Appropriate Consequences for a Teen’s Bad Behavior


January 13, 2014 by middleearthnj

eyerollingWhen a teen breaks the rules or behaves poorly, parents must step in and ensure that there is a consequence. It’s important to understand that punishment is not the goal in a parent’s discipline, but rather providing a lesson. Learning from your mistakes is often life’s best method for growing and improving.

Here are some ideas for appropriate consequences when your teen misbehaves:

Ignore Mild Misbehavior

Ignoring behavior can be a very effective consequence to minor irritations, but it’s very important to carefully choose which behaviors you will ignore. Serious or unsafe behaviors should never be ignored. Mild misbehavior is something that is irritating or annoying, but does not harm humans (including one’s self), animals, or property. These types of unwanted behaviors tend to correct themselves over time, especially if you don’t overreact to them or reinforce them with a great deal of excited attention.

Allow Natural Consequences

A natural consequence is something that automatically results from a person’s action. Natural consequences show teens the reasons for your rules, and provide a correction without the parent having to do anything, which can prevent teens from developing resentment at a parent for “punishing them.” They can experience first-hand why the rules exist and what the results are when the rules are broken. Generally, natural consequences help them learn best. The key is for parents to avoid “rescuing” their teen when a natural consequence occurs. Sometimes the consequence feels too severe to a parent and they want to step in, but that ruins the lesson. Examples of natural consequences are:

  • When the teen refuses to do his homework, he faces the consequence of getting a zero or having to stay after school to get it completed. Parents don’t need to nag him to get it done because the consequence should get his attention better than nagging. Parents shouldn’t rescue their child by letting him stay up late or skip school to finish the assignment.
  • If the house rule is that mom only washes clothes that are placed in the hamper, then the teenager faces the consequence of not wearing the clothing article, washing it herself, or wearing it dirty.
  • If the house rule is that the teen receives an allowance on Friday, but the teen spends his entire allowance Friday night, then the consequence is that he will not have any money for the remainder of the week.
  • If your heavy-footed daughter gets a speeding ticket, the consequence is that she must earn the money to pay for the ticket.


Provide Logical Consequences

Sometimes natural consequences don’t work because they aren’t a strong enough deterrent or because the natural consequence is dangerous. For example, the consequence of not wearing a seat belt could potentially be death, so a natural consequence in an area of safety is not appropriate. In these situations, parents will need to develop a logical consequence to promote the desired behavior. Logical consequences should be directly related to the misbehavior and should not threaten or punish the teen. In our seatbelt example, a logical consequence for getting caught without a seatbelt is losing access to the car for a week. Another example: if your teen is having difficulty getting up in the morning for school, a logical consequence would mean an earlier time for “lights out” at night.

Assign Extra Chores

Sometimes there are not natural or logical consequences for misbehavior, but it still needs to be corrected. For example, if your son speaks disrespectfully to you, you can assign him the chore of cleaning the dinner dishes that evening in addition to his regular housework.

Opportunities for Restitution

When a teen’s actions hurt someone else or damage property, you have the perfect opportunity to allow your teen to make amends as a consequence. This is an excellent lesson in the making and also encourages empathy for others. Restitution gives your child a chance to try and repair some of the damage that may have been done. For example, if your teenage son vandalizes the neighbor’s fence, he should pay to repair the fence and do a few extra chores for the neighbor, or if your teenage daughter borrows her sister’s shirt without asking and then rips a hole in it, she should buy her sister a new shirt and make her bed for a week.

Restricting Privileges

Probably the most common form of consequences parents impose is “grounding” or restricting their privileges. There are a few guidelines for making this work:

Types of Privileges to Restrict. You must take something away from your teen that he really enjoys to make this consequence effective. It should cause your teen some discomfort to lose, but not be out of proportion to the misbehavior. For example, you shouldn’t make your child quit their favorite club or team because they missed curfew one night. Additionally, sometimes you must take away more than one item to really make an impact. For example, if you take away just the TV, your teen may end up watching TV on their computer, so there was no pain. Driving without a seatbelt might mean losing driving privileges for a week.

Explain Restriction Limits. Parents need to specifically tell their teen when or how they can earn back those privileges. Sometimes it makes sense to take something away for a set amount of time, while other times it’s more appropriate to have your teen “earn” back the privileges. Parents should not be vague – like “You can have your privileges back when you start behaving” – which will lead to frustration and resentment. Let’s look at the two types of restrictions:

  • Time Limited Privileges. This is when you take something away for a set amount of time. You tell them they cannot do something specific for 24 hours or a few days for a more serious or repeated offense. Never take something away for weeks or a month because it loses its effectiveness.
  • Earning Back Privileges. This is when a parent establishes a clear guideline of how their teen can regain their privileges. It’s important that your teen understand exactly what they must do to get his privileges back. A good example of this type of restriction is if your teen is late for his curfew, set his new curfew one hour earlier. Tell him he needs to behave responsibly for two weeks by being home on time and getting all of his chores done on time before he can earn back his later curfew. Then, leave it up to your teen to take responsibility for earning privileges back.

Following through with Restrictions. Restrictions only work if parents don’t give in or give up just because their teen whines or promises to behave. You must see the consequence through in order to see behavior change. If you don’t think you can actually follow through on taking his phone away for an entire day, don’t threaten to do so. You lose all your power. Only take away those things you are willing to live without and then follow it through. By choosing good restrictions and following through on those consequences, parents will see the behavior change they want.


6 thoughts on “Appropriate Consequences for a Teen’s Bad Behavior

  1. bundster says:

    Help please,

    My 14 year old recently decided it would be a really good idea to take some alcohol from his father (he took a little bit out of a few bottles, a mix of bourbon, whiskey and rum probably around the 300-400 ml mark. He then drank it during interval at school the next day, got horribly drunk, vomited over a teacher, a office worker, himself, had an ambulance called etc. He was stood down from school for a couple of days, but as a parent the level of the consequences are quite hard to set. He doesn’t fully understand the serious nature of his actions, and thinks we as parents have been too harsh. He has had his phone and skateboard taken off him, and he is currently grounded until the end of the year – this is negotiable, if he can show some effort and take some form of responsibility for what he did the grounding will be lessened. I’ve had many opinions from other parents, the school and him and his friends, some think it is too much, others think not enough.

    • I’m so sorry that you are in this difficult situation! It’s so hard to know what to do when our children make big mistakes, and everyone around us will always have very different opinions on how to handle it. Ultimately, you need to go with your instinct and what you think will work best for your family. We also recommend that you read our previous blog about how we can help our teens regain our trust after a big mistake:

      We also always encourage families in these situations to seek out family counseling. Sometimes an outside observer can offer ideas that we never think of ourselves! We wish you the very best of luck!

  2. cathy says:

    I have a 17 year old son who lives with his father full time,,i have noticed lately that his stories are untrue and he has broken many promises, ,,won’t visit me when we plan it so,,i called his friend to see if he was ok ,,has i had not heard from him in 2 weeks,they told me he was acting like a jerk and was chasing a new girlfriend and picking the best plans over others,,how to i get thru to him as i don;t have much to take from him as a consequence ,,except the cell phone and that is the only way i stay in contact with him,,any advise ??

  3. Stephanie Welch says:

    My tween aged daughter in an angry outburst broke the neighbor kids bike by stomping on it abd actually breaking the hand break mechanism. Her Dad and I had to pay 100.00 for a new bike. How can I apply a cinsequence that will work since she is not working age to earn money. For this a common problem for me when applying consequences thst will work.

    • This is an excellent question! By the time children are tweens, they should be earning money in some way so that they can begin learning how to manage money – budgeting, saving up for items, etc. Although this age is not eligible to get a job at a business, they can do odd jobs for friends and neighbors, such as babysitting, mowing the lawn, pet sitting, or helping an elderly person with household chores. Another way that tweens may obtain money is through a weekly allowance. The idea is to instill responsibility, so allowances should be discussed in reference to growing up. As you grow up, you get greater privileges and responsibilities – so you can increase both their chores (contribution to the household) as the increased responsibility and provide an allowance as an increased privilege. When tweens have ways of earning money, parents are then able to provide a natural consequence of paying for something they break. In your case, since your daughter does not currently have money, it would be best to develop a payment plan for her to pay you back. She can do that either by picking up odd jobs and paying you the money or by working around the house and doing extra chores to pay you back with her time and labor.

  4. Gale Z. Rios says:

    The highly effective method of disciplining teenagers is known as the three R’s of logical consequences for teens and although very simple, it does work very well. The three R’s are related, respectful and reasonable. Basically the punishment for teens must fit the crime.

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