Consequences should fit you and your child. It’s true that some consequences just aren’t options anymore when your child becomes a teenager. Still, it’s important that teens know that you care enough to set limits and, on occasion, give consequences for bad behavior.

You still have a lot of control over your child’s environment, so use that. Loss of a TV, music, video game system or special outfits are usually do-able consequences for parents.

If your child is social and always on the go, grounding might be an effective consequence. However, make sure you can follow through on this one. Having a complaining teen stuck at home can become more of a punishment for the parent! Extra chores, written apologies, even fines are penalties you can impose. Try as much as possible to “make the punishment fit the crime”. If the rule that was broken was being out too late with friends, a logical consequence is losing time with friends for a while; scrubbing the garage is not.

Remember that natural consequences, like getting cut from a sports team for bad grades, are really powerful tools. Some natural consequences are too high a price to pay, like getting HIV from unprotected sex. Parents need to step in as much as possible to protect their teen from that kind of consequence. Many natural consequences in a teens life, though, are not as drastic and are good chances for your teen to learn about their behavior on their own.

Make sure you stick to a consequence even if your teen complains. In fact, this reaction tells you that you picked something meaningful! If you see your teen make an effort to take responsibility, make a situation right or change her attitude, it’s OK to compromise or to end a consequence early. Whining, sulking or excessive arguing should never make you change the decision you’ve made.

Anthony Wolf, PhD, points out that the most effective tool parents have is their approval. Let your child know his behavior isn’t up to your expectations. Even though this may seem weak, remember that, for most of us, wanting to please our parents is strong and goes all the way back to babyhood. You are a very important person in your teen’s life, and your approval is important to him, even though he may never admit it. Your teen may complain, ignore you or mutter under his breath, but your disapproval will register and eventually cause so much annoyance (discomfort, guilt) that the behavior will change.

Some problems go beyond a parent’s ability to handle. Look for patterns of behavior in your teen, not just one bad decision. If your teen completely ignores all rules, regularly skips school, is physically intimidating or violent with you, seems sad or depressed for more than a few weeks, talks about suicide, diets excessively, uses drugs or alcohol or gets involved with crime, get help right away. We’ve included some local numbers where you can find help quickly.

Focus on the behavior, not on your teen. Remember, teens need to know their parents will always love them, even if they don’t always love their behavior!

Places to Get Help

Huckleberry House
1421 Hamlet St.
Columbus, Ohio 43201
(614) 294-5553

Franklin County Children’s Services
525 E. Mound St.
Columbus, Ohio 43215
(614) 229-7100

Nationwide Children’s Hospital
700 Children’s Drive
Columbus Ohio
(614) 722-2000