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Tips for issuing consequences to teens

Teen Consequences

This post first appeared on

Temper tantrums, ignoring instructions, talking back...

When our kids were little, many of us used the timeout chair to correct these and other misbehaviors because, done well, timeout works! When our babies hit their teen years, though, the timeout chair seems like a distant dream. Even so, our job as parents is far from done. Kids still struggle sometimes. They need clear, effective consequences to help them choose the right behavior.

Here are suggestions for discipline when the timeout chair's days are done.

  1. Choose your battles. Kids need freedom to take some risks, make mistakes and explore who they are. That said, if a behavior is physically, morally or spiritually dangerous, or could have a negative impact on their future opportunities, that behavior needs clear consequences.
  2. Engage your child. Teens are more likely to "buy in" to consequences if you've discussed them ahead of time and given them some input. Be clear that you as the parent will make the ultimate decisions, but you want to hear from them and are open to their opinions.
  3. Go positive. When you can, set up positive consequences for choosing right behavior. For example, instead of saying, "You'll be grounded on Friday if your homework's not done," try saying, "You have the freedom to go out on Friday after your homework's done." Positive versus negative may seem like a small distinction, but it matters.
  4. Use what works. Remind your teen that smartphones, cars, computers, video games and time with friends all are privileges — not rights — that they earn by appropriate behavior. Then, define appropriate behavior clearly, and make sure everyone understands which behaviors earn privileges and which behaviors forfeit privileges. Repeat as necessary.
  5. Be consistent. Once consequences are set, stick with them — even when you're tempted to let them slide. Inconsistent consequences are the slot machine of discipline. They encourage kids to give it a whirl to see if you're serious. If kids know you'll follow through, they're more likely to choose their behavior wisely.
  6. Reward the good. If your teen consistently meets expectations over time and then would like to revisit rules, consider a change (as long as said change is physically, morally and spiritually safe!). For example, if your son meets curfew for a few months without exception and then wants to negotiate for a later curfew, that's worth discussion.

Even though your teen may be taller than you are and possess a driver's license, you still are his or her best teacher! Helping kids connect actions to consequences sets teens up for happy, healthy and successful adulthood. For more information about parenting teens visit


Laura Holmes Buddenberg joined Father Flanagan's Boys' Home in January 2000. As a training manager at Boys Town, Buddenberg works as an administrator, writer and trainer, specializing in teen dating and relationships, media awareness, family spirituality, abuse and other issues affecting today's families.