolding anyone is a great one to keep actively in mind during your son’s or daughter’s teen years. Adolescence is often a difficult transition for your youngster, so try to remember this. Take a couple of days to draft a list of effective consequences for your disrespectful adolescent.

20. Talk with a mental health professional is the behavior continues after you've steadily been enforcing effective consequences for disrespectful behavior. The problem may rest deeper than you are able to effectively manage. You might even consider parent-child counseling. 

21. The consequences you give should have a definite beginning and end. You don’t want to make them so long and drawn out that your teen can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. When consequences are too harsh or have no end, the teenager starts to feel hopeless and just gives up. They need to feel like they’re capable of following through on whatever the expectation is.

22. There are times when you need time to think about what consequence would be most effective. Often it’s useful for your teen to have time to think about what he’s done, as well. It’s uncomfortable for children to have to wait and hear what their mother or father is going to say—and taking that time will help you come up with a more effective consequence.

23. We often take our teen's behavior personally and see it as a reflection on us. But our job is to teach our kids about good behavior. How we teach is by managing their behavior and actions. In a sense, our parenting work is to "civilize" our kids so that they can be responsible, caring, loving grown-ups.

24. When you are caught up in the heat of the moment, you definitely need to take a timeout. When you do this, you don't have to let your teen know what you're doing. Just send him to his room and tell him you'll be back to talk with him later. It's okay for your teen to be anxious about what the consequence might be. Remember, that waiting period can be a useful period. This is also a perfect example of a time when parents need to be good actors. Try to keep your face and tone as neutral as possible when you speak to your teen, even if you're steaming mad inside.

25. When you notice non-compliance, first give a reminder. Remember to make direct eye contact. This simple strategy will work most of the time. Begin to think of an effective consequence if the reminder doesn't work.

26. When you see your teen behaving the way he should, take time to notice and then say something about it. The old adage of “catch your child in the act of being good” is true for a reason—it acknowledges good behavior and inspires him to keep trying.

27. When your teen misbehaves, you always want to ask him this question afterward: “What will you do differently next time?” Have him come up with some examples. If he can’t, you can help him with a few of your own.

28. When you're telling your teen what his consequence is after he's misbehaved, be as brief and clear as possible. It can completely undo the lesson you want him to learn if you repeat yourself or get in a long discussion about it. This is because it's easy for you as a parent to start negotiating or minimizing, or to get drawn into an argument with your teen.

29. Write a list of consequences and rewards that might be of value to your teenager. You can even ask him for his ideas for consequences and rewards.

30. Your teen needs to be capable of doing what you ask (e.g., if you say that his consequence is to patch and paint the hole he kicked in the wall, but he has no idea how to do that, you’ll both end up frustrated—and the bad behavior will probably escalate).


Anonymous said...

Thanks Mark, Your advice is very soothing. My daughter has always been very head strong, (now 15) and have had numerous issues over the years. Always thought she was border line ADHD. But because issues weren't on a daily basis like any Brit, we just keep plodding on. We've been through drink issues, under age sex (even her half sister took her to the clinic so then she could get the pill, behind my back!), she has just finished a long term relationship, with boy who I thought was ideal, as he hated her drinking, and slowly but surely her drinking ceased. Since the break up, her behaviour has become more erratic.....and now the latest......

Recently her behaviour has got totally out of control. I believe it's due to the fact her father didn't want anything to do with her. recently she has got in touch with her half sisters (on her father's side)....and because her father and I split up due to violence (I was raped on one occasion and beaten up when mt daughter was only 6 weeks old), I wasn't really encouraging the communications. She had mentioned to going to a party a her half sisters new/first flat, I had said," I wasn't that happy about that, as she is 27 and that there would be drinking". (we have also had issues with drinking....she and her friends raided my cupboard one night when I was out. I didn;t find out until a couple of weeks later, when I went into the cupboard for something, and found all the empty bottles). She then accused ME! of beating her up...some were fabricated and some were totally fictitious. I /feel, and I told her, that I felt as though she was lashing out at the wrong person. Unfortunately she told her mentor at school, and the whole thing got out of hand. they were manipulated by a teenager , who wanted her own way. The school wouldn't allow me to see her and let her go to her half sisters, of whom she had only met twice/thrice.....I wasn't allowed to have her address or contact number. I was totally distraught, I had all authority taken away from me in a flash, I didn't know where my daughter was or was going. I left the school, in tears, and drove to my Mum's, where she just couldn't believe it. All my family, including my two older children were in disbelief. To cut along story short, she is now, after a week, back home. The first few days have been bad.....she just hates me, but I keep saying to her I haven't done anything wrong......the only thing I am guilty of is spoiling her, and doing everything for her.

The authorities had/have been informed, they did the usual checks, found there was know reason why she shouldn't come home.....they tried twice to bring her home, but failed.

So I'm now at this point, where I feel I don't know what to do. I have an appointment for a visit from the Area Children's Team...where we are supposed to get some mediation sessions put in place. But after reading your page, I don't have much hope. I feel as though, I don't recognise my own daughter any more.

That's my story in a nut-shell. Not sure if you'll gert this or if it's an automated letter.....even so, it has helped just typing it out.

Kind Regards


Anonymous said...

Jacqui - Have you had a look at Mark's advice on how to support your Asperger's child? I know your child doesn't have Asperger's, but my friends and I have children with attachment difficulties, and much of the advice is equally applicable to our children ... They're excellent! Similarly - I would recommend having a look at the OASSIS website - they have an excellent fact sheet on Attachment Disorder.

Anonymous said...

This morning my son came to the end of a seven-day discipline, imposed due to extreme aggression at home, and was looking forward to getting his stuff back. However, school refusal is the other big issue at the moment, and he did not go in to school today. I warned him that he would not be playing video games or using the computer today if he didn't go into school (ie., he wouldn't get his stuff back today). When I followed through on that consequence this evening, my son had a complete meltdown. He had to be shut in his room as he was threatening violence, was trashing the house, screaming obscenities, and spitting in my face. In the event, he completely destroyed his bedroom door (which I have told him he will be paying to replace). As his previous seven-day discipline had officially ended, how long a grounding should I impose now? The behaviour was EXTREME.

Anonymous said...

I live with my fiancee and we have been together for six years, although only lived together for one year. My partner has three children, all girls and all grown up, in physical years at least that is.

Her eldest, Elizabeth, (22) has moved out and her and I get on fine and have not had any major issues, the odd glitch sure but that's to be expected.

Her youngest, Sophie, (18) still lives at home with us and is planning to travel through Europe next year. Again, we get on fine mostly and she too like Elizabeth is polite and fairly mature for her age.

Her middle child Jessica, (20) still lives at home and is a complete and utter nightmare. She is rude, obnoxious, bad tempered, has a rotten attitude, selfish, lazy and absolutely passionately hates me and wants my partner and I to split up.

She has no respect for anything or anyone and treats me like I don't exist. She does not help around the house in any way and pays nothing towards anything. She is dirty and constantly defiant and does exactly what she wants when she wants.

Now, not being her father, my partner refuses to allow me to discipline her, which would usually end up in a yelling match, so no one wins. My partner also insists on "wiping Jessica's backside" for her in doing everything, clearing up and treating her like a 3 year old. Jessica therefore often acts like a 3 year old and does things that are driving me to despair. She openly swears at me and usually does not communicate with me. My partner will not speak to her and discipline her for this ever which I find very frustrating.

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