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“Why Don't Consequences Work for My Teen?” Here’s Why…and How to Fix It

by Megan Devine, LCPC
“Why Don't Consequences Work for My Teen?” Here’s Why…and How to Fix It

If you’re having trouble giving effective consequences to your teen, know that you are not alone. Many parents tell me that nothing seems to work, and that coming up with the right thing for their child can seem like an impossible task. If you’re the parent of an adolescent, you may have grounded your child, taken away their video games, or suspended their driving privileges for months on end. But as James Lehman says, you can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior—it just doesn’t work that way.

“As James Lehman says, you can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior—it just doesn’t work that way.”

Rather, an effective consequence should encourage your child to change their behavior – whether that is abiding by the house rules, or treating people respectfully. So first, you need to identify the behavior you want to see changed. For example, if your child swears when they don’t get their way, you want them to behave more appropriately. Instead of grounding or punishing, or even reasoning with your child when he gets angry and lashes out, an effective consequence here would require your child to practice better behavior – and improve their self-control – for a period of time before their normal privileges are restored.

Let’s break this down according to the Total Transformation Program:

  • Effective consequences are ones that are connected to the original behavior, and are both task- and time-specific.

  • “Connected to the original behavior” means that your consequence needs to be related to the behavior you want to see your child change or improve.

  • “Task specific” means that there is something your child needs to accomplish, or practice related to the original problem. This is a concrete behavior, like washing the dishes, meeting curfew, or not swearing.

  • “Time specific” means there is a specific amount of time in which he needs to demonstrate that behavior.

So, when your child swears, he might lose access to his electronics until he can go without swearing for two hours. The consequence is tied to the behavior – he swore so he has to practice not swearing. This consequence is task specific – it requires him to exercise the part of his brain that governs self-control. If he wants his stuff back, he has to practice better behavior. And it’s time specific – he needs to demonstrate self control for two hours, then he is free to have his privileges.

It’s important to understand that you can’t get your child to not feel angry, or not get frustrated. That’s just part of being human. But you can require that they change the way they deal with those feelings. You can expect them to practice some self-control. Your goal is to require that your child practice the better behavior for a certain amount of time before they get their privileges back. So practice—and behavioral improvement— equals the restoration of privileges.

If they yell about their consequence, or how unfair it is, you might say, “I understand that you’re angry. Yelling is not going to get you what you want. Once you’ve been able to deal with your anger appropriately for two hours, you will get your electronics back.” Do not continue to explain your consequences, or justify your decisions. He may mumble to himself, or text his friends about how awful his parents are, and it may take some time, but eventually your child will decide to practice those skills that earn back his electronics.

Choosing a Consequence
Think of it this way: a privilege is a motivator. The withdrawal, or granting, of a privilege should give your child incentive to follow the rules of your house, even when they don’t agree with those rules. An effective consequence is a privilege your child is interested in. For some kids, video games are a powerful motivator, while other kids could care less about them. Taking away a cell phone for two hours works for some kids; others would just find another way to communicate. In order to choose the right privilege to use as a consequence, you have to know your child. What are their interests? What would really impact them if they lost it for a short period of time? Some parents tell us that using the blanket term “All electronics” works better than just saying “No video games,” which can make kids turn to the computer or the television as a distraction.

Remember, the right privilege should be an activity that your child will actually miss. Withhold that privilege until your child completes the task you’ve set for them. James Lehman suggests that you sit down with your child and come up with a list of privileges and consequences together. The advantage here is that you are working as a team to solve the problem. It can help you identify things or activities your child truly values. It also clarifies what the consequences will be for certain infractions—for everyone involved. Not only will your child know what will happen if he breaks a certain rule, but the parents don't have to spend time coming up with something in the heat of the moment.

If Your Child Doesn’t Seem to Care What You Use as a Consequence…
Many parents call the Parental Support Line saying that their kid doesn’t seem to care what they take away. Recently, one dad said to me in exasperation, “Even though my daughter lives to text, she acts like she could care less when her texting rights are taken away. Nothing works with her!” Some kids appear not to care what activity you restrict; they pretend they didn’t want to do it anyway.

But look at it this way: would your child really want you to know that they care about the consequence you’re giving them? Would they reveal their reaction to you and let you know you got to them? That would make it seem like you have power over them, and they aren’t about to concede on that one! So some kids, like the teenage girl above, feign indifference when you remove a privilege. If you’ve watched your child and know that what you’re taking away really does impact them, don’t worry about whether or not they seem suitably upset at the loss of it.

What if the Consequences Still Aren’t Working?
So what if you know you’ve chosen a valuable privilege, and your consequences still aren’t working? The key here is to take a look at the length of time privileges are removed. Is it too long? Does your child lose interest in what you’ve taken away (the “out of sight, out of mind” dilemma)? Is the time frame so long that your child can’t possibly be successful (no swearing for a whole month)?

Remember, your goal is to create better behavior in your child, and the consequence/privilege needs to encourage that improvement by being time-specific. If you truly want your child to improve their behavior, you need to create an environment in which your child can succeed. The time span of your consequence is important – it should be long enough that your child has to stretch their skills, and short enough that you have a good chance of seeing improvement. To be effective, a consequence needs to be short-term, task specific, and involve a privilege your child values. Your goal here is to produce a child who can respond to limits, meet responsibilities, and demonstrate age-appropriate behavior. Your consequences and privileges help get them there.

One last word of advice: Parents often want to see their child’s behavior improve overnight. If you are faced with a child who behaves inappropriately under stress, your consequences should require him to practice and get better. Don’t expect perfection immediately. Like any new skill, better behavior takes practice. When implementing a new consequence, you can expect some failure. You can expect that you may need to restart a couple of times. In the beginning, you may find that your child behaves inappropriately every day, and has their privileges removed often. That doesn’t mean you’ve chosen the wrong consequence. It simply means your child needs time to practice better skills. And they need you to keep them practicing.

 

If you are a Total Transformation customer, you can access the Parental Support Line for help with these and other challenges you’re experiencing with your child. Support Line specialists have helped hundreds of parents develop effective consequences and privileges, and we can help you, too.


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Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, a former Parental Support Line Advisor, a speaker, and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at www.refugeingrief.com, where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.

READER'S COMMENTS

The article is great and makes alot of sense. We have a 16yo daughter who is for the most part a good kid. The other night she and a friend lied and said they were sleeping at eachothers house. They ended up sleeping over at a boys house instead. She immediately regretted the decision but panicked and went ahead with the plan as they had already lied and didnt know what to do. The next day she confessed and told us everything. We are struggling to come up with a consequence to fit the offense. She has lied on occasion in the past but nothing this large. What is appropriate? We are unsure as we dont want to go to light or to heavy...Any thoughts?

Comment By : shellw

Shellw: I have an 19year old who did exactly the same thing at 15. Once they commit themselves to something, regardless of how panic stricken they are once 'in it' they rarely back out for fear of looking silly in front of their friends. In her case though the circumstances meant she was in over her head she did not initially improve her behaviour and rebelled. The potential consequences mean nothing to them. The confession is a good sign. I would say to her that if in future she wishes to stay at a friends house, that you will require confirmation via a face to face conversation with a parent that the arrangement is definite and that you will require this for a fixed period, say two weeks, until you are comfortable that you won't be lied to again. If she gives you a ''no way, I'm not a baby'' or whatever, then you say 'that's fine, either it won't happen at all, or your friend will have to come stay here so I know where you are' Its a trust/safety issue and she needs to earn that back, by deferring to you even once you can let her know that her behaviour is much more of a grown up nature and therefore you may give her the benefit of the doubt once your trust is reinstated. This worked for me. Although it took a couple of months and a lot of silent treatment! Good luck.

Comment By : Shelley1964

Be proud of the fact that she had enough conscience to tell you the truth. That was hard enough on it's own. A weekend doing chores at home with you or a few days without contact with that particular friend would be top of my list. I would definately talk to the other girl's parents and make sure that they know what happened. I might even take her along to tell what happened. For a while I would let her know that I would be calling to VERIFY all her plans with the parents that would be in charge when she was away from home. Trust takes time to earn back. Good Luck and believe that it will be better.

Comment By : anothermother

I'm getting better at this but my kid somehow stays a step ahead. When I take away a privilage that matters,he sneaks it back. I've had to remove all electronics to grandmas house and stlll he got in and "used". this hurts the other deserving kids in our family. When I'm creative enough to prevent the sneakiness, he goes figuratively "limp" stops caring, or doing anything productive.

Comment By : depleted mom

My daughter did this also at 16. For a while, I always called the parents and she knew I would do it too. So it took time to earn my trust again. She learned her lesson. My daughter and her friend decided, when I went out of town over night, to take my car when they had their permit, without my knowledge or consent. Then later that evening her friend and her took her friend's mom's van. She got caught because my father in law stopped at the house and he called me because my car was gone. Her friend got her driver's license two weeks later w/no consequences and her parents bought her a car. My daughter had to wait an extra 6 months after her birthday before I would let her get her licence, so it was 9 mths. total before she had her license. I told her she could have hurt or killed someone, she not only put her life but everyone elses life in danger. She is 18 now and still talks about how her friend never got punished. They are no longer friends. My daughter's choice.

Comment By : tra

I appreciate these newsletters. I've not been successful with all of the suggested methods, but I believe you are correct in most of them and I need to try more consistancy in enforcing these traits. This is a very helpful company and I wish I could afford your program for my grandchildren. However, I cannot therefore I'm grateful for the newsletters. Thank God you send them.

Comment By : Rebecca

Awesome! I have learned the art of timing consequences over the years. It's just like when they were younger, swift and concise. Let them know you mean business but be fair. EVEN WHEN YOU ARE ENFURIATED! Hard to do, but it works. Don't be tempted to overpunish out of anger. It's tough, I still tend to go for the huge punishment, but these articles are great. They are informative and at the very least a reminder of what we already know will work, but tend to forget when we're caught up in the momentum.

Comment By : kris

We take our daughters (age 14)electronics away from her as a consequence for yelling at us or being totally disrespectable. But the way we have to get them is take them from her when she is away or asleep. She will stand toe to toe with us telling us we can not have them and her comment of "She did not do anything wrong" about everything. Any suggestions on how to better handle that?

Comment By : Dana

what do you do when your 17 year old is having her 22 year old boyfriend come in when we are all asleep to spend the night, going to school late, and just last night arested for shoplefting. When we tell her she cant go out she does anyway.

Comment By : wolfe

We take away our daughter's cell phone too when she is disrespectful and now she hands it over without a fight because her Dad told her that if she didn't, he would cut off the service anyway and then it would be gone for a very long time. She didn't believe him, so he did it and now that problem doesn't come up anymore.

Comment By : cathy

* Dear Dana: Try to build in a choice instead of getting into a tug of war with her. Kids frequently dig in when they’re really mad. Tell her that she loses phone privileges for 2 hours for speaking to you disrespectfully, that you expect her to put the phone on the kitchen counter. If the phone is not on the counter within the next half hour there will be additional consequences, “So let’s not go there.” Then turn around and leave. Let her choose to comply or not to comply. You need to keep your consequences relatively short so that this method works. Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I need help with my 14 year old son. We get notes frequently from school from the teachers or emails regarding rude behavior. The most he gets is a call to home or detention. The even harder part is that they say its been a while but now call us to do something. Anyway, we give concequences but it still continues. We take away the cell phone, outside, computer ect its fine for some time then it happens again. What else can I do? I am sick to death of this and it fuels my frustration more when I have to talk with the someone from the school. This cycle has to stop. HELP!

Comment By : florida mom

Our 14 year old daughter has taken up a friendship (she says) with a 21 year old man she met at a friend's house. This guy dresses like he's 14 and acts like he is, so our daughter doesn't seem to be getting the fact that he's an adult. She sneaked down to his friend's house a month ago and they were all out walking at 3am and the police saw them. We had to go pick her up (she had told us she was somewhere else). We grounded her- no phone, computer for schooolwork only, and no friends on weekends for a month. She was very pleasant during that month. As soon as it was over, yesterday she said she was walking the dog and I went to look for her and this man and two friends were in the park with her, being cozy on a picnic bench. She came home and I took away her phone and computer again. I called the police and they say they can't do anything because there's no crime in having a friend who's 21. What do we do?

Comment By : Another Florida mom

* To Another Florida Mom: Start with your house rules: Be very clear what your dating/socializing rules are. For example, you are not allowed to date at 14 years old and you must socialize with teens your own age or within 1 year of your age. It’s not appropriate for you to have a private friendship with someone who is 7 years older than yourself. Assist her socialization: Host parties at your house, volunteer to take her and her friends to the movies and attend with them. If her only friends are boys, challenge her to encourage friendships with girls by hosting pizza party sleepovers. Dad time: Encourage her father to have special one-on-one time with her, like a weekend breakfast together. If Dad’s not available, then Granddad or an Uncle. This male adult should be someone who treats her with love and respect —- the way you want her to expect to be treated in relationships with males. Consequences that fit the crime: If she’s outside of the house and meeting someone she should not be, simply taking her computer away but still allowing her to go out is not the best plan. She has to gradually earn the privilege of going out —- even to walk the dog by herself -— as she slowly rebuilds trust with you. She can walk the dog, but not alone for awhile. Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I personally was a kid who did the whole I am spending the night at a friend's house and actually spent the night in a motel with my friend and her boyfriend and a couple of his friends. Now that I look back at why I did it, I really felt ignored by my parents. I was acting out as a way of saying, hey, I'm here and need attention too. My father was an alcoholic and only acknowledged me when he was drunk for the most part. He didn't approve of my B's or B+ in school, so I overworked myself to get straight A's. Since that didn't get his attention unless he was drunk, I guess I just went to drastic measures. Thankfully nothing happened to me that night, but I have regretted it the rest of my life. Perhaps proper father/daughter time and attention would have helped then and building of our relationship.

Comment By : carousel66

The quality Dad time advise is good and I would not have thought of that. I was VERY fortunate to have a very loving and affectionate father. I see many confused and dysfunctional young women seeking attention, any attention from any male they come across. They are viewed as needy and easy to take advantage of because of their neediness (is that a word?). Both parents play such a role in the emotional developement of children... boy, we can mess them up, too.

Comment By : maximac222

I am just starting out. I have a 16 year old with a fowl mouth and a BAD attitude. I love what I have read and really think this could help.

Comment By : worndownmom

I truly am thankful for this site. I have had a wonderful daughter I have raised alone since she was 5 ... Ex Husband became deadbeat Dad at that point. She has been such a sweet kind good kid her whole life, I am LOST why now at 15 I am beginning to have problems. I HATE the fact that everyone always said she was going to have MEN issues because her Dad wasnt there, even when she was wonderful all her life, NOW with her acting out everyone is like See I told you, and SHE is feeding into it which is not like her. I feel like the daughter I had for 14 yrs has died and been replaced by someone I dont know, its very difficult for me right now and I thank you all for this site.

Comment By : tryingtobpositivemom

my 9 yr old son often will refuse to go to bed. When we attempt to put a consequence in place he still refuses to listen. If we ignore the atttention-getting behaviours such as repeated taping the couch or the wall, and we don't react, he will try another tactic such as pushing the clean laundry on the floor. Anything to get a reaction! Sometimes to the point when we get angry and yelling begins. When that happens everything falls apart as you can imagine. Any ideas?

Comment By : gands

I was a single dad with 3 girls living with me for the past 4 years. I now have 2, as the oldest, 14 no longer wanted to follow any rules of the house. She continually fought and threatened her sisters. She had always insisted on living with her mother who is 2 hours away. She has been there since April. Now things ar emuch better in the house for all of us. I know it sounds bad but it is happier and more peaceful without her around. I have seen her a couple of times when she comes back to stay. A couple of times back she was so defiant that she did not want to ofollow any guidelines. I told her to call her mother and have her come get her. I really do not know what to do. It hurts that she is not here with her sisters, but it really is much more peaceful around the house. Even her mother says she is too much when the other girls come to stay.

Comment By : bk

My husband and I both work long hours and have had a hard time sticking with consequences (sometimes giving in or even forgetting about them). My daughter has really taken advantage of this. Now that she is 15, she often disobeys the rules that my husband and I establish. She feels that she is totally in control of every situation. I like the advice given in this article. Hopefully it's not too late for us to start something that should have been in place a long time ago.

Comment By : better late than never

My husband and I have custody of my 14 year old brother. We have had him since he was 11 and in the 7th grade. He is now a freshman in High School. When he came to live with us, he had very bed anger problems. He ran away twice, and balked at all of our rules. He had lived with my mother and no rules before us. We got through all of that, and he was a good kid for a couple of years. Now that High School and hormones have kicked in, he has lost his mind! His grades fell the first quarter, and we got those back up, but he has started not turning in his homework. He does it, because part of the rules are that we now have to check his homework. Also, he seems to have no boundaries as to what is appropriate behavior when with his "girlfriend." They are not allowed to be alone together. We have set clear guidelines and rules about his behavior, but he ignores them. We have caught him stealing, lying, and smoking. we are at our wits end. We have tried to take things away, but it doesn't faze him. There is nothing left to take away. He is supposed to visit his mom in a week, but that is the only thing left to take away......We need help.

Comment By : denmother.

* Dear denmother: Thanks for writing. As the article describes, taking things away does not typically lead to changes in behavior. Once kids have lost everything, they often just give up trying to follow the rules. In order to see real improvement, your brother needs to have something he works for every day. You might consider adding a step to his homework in order to see that it is turned in - perhaps having his teachers initial a homework log each day, stating that it has been turned in. Make that part of your expectations, linking it to a privilege he earns each day when he shows you the completed form. You may need to actually walk through the steps with him: have homework and log in backpack; have note on notebook to turn in homework and have teacher initial log; actually walk up to teacher and hand in assignments and have teacher initial log; put log back in backpack. It may seem ridiculous (and it is, in a way), but breaking things down can help increase compliance. Keep in mind, you can only go so far. As James says, your brother is ultimately responsible - if he fails, that is a natural consequence of not doing the work.(you might also read End the Nightly Homework Struggle) As far as behavior with his girlfriend, you might consider stating your house rules - for example: you are not allowed to be with your girlfriend unsupervised in this house. If you break that rule, your girlfriend will immediately leave the house for at least 24 hours, and she will not be allowed back until you tell us how you are going to comply with that rule the next time. Don't argue about whether the rule is fair or not. You have the right to create ground rules in your home. Remember to do that extra "problem solving" step with your brother - what will he do to help himself comply with the rules, even when he thinks they aren't fair, and especially when he is tempted to break those rules. Good luck, and let us know how it's going.

Comment By : Megan Devine, Parental Support Line Advisor

My 14 yo has been suspended from school for tobacco use AGAIN! I'm over it! He just came off of a 30 day restriction 2 weeks ago for tobacco use. He seemed to really have his head on straight for the past two weeks and then comes today. He SWEARS he didn't do it despite a teacher, principal, and friend of his who says he did. He has many privileges but this 24 hr/1 week of good behavior seems far to lienient for repeat offenses. I am being attacked by my own Mother for not allowing him to go "anywhere" for 30 days. She says that I am "punishing her"....how childish and shallow. Is 30 days unrealistic? This is serious stuff and they aren't going to tolerate this in school another time this year. Furthermore, his Grandfather had cancer at a young age from this very thing. HELP! I'm having a blood pressure surge.

Comment By : 1st of 5 teens...OMG!

* Dear ‘1st of 5 teens...OMG!’: James Lehman reminds us that consequences do not change behaviors unless they have a learning experience attached to them. Just serving 30 days restriction without doing something to address the problem behavior won’t help him learn the skills he needs to change. He appears to be addicted to tobacco. Have his learning experience focused on this behavior problem. You might require him to work with a substance abuse counselor before he can get his privileges back. Check with the high school guidance counselor for a referral. And call us here on the Support Line for encouragement and more ideas on how to use the techniques in the Total Transformation program. We wish your family success with this problem.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

What we need help with is: we have an almost 12yo boy, who doesn't seem like he isn't affected by consequences, he ISN'T affected by anything! For years, we have tried to take away most everything for varying lengths of time, with clear steps to regain privileges. His most valued possessions mean nothing as long as he doesn't have to follow our rules. This makes it beyond us to come up with any tools to use in shaping his behavior.

Comment By : Jared

My daughter is constantly late for her classes because she's chatting with friends or touching up her make-up in the bathroom. We've punished her at home by taking the cell phone away, no friends, etc. and the school gives her detention as well. She doesn't seem to care that she'll be punished and the behaviour continues - what can we do to make her care about this?

Comment By : Frustrated Mom

* Dear ‘Frustrated Mom’: It does seem that if we could only get our kids to ‘care’, then that would solve their behavior problems. However, a better skill to learn is to “Follow the rules, even when you don’t feel like it.” Here the goal is not to change the ‘feeling’ but to change the ‘behavior’. James Lehman, author of the Total Transformation Program says, “You can’t ‘feel’ your way to better behavior, but you can behave your way to better feelings.” You might even consider letting her experience just the consequences she receives at school for breaking school rules, unless the detentions also inconvenience you. If you have lost time out of your day to pick her up, for example, have her help you do a chore you would normally do yourself but no longer have the time to do. Having a problem solving conversation with her to talk about what she can do differently in order to make it to class in time is also helpful. But punishments alone will not change behaviors. She will need to know how to solve the problem of being late to class. Call us here on the Support Line. We’d be glad to give you more ideas on using the techniques in the Total Transformation Program.

Comment By : Carole Banks, MSW, Parental Support Line Advisor

* Dear Jared: Consequences alone do not change behaviors. We recommend that you help your child to learn better behaviors by also teaching them problem solving skills. And there is a difference between disciplining our kids and punishing them. Remember, James Lehman says, “You can’t punish kids into acceptable behavior—it just doesn’t work that way.” Discipline helps kids to learn from their mistakes. Punishment causes them to suffer for them. Punishments shift the focus from the lesson that needs to be learned to who is more powerful. A parent who uses punishment to control a child sometime contributes to that child becoming very oppositional and defiant. The parent is trying to control the child's behavior—rather than the child learning to control their self. Learning self-control is the goal of discipline. Kids need opportunities to make the right choices. This is one of the reasons that long-term grounding or taking away something for good is not an effective consequence because there is no opportunity to “practice doing it the right way.” If consequences are severe—in place for a long time, (such as until the child improves their grades, loss of a special event, such as prom or birthday party), or if they involve taking away the one thing the child loves the most, the result will be resentment in your child—not remorse. That resentment can turn into “not caring” as the child protects their self against this strong, negative feeling. Use consequences that are logically related to the behavior, last only long enough to teach the lesson you want your child to learn and are presented respectfully during a problem solving conversation. For more ideas on applying the techniques from the Total Transformation Program, refer to this article by James Lehman: How to Give Kids Consequences That Work

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

I am at a total loss now and feel like nothing will work! I have a very bright 17 year old daughter who at this point in time is failing out of high school, really due to being lazy and not caring at all. At this point in time she has no cell phone, no IPod, can not go out with friends and next on the list is not allowing her to go to prom or removing her from her softball team. We laid very clear requirements at the beginning of the semester, no missing assignemnts or classes, to which all have not even been close to being met. When confronted she gets very angry and upset and states she is trying, or flips the switch that I am mean. It is time for a total transformation before it is too late!

Comment By : bbomber

* Dear ‘Bbomber’: It sounds like your daughter’s lack of motivation has been very challenging for you. James Lehman always said that consequences by themselves are not enough to change behavior—they only provide accountability. Rather, behavior change comes from teaching children new skills-- what can your daughter do differently to improve her grades? Talk about this with her and then hold her accountable for sticking to that plan. James recommends setting up a daily study time during which your daughter must do something academic. Once she has completed this period of study time, she would be allowed to have free time, use her phone, and so on for the evening. If she doesn’t do the work, she doesn’t get her electronics for that day but can try again the next day. This puts her in control of when she gets her privileges, and also assures that she’s held responsible if she doesn’t meet her responsibilities for the day. It’s really frustrating, though, and there is no way to make your daughter do her work—you can only control how you react and how you will hold her accountable. The tough part about taking away things like prom is that once prom is over, she can’t earn it back. Here is an article that talks more about that: Kids Who Ignore Consequences: 10 Ways to Make Them Stick. I think it will be very helpful for your situation.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Please HELP me! My son was diagnosed with ADHD several years ago. His behavior landed him in a special classroom in 5th grade, which he graduated out of. 6th grade was pretty good, but this year, 7th grade, he has been suspended, received numerous referrals, and literally refuses to do as he is told. I have been using the same system that professionals have been telling me to use: taking away privileges. The problem is this: there is nothing left to take away now because he refuses to complete his homework. He treats me terribly, as well as our other children. I don't know what to do anymore! I am looking into therapeutic residential or wilderness programs because I am afraid that he is going to end up in jail. He even goes through my room and my stuff, including my underwear drawer when we aren't home so he can find things we have taken away. I am so stressed out and I feel like my gasket is just about to blow!!!! To make matters worse, most of the behavior problems at school aren't even reported to me...I find out about them from my other kids and from him!

Comment By : Frustrated in Oregon Mom

* To ‘Frustrated in Oregon Mom’: I can definitely feel your frustration. It is easy to worry about your child’s future when you are faced with so many challenges but I encourage you to try to focus on the present and what you can do today to help him. Your son might need you to focus on one specific goal with him at home, whether it’s doing homework, getting chores done, or something else. We do recommend taking away privileges to motivate him, but only until the tasks he needs to do are complete. Once he does his homework, for example, he can use his electronics for the rest of the day. It’s okay to hit the reset button and start over. This is always wise when you realize that what you are doing isn’t working. And since you are so stressed out, it might not be a bad idea to look into some support in your local area and within the school system. We would recommend setting up a meeting with the school to see how you can get on the same page and how they can support you and your son in a more satisfactory way as you work through this. We wish you luck. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

My 15 year old daughter came home with a necklace last night that she could not produce a receipt for, eventually she admitted she stole it. The necklace is probably not worth more than $10.00 but I know that the value has little to do with the action. I have had suspicions in the past that she was stealing but now they have been confirmed. Do I make he take the item back to the store and rick her being arrested? I do plan on having her write an essay about what she was feeling prior to, during the act, after she stole and when she got caught.

Comment By : BlueBrained

* To ‘BlueBrained’: Discovering that your child has stolen something is very disappointing and frustrating. Whether you take her back to the store to return the item or not is completely up to you, though many people do this. After all, it is a natural consequence. You will have to wrestle with the question or whether or not you want to protect her from these consequences and what the possible costs and benefits are of each alternative. I really like the essay idea and I want to expand on it. Before you have her write the essay, have a conversation with her based on three specific points: 1) what were you thinking before you took this? 2) who stealing hurts (be careful not to lecture), and 3) what will you do differently next time? We suggest that her privileges are restricted until you have the conversation, she writes an essay based on these points, and returns the item to the store if that is what you decide to do. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

* To ‘BlueBrained’: Discovering that your child has stolen something is very disappointing and frustrating. Whether you take her back to the store to return the item or not is completely up to you, though many people do this. After all, it is a natural consequence. You will have to wrestle with the question or whether or not you want to protect her from these consequences and what the possible costs and benefits are of each alternative. I really like the essay idea and I want to expand on it. Before you have her write the essay, have a conversation with her based on three specific points: 1) what were you thinking before you took this? 2) who stealing hurts (be careful not to lecture), and 3) what will you do differently next time? We suggest that her privileges are restricted until you have the conversation, she writes an essay based on these points, and returns the item to the store if that is what you decide to do. We wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean. M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Great post. I have two 14 year old boys (and a 5yr old boy) at home - I know about resistance and consequences. It took many trial runs before I got it just right for my family, my boys already know what the consequences are for certain actions therefore are not surprised when they are given. Both older boys have a terrible habit of not bringing homework home (what homework??) so they must have their school agenda signed by their teacher after every class EACH DAY to make sure they've noted their work. Consequences? 1 missed signature is going to bed 20min early. 2 missed signatures is going to bed 40min early and no internet. 3 missed signatures is 1hr early to bed and no internet & video games. 4 missed sinagtures is 1hr early to bed and no internet/video games/tv. The most they've ever missed is 2 sigantures (rare). No sigs required for art/gym. They have a chance to redeem themselves the following day and earn back their stuff. I used to punish for days/weeks on end to no avail, they stop trying to be good cause they figure "what's the point"!. This way they have a fresh start every day and it keeps them motivated. They HATE going to bed early so this is a direct and immediate consequence for their actions - no discussion needed and its working for us.

Comment By : Cybertina

My 16 yr old was just punished for having friends over when he was home "sick". He had a weekend at home with no cell phone (which for him is like death). He had some homework to complete on my computer, and after he was finished, he never signed out of his facebook account, so I check his messages. I found out that he was sneaking out over the weekend and I am at a loss as to what I should do. It was an invasion of privacy, but he is only 16 yrs. old. Also I found that he has been taking "pills" too. I can't take much more of this. Any ideas on the "perfect consequence"?

Comment By : Mom of a Teen

* To 'Mom of a Teen': Privacy can be a tricky thing to balance, especially when you have a teen who has been less than truthful with you in the past. We advise that when your child is engaging in risky or illegal activities, such as using drugs or sneaking out of the house, privacy goes out the window. Your child’s safety is the most important priority. We advise approaching him about this directly, and letting him know what you found when you looked on Facebook. If he starts to get angry with you, then we recommend letting him cool down before continuing the conversation. It is appropriate to let him know that, because of what you found on Facebook, you will be monitoring him more closely online, as well as checking his room for pills and other substances. You may also choose to work with someone in your local area around his use of pills. If you and your family are not currently working with anyone to get support in your local community, a good place to start is www.211.org. 211 is an informational service that can help to connect you with resources in your area. You can also reach them by calling 1 (800) 273-6222. I am including a few articles I think you might find helpful: Teens and Privacy: Should I Spy on My Child? Plus: The 4 Tactics Kids Use When They Get Caught & My Child Is Using Drugs or Drinking Alcohol—What Should I Do? Good luck to you and your son as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I am dealing with a sixteen almost 17 yr old daughter. I have a rule no cellphones to school. The reason is many have been stolen from other students along with other electronics. I put her phone up but she seems to get it and bring it to school. I work before she heads out the door. So its easy access. I have grounded her from it for a week, and that doesnt faze her at all. Now she took it again, I threatened to take it away but she threatens back of running away from home. She calls my mom and she takes her to her house, unabling me to solve the issue here. I need some help and advice in what I can do.

Comment By : HollandMom73

* To ‘HollandMom73’: It’s so frustrating when you have a child who doesn’t seem to care about consequences or calls relatives to come and rescue them. Whether your daughter seems to care about the consequence or not ultimately doesn’t matter. The fact that she calls her grandmother and threatens to run away when you mention consequence indicates that she actually does care—she just wants you to think she doesn’t so you will stop. So keep giving her consequences and when she goes to her grandmother’s house, just let her know that you will pick up where you left off when she gets back. You can communicate to your daughter that going to her grandmother’s is not going to make the consequences of her behavior go away. We have an article about kids who run away that includes some suggestions that can help you with how to discuss this behavior with your daughter when she comes back home. Even though this article talks about a different kind of running away, the concepts can still apply to your situation. You can read it by clicking here: Running Away Part II: "Mom, I Want to Come Home." When Your Child is on the Streets. We know this is tough and we wish you luck as you work through this. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

I'm going to be honest this doesn't work if the child acts like that its because they want to and taking there things away isn't going to help. They are going to find something else to do when you take it away. Then when they get it back they will continue to do the same thing.

Comment By : ThatGuy

If only this worked. My 19 y.o. lives for internet games. Took away internet, said he could earn it back by showering, getting up before 12 midday and cleaning his room - normal every day things in other words. It worked the first couple of days, then he didnt bother anymore. Main problem was although we had written down the rules with as much precision as possible he still found a way to bend them; for example going under the shower 2 minutes to 12.00, then he got furious when we found this not acceptable. He even said "I cant help it that I found a loophole in your rules".

Comment By : cece23

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