When I was a tween/teen, we didn’t ever really get punished—at least I don’t remember being punished. We didn’t really have rules per se, either. We were all motivated by desperately not wanting to disappoint our parents, so we pretty much did what we were supposed to do (and avoided the things we weren’t supposed to do). At a week-long church camp, some other kids tried to persuade me to sneak out and go . . . sit in the lounge and eat food from the vending machines (oooh . . . such rebels!). I wouldn’t have any of it. I wasn’t even tempted to do it. All I could do was imagine how disappointed my parents would be if they caught wind that I had broken the rules (cue the ominous music). I wasn’t supposed to do it, therefore I didn’t do it. So I didn’t and that was that.
I didn’t really have a set curfew, although I was supposed to knock on my parents’ door when I got home. I think I mostly came home around midnight, although sometimes it was later.
And it was understood (but not ever spoken, at least I don’t recall) that on one of the two weekend nights, I was supposed to either hang with my parents and younger brother or babysit my younger brother so my parents could go out. The other night I was free to do stuff with my friends. I don’t remember complaining about this or wishing it were otherwise.
So I always thought it strange when one of my friends got grounded. We didn’t get grounded at my house. Or sometimes friends would get their “phone privileges” taken away. That didn’t ever really happen at my house (although the parent in me now thinks that perhaps it should have; I talked on the phone a lot!). When I talked on the phone too much, my parents told me to get off. If I didn’t do it right away, they got on the family line and said, “Heather, time to get off the phone” and that pretty much settled it.
Fast forward 25 years. I’m now the parent of a teenager and a tween. I sometimes feel at a loss regarding how to punish them or, as one friend prefers, how to “impose consequences.” My kids are mostly pretty great. They get good grades in school with precious little nagging from us, do their chores with (mostly) minimal reminding/begging, and (mostly) behave with their technology. But when they don’t, I’m at a loss. Thinking back to my parenting-toddler days, I turn reflexively to natural consequences—something you impose that is related to the misbehavior. So, when my middle daughter was 3 and refused to wear a coat, she experienced the natural consequence of being cold, which was supposed to make her consent to wearing a coat next time.
But I’m stuck with my older kids as far as natural consequences. What is a natural consequence of the following:
- Bringing home a bad report card?
- Talking back to a parent?
- Watching too much TV?
- Being mean to a sibling?
- Neglecting to do a household chore?
Do these kinds of fairly typical teen behaviors warrant natural consequences, or do we trash that and go for the jugular (=grounding, taking away computers/videogames/TV/cell phones, Facebook)? Parents of teens, how do you handle the punishment/consequence question?