Wednesday, June 12, 2019

When A Punishment Causes More Harm Than Good!!

A recent story garnered my attention regarding the effectiveness of "laying down the law." Parenting a teen is particularly challenging when it comes to finding consequences that both communicate to your teen that certain choices they make come with consequences, and at the same time giving consequences that don't destroy the relationship that you have with your teen. Because truly, in the long run, it is the relationship that you have with your teen that will ultimately motivate their behavior. If a teen feels that everything they really care about has already been taken away, there is no motivation for them to change their behavior.

For example, one parent recently told me that in order for their kids to get cellphones, they must bring home all "A" report cards. Their younger children (not teens) for whom pleasing their parents was still an underlying motivator, rose to the occasion. The older teen, 14, not so much. Getting all "A's in middle school or high school is an unrealistic goal for most teens. Their lives are generally full of many things, friends, activities, and the need to just veg to take care of their overloaded brain full of too many thoughts, too many feelings and too many worries. For this teen, knowing that getting all "A's" was not a goal he had for himself, and knowing that the all-important cellphone was completely out of reach, just gave up with his academics. After all, what was the point? His anger at his parents, and his need now for a "fine, don't give me a phone, I'll just do no work, and get crappy grades. and show you! Which he did! And the kicker here is that this kid is extremely bright. So here we see that a motivator for one kid, is a complete disincentive for another, and a backfire for the parent.

I want to give you a few tips on setting consequences that have a chance of working.

  1. Any consequence should be time-limited and short. Teens make mistakes, millions of them, it is a truth of this stage. If you choose to use grounding, or taking away computer/phone. Keep the time short. One weekend, or one week, and let your teen know, we get you made a mistake, there was a consequence, now lets start fresh. Part of the conversation needs to include, lets figure out what you can do differently so you don't find yourself having to stay in or not have access to your phone/computer. This problem solving phase is actually wayyyyyyyy more important than the consequence. Punishment alone never, and I mean this, never is what changes behavior. Otherwise why do we have such a high recidivisim rate in our prisons. 
  2. Do not set your teen up to fail. Make sure that your expectations are realistic, remembering that teens are impulsive, emotional, risk-taking, and inexperienced, do not think things through, and do not like to be told what to do.  
  3. Most importantly include your teen in decision making, rather than you being the rule-maker. When your teen can take ownership of the process, they are more likely to follow through. Let's take curfew for an example, if you set the rule, "you have to be home at 10:30, and literally all their friends really do stay out till 11, you may be setting you and your teen up for coming in late. Rather have this converstion: 
Teen: What time do I have to be home?
Parent: What time do you think is fair ? (trust me your teen will not say some ridiculous time, it might be a little later than you initially would have given)
Teen: 11:30
Parent: What do you think I will be worried about if I say yes to 11:30
Teen: Will probably say something like, "you're worried, I will be late, or out doing something you don't won't me to do.
Parent: Yes those things do worry me. What are YOU going to do to make me feel OK about those things? (This is where your teen has do some thinking. and that is a good thing. He/she is motivated to think, because they see some room for compromise here.
Teen: How about if I call you 1/2 hour before at 11 to let you know I will be home by 11:30 (if they don't say that, you can help them come up with this or another plan)
Parent: That sounds good, so what will the consequence be if you don't call me at 11
Teen: They will probably say, I can be grounded for the next night or one night the next weekend. (the consequence is in place, and it is now the teens responsibility to follow through)

This whole process is designed to help teens take responsibility and ownership of their decisions. Now you just have to sit back,and if they are successful, you can praise them with  a job well done, and if they don't follow through, you don't have to say anything, no lecture needed, just a "sorry it didn't work out for you tonight, I look forward to spending the night with you tomorrow or whenever the next weekend night is. That's it, no fighting , just a little shrug of the shoulders, over and out.

PS Is your teen home for the summer? Why not host an Ask The Expert Party and I'll come over for coffee or a glass of wine and help you and your friends learn how to get through the summer without going crazy from your teen. call 781-910-1770 for more info!

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