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Giving Consequences vs "Wisdom Lectures"

By Klaus Klein MA, Registered Clinical Counsellor

In an article by Jenny Runkel, a teacher in Atlanta, Georgia and member of The Scream Free Parenting Institute, she shares her experience of learning an important concept about giving consequences to children verses relying on logic and wisdom. As a teacher and parent, she was reminded of a lesson that just about every parent or adult working with kids has to face at some point.

While teaching, Jenny explained her expectations for a writing assignment to her students in what she believed was, a straight forward, logical, and clear manner. Yet some students didn't follow through. So she explained everything again. Yet, some students still didn't follow through.

Finally, instead of giving more exhausting and frustrating explanations (i.e. her "wisdom lectures", Jenny finally implemented the consequences that she had planned earlier, but had been reluctant to follow through on. The consequences entailed losing marks for handing in written assignment that did not meet the expectations for neatness that she set. Instead of trying to "protect" students from receiving consequences by more lecturing, she finally allowed students to experience the consequences of their actions.

Many times as parents we are faced with a similar situation where we try to "protect" our children from experiencing the pain of consequences.

We explain things to our teens or young children and they don't follow through.

As parents we often wonder:

  • Why can't my son or daughter just get it?
  • Why don't they listen to me?
  • Why don't they see the logic and wisdom of my words?
  • Why would they not want to do what makes sense?
  • Why would they deliberately cause so much trouble for themselves (and me)?

We have the belief that our kids should  listen to us because if they did, then life would be so much easier for them (and us). If they would just do as we say then they wouldn't have to suffer any failures or face any consequences.

It's hard sometimes as parents to see our kids make mistakes and face the consequences. Instead, we get caught as Jenny did trying to "protect" our kids by offering more words of wisdom over and over.

Often I see parents pleading and cajoling with their son or daughter expecting them to change their behavior. Usually this leads to frustration, anger, and exhaustion for the parents and also for the teen as well and it shows in their "I don't care" attitude.

Setting up clear, concise and consistent consequences that you follow through on can change the ongoing pattern of repeating yourself over and over to the point of frustration or anger hoping that you are going to get a different result from your child. Your teen can "battle" with the impact of their consequence rather than having to battle with you as you give yet another "wisdom lecture".

Furthermore, part of learning is the result of having to experience consequences. As parents, if we do not allow our children to experience the discomfort of consequences, we are doing them a huge disservice. By trying to "protect" them from pain we are not preparing them for real life where there are consequences -- and lots of them.

Guidelines for Implementing Consequences
with Your Teen

Every family situation is unique and a consequence that works in one family does not necessarily work for another. Circumstances such as family dynamics, parenting styles, the length of a consequence, and the chances that you will follow through, all play a part in creating consequences for your teen.

It does take some effort, and even creativity to come up with consequences that fit the various situations that you might be facing. Here are some guidelines to help you in setting up consequences with your adolescent:

  • Ensure your consequence is reasonable and realistic. If the consequence is too severe or too light, it may be ineffective. Similarly, if the consequence is not something that you will likely follow through on, it is likely to be ineffective.
  • Set up consequences when you have given it some thought -- not in the heat of the moment. Grounding your son or daughter for a month might have felt good when you were angry, but actually following through might be more trouble than you anticipated. 
  • Consequences may need to be repeated several times before you see any change in your teen's choices. Even adults sometimes need several parking tickets before there is a change in their behavior.
  • Don't expect your teen to show remorse or a change in attitude. Focus on the business end of the consequence. A police officer doesn't care if you show remorse for a speeding ticket or not. The officer's job is to follow through with the ticket, your job as a parent is to follow through also.
  • Follow through each and every time -- saying one thing and doing another is inviting lack of trust and respect.  If you give in even once, your teen will know that there is always a chance that you will do it again. Thus, he or she will more likely push to try to get you to give in again.
  • If you're not sure of what you should choose as a consequence, take some time and talk it over with you spouse or friends to get ideas that fit for you.

As parents, we need to remember not to take it personally when our teens disregard our words of wisdom. What we can do is guide them to learn about consequences, which prepares them for the real word where bosses and people in authority usually don't beg, bargain, plead, or cajole in order to get us to do what they want. As adults most of us don't have people lecturing us on various aspects of our lives. We typically rebel against being lectured. What we learned through our own life experiences usually came in the form either reward or consequence of our actions.

Guiding your teen to learn through experience is preparing them for life in the long run. This doesn't mean that as a parent you should never try and explain things and be helpful at times. If your son or daughter is open to your wisdom and what you have to say, then by all means enjoy the opportunity to share what you can.  But if you find yourself repeating the same lecture and getting frustrated and exhausted, then a different approach, just like Jenny had to take with her students, is probably what your teen needs in order to grow and learn.


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