Teenagers and Consequences

Practice makes perfect – especially in music. We parents hear a child practice, make mistakes, practice more, make some more mistakes. But eventually, with enough practice, they get it right, and we jump for joy. The same is true for decision-making. With enough practice, your child can learn to become a good decision-maker, and to become mature, responsible, and trustworthy.

Handing over some control, and setting good boundaries is essential to fostering maturity in your teen. However, we parents often don’t realize that unless we allow our child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain immature. I deal with this constantly in my work with struggling teens and their parents, who wonder why their teen is so out of control.

At the heart of this issue is one central theme – consequences. If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, well, it’s because they are irresponsible. And, they will not become responsible or mature, or wise, until they engage in the process of dealing with the consequences of their choices and behavior. It is a cycle that needs to happen over and over before a teen comes to full maturity.

Sometimes a parent says, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child till I give them more responsibility or control, then they won’t have such difficult consequences?” My answer is that if you wait until you trust them, you will never give them any responsibility. You never will. And, they won’t learn how to face consequences and learn from them, or the consequences they face later on will be of a much more serious nature.

Don’t Wait…Start Early

Building responsibility and good decision-making takes practice, and you have to start earlier than you think. It is a learned process. As the writer of Hebrews says, “But solid food is for the mature, who, because of practice (constant use) have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14

Start by giving responsibilities early. Give them a checkbook in the sixth grade. Give them a debit card with their allowance on it so they learn early how to manage it. Get an alarm clock and let them wake themselves up for school every morning. Let them keep a calendar and be responsible to let you know in advance when they need transport to and from events. Then, don’t take them if you don’t discuss it in advance. The consequence of not communicating about the calendar is, “you don’t get to go.”

When they begin driving, agree to periodically put money on a gas card. Then, when they prematurely run out of their gas allowance, don’t give them more. I guarantee it will be the last time they run out. In the process they will figure out how to manage their gas money.

The idea here is to stop helping teenagers so much – the way you have helped them when they were younger. While a major responsibility of good parenting is certainly to control and protect our children, parents must make room for their older children to make mistakes. You help a teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then letting them figure out how to get back up.

In many cases, a parent takes control because they see an absence of a child’s self-control and there is a display of immaturity and irresponsibility. Parents of struggling teens often feel forced into the mode of over-control.

Avoiding Over-Control

Over-control happens when otherwise loving parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes, or by having too-strict rules and limits (Example: Not wanting them to be with others for fear of them learning bad habits, getting hurt, etc.)

Over-controlled children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship enmeshment conflicts and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They may also have problems taking risks and being creative.

Every culture on earth has a proverb that resembles this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.

Handing teenagers control and allowing them to face the consequences of their own decisions means:

  • They may get an “F” on their homework when they don’t turn in homework. When they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class. If they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school. If they don’t make it up in summer school, they won’t graduate. (Believe me, I’ve seen it happen just this way.)
  • They may have to walk to school, pay for a cab, or miss an entire day when they don’t get up in time to make the bus. If they miss school, they miss the fun after school or this weekend as well. Don’t write the excuse that gets them out of the consequences.
  • If they serve detention at school, then let them miss the football game on Friday night as well.
  • If they use the Internet to promote an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect it for a period of time.
  • Should they be arrested and it is obvious that they or the friends they were hanging around with are at fault, let them sit in jail for awhile. Don’t bail them out right away. Sitting in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If they are ticketed for speeding, not wearing their seat belt, being out past the local curfew, or other infractions of the law, let them figure out how to pay the fine, as well as how to get to work or school the next day, since they will not be driving your car.
  • Let them help pay for their insurance and gas when they are ready to start driving. Don’t even get them their license until they can pay their portion of the first quarter of insurance.
  • Pay for college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree. If grades become unsatisfactory, then let them pay for the next semester. If you are paying for college, tell them the schools you are willing to pay for. If they wish to attend elsewhere, they can pay for it
  • If they spend their money foolishly, don’t buy them the things they need. Let them figure out how to pay for those things (like extra gas money). Doing without may teach them to stop spending foolishly.
  • If they are experimenting with drugs or alcohol, require them to pass periodic and unannounced drug and alcohol tests as a requirement to live in your house.
  • Let them decide how to pay for college next semester if this semester they spent more time partying than studying. And don’t finance an apartment or a car if they continue with that lifestyle. Let them decide how to finance that lifestyle themselves.
  • Turn off the TV, remove the TV, or cancel your cable if staying away from viewing inappropriate content is a problem for them. Loss of the TV is an appropriate consequence.

What it doesn’t mean is that you are a being bad parent by allowing these consequences to happen. Letting them experience consequences for poor reasoning is the best thing you can do for a teenager.

Pre-teens are just a few short years away from driving, earning, and spending. Make it your goal to create the environment where they learn responsibility, and grow into maturity. You want them to experience the Fruit of the Spirit, which is self-control, with the ability to make good decisions, and not be controlled by unhealthy things.

Are you willing to begin to relinquish control and therefore help your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be? It doesn’t mean you stop helping your child. It means that you wait to be invited into the problem-solving process, and even then you don’t solve problems for them. You let them face the music and experience the consequences of their own decisions. You set new boundaries, and let them move in the direction they decide works best for them.

You may have to repeat this process several times before your teen gets it right, so hang in there. Eventually he or she will get it, learn how to make good decisions, and avoid unwanted consequences.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 39 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.  His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,500 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.

You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org, or you can call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org, It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.

Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.  The Parenting Today’s Teens radio program was recently awarded the 2014 Program of the Year by the National Religious Broadcasters.

Relationship Destroyers


Moms and dads may have good intentions when they give constructive criticism and advice.  But if it’s offered at the wrong time or in the wrong way, teens are likely to shut down.  This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston identifies four detrimental attitudes that are guaranteed to suffocate a parent-child relationship.

The Radio Program this weekend is “Four Teen Relationship Destroyers” with special guest, Sean Meade, who is the middle school pastor at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California.  Sean and Mark will discuss their thoughts about equipping you to be the person the your child desperately needs you to be in their life.  To find a station near you, visit www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org.

Anger Issues

Under control, fire is a wonderful substance.  It can warm a house, cook your S’mores, even act as a signal for rescuers should you get lost in the woods somewhere.  But left unattended, a small fire can easily spread into a devastating disaster, ravaging homes and causing untold damage.

Anger often works the same way.  Certain expressions of anger can actually be beneficial.  Certain events or circumstances in life should make our blood boil a little.  It’s not wrong to be angry about something.  The Bible never says, “Don’t be angry.”  What is does say is, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  But more often than not, our anger burns too brightly in us and in the teenagers in our home.  Parents know all too well how easily their kids can lose their cool, which in turn can cause us to blow up at them!  Out-of-control anger results in poisonous words, hurtful actions, and growing tensions—all of which can destroy a family from the inside out.

Dealing with anger in ourselves and teaching our kids to do the same is a crucial life skill.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.  And it begins with a conscious effort to make anger constructive rather than destructive.

Develop Good Habits

I don’t know about you, but I had some pretty bad anger habits.  They sprung from clichés or advice that sounded wise, but turned out to be very misguided.  I can remember thinking, “Every time you get angry, just walk away.”  In theory that sounds good, but that’s really a bad anger habit.  If I walked away from every person that ticked me off, I wouldn’t be able to get through many conversations.  And can you imagine walking away from your wife or husband in the middle of an argument?  That’s a rookie mistake that will never end well.

We need to develop good anger habits with our kids and in ourselves.  First of all, don’t shut down—and don’t cause your child to shut down, either.  Dealing with anger needs to happen in an environment of unconditional love.  When your teenage son comes through the door with furrowed brow and fire in his eyes, stop him and ask questions.  And I always coach parents to ask questions in a way that isn’t judgmental.  It’s not easy, but it’s worth it!  Suppressed anger is like a harmful weed—it has a nasty habit of always sprouting up.  For a teen, unresolved anger can lead to experimenting with drugs, sex, cutting, or depression.  If they can’t express and release the emotions they feel, teens will live out the anger other ways.

Break the Anger Cycle

As teenagers move from the concrete thinking of childhood to the abstract thinking of adulthood, they’ll be easily frustrated.  And when a teenager blows up at you, it’s easy to take it personally and blast right back.  This becomes an anger cycle—your daughter lashes out at you in anger, you respond back with heat, which makes her even angrier.  This sequence of antagonism can even encompass other members of the family who might try to get involved, which widens the circle even more.

We need to break this loop of anger.  One way is to refuse to play the mind game with your child.  If they explode at you in anger, simply reply, “I know you’re angry right now, but it’s not ok to talk that way.  Let’s go grab some dinner, cool off, and talk about it again when we both settle down.”  One little spark can start a fire.  But if you dampen the flame before it gets going, you stand a real shot at defusing the whole situation.

Sometimes a kid just needs to vent.  Their day may have been filled with frustrating events or circumstances and they are looking to release that pressure a little.  Let your home be a place they feel comfortable letting off some steam.  This doesn’t mean that teens are allowed to be disrespectful, violent, or cold.  But do allow your teen the space to convey annoyance or frustration without fighting back or shutting them down.  It’s another good way to break the anger cycle before it even starts.

Seek Outside Help

When it comes to anger issues, we can’t solve everything ourselves.  There are many times we need to seek the guidance and wisdom of others.  If your child is struggling with fits of anger that neither of you can get a handle on, there’s nothing wrong with seeking the help of a Christian counselor or joining a support group.  These are not a signs of weakness.  They’re signs of commitment to the well being of your family.

For single moms or dads, it’s tough to handle our kids alone.  That’s when looking to others for help is especially important.  I encourage single moms to find strong, godly men in their church, neighborhood, or school to provide a good role model for their sons.  In my years of speaking and counseling, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several single moms who have successfully parented amazing young men and women.  When I’ve questioned them, what they said was, “I found people to help.”  Whether it was a godly guy at church who took a struggling teen under his wing, or a coach who taught their players discipline and self-control, these single moms made an effort to seek out men who could help raise their kids.  Dads, you can do the same thing with your daughters.  Encourage your teens to find a godly woman who they can learn from and emulate.

Heed the Warnings

Anger is like the warning light on your dashboard.  The moment you see it go off, the best solution is to pull over and examine the problem.  If we choose to ignore the warning lights, we could be in for an engine about to blow!

When you see displays of anger in your teen (and in yourself), take time to delve deeper and solve the underlying problem.  Teach your kids good anger habits.  And when necessary, find others who can help you break the anger cycle in your family.  With these steps, you can turn anger into a powerful agent of change in your family.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to www.heartlightministries.org.  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at www.markgregston.com.  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at www.parentingtodaysteens.org.