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Setting consequences for teens



How to get your teen to follow rules

How to get your teen to follow rules


Consequences are logical results of misbehavior and rule-breaking, clearly stated so your teen understands what you expect and what will happen if the rules are violated. For important guidelines that apply to all ages, see our article on setting consequences for children. Here are suggestions from social worker James Lehman for applying this approach to teens.

Task-oriented consequences: Ideally there will be a clear relationship between the offense and the result. It can be useful to require a task in order to justify removing the consequence. For example, if a teen has broken curfew, require her to come home an hour earlier than curfew the next time she goes out. By proving she has the self-discipline to obey your rules, she reassures you it's reasonable to return to the original curfew.

Time-related consequences: Sometimes it's appropriate to set a time limit on the requirement. If you want your teen to clean up his language, tell him he has to go three days without swearing to get his phone back. More than three days might be impossible for him to maintain and for you to remember. Less than three days isn't enough of a challenge to teach him something. Revoking privileges for a vague period or a long amount of time causes both anxiety and resentment.

Avoid canceling special events. Setting a consequence by refusing participation in a holiday or a once-in-a-lifetime event is likely to cause anger that you and your teen will not be able to live down. It's far more effective to withdraw privileges for a short time if you want to get compliance with your rules.

Use rewards as well. Consequences are even more successful if they are coupled with rewards. The teen who shows she's responsible enough to consistently stick to curfew could be rewarded with an even later curfew down the line.

Be matter-of-fact. When setting out consequences, speak calmly and clearly. If your teen tries to argue, restate your position firmly. If she insists, it's fine to walk away. If, in the heat of the moment, you end up shouting, disconnect as soon as possible. Later you can go back and apologize.



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