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Letting Consequences Teach Maturity

Facing Consequences“Everybody, sooner or later, sits down to a banquet of consequences.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

What’s that famous line parents, coaches, and teachers use ad naseum?  Practice makes perfect.  Though it borders on the cliché, the saying holds water.  When we hear a child practice an instrument for the first time, the sounds are anything but pleasant.  The notes screech out, and we’re tempted to cover our ears.  But we don’t let them stop playing the violin or flute just because they can’t hit the notes right off the bat.  As they learn, kids will make mistakes, which should make them practice more.  Eventually, with enough practice, they’ll play that song just right, and we will give a sigh of relief!

The same principle that applies to music, sports, academics, or anything worthwhile, holds true for decision-making, as well.  With enough practice, your child can learn to be more mature, responsible, trustworthy and accountable for their actions.  But that means handing over some of the control.  Unless we allow a child to take full responsibility for their behavior by facing consequences, our teenagers will remain perpetually immature.  If we don’t allow them to practice maturity, they will constantly be blaring that one, screeching note of irresponsibility.

Experience comes from a making mistakes and learning from them.  There lies the heart of maturity – consequences.  If you wonder why teenagers behave irresponsibly, it’s because, well, they are irresponsible.  And, they will not become responsible, or mature, until they deal 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.

So how can mom and dad allow their teen to deal with consequences appropriately?

Don’t Wait – Start Early

I’ve had many parents say to me, “Wouldn’t it be best to wait until I trust my child before I give them more responsibility or control?  Then they won’t have to deal with such difficult consequences.”  My answer has always been, “If you wait until you trust your teen, you will never give them any responsibility.”  By delaying the process of handing over accountability to our kids, we’re throwing away valuable, real- world practice time.  Once they leave the home, all that adult- type responsibility will be on their shoulders, and the consequences they face will be much more serious.  Better to start early, and often, so that when they do face the realities of the world, they do so equipped with the decision- making tools they learned growing up.

Good decision- making 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).

Gradually hand over the reins, and stop helping teenagers so much – the way you did when they were younger.  You help your teen best by letting them deal with the natural results of their decision, fall down a bit in the process, and then figure out how to get back up.  Don’t wait to develop this necessary skill in your child.  Start early, and often!

Avoid Over-Control

“Over-control” is when well-meaning parents protect their children from the consequences of their mistakes by enforcing strict rules or by trying to oversee all aspects of a child’s life.  There was a recent extreme case of “over-control” when a college student filed a restraining order against her parents, alleging that they required her to leave her computer’s web cam on all the time, so they could see what she was doing and who she was with day and night.  Now, that’s a severe example, but even to lesser degrees, “over-control” can be dangerous.

Overly protected children are more likely to have problems with peer dependence, relationship conflicts, and difficulty setting and keeping firm boundaries. They also run the risk of having problems taking risks and being creative.  Avoid that problem by handing your teenagers more degrees of control and allowing them to face the consequences of their decisions.

Let me give you a few examples:

  • Allow your older teen the freedom to regulate their homework.  Now, they may get an “F” on if they don’t turn it in.  And if they get enough F’s, they will flunk the class.  And if they flunk the class, they will have to make it up in summer school.
  • Buy your teen an alarm clock and give them the responsibility to get up in time for school. 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 note that gets them out of the consequences.
  • Your teen gets sent to detention, then let them miss the football game on Friday night, as well.
  • Every year, allow your child more privacy on the Internet.  But if they choose to use the Internet to post an inappropriate image or lifestyle, disconnect the computer for a period of time.
  • Should your teen be arrested, let them sit in jail for awhile.  Don’t bail them out right away. The consequence of spending a night in jail can have a sobering affect on their thinking and force them to reevaluate their life’s direction.
  • If your teenager is 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 you will not let them use their car, or yours either.
  • Give your teen the privilege of helping to 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 your child’s college as long as they maintain their grades at a level you both agree on prior.  If their grades become unsatisfactory, then they have to pay for the next semester.
  • Give your pre-teen a checkbook, or a debit card with their monthly allowance on 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.  Doing without teaches the importance of sticking to a budget.
  • Cancel your cable or the Internet service if viewing inappropriate content is a problem for your teen.  Loss of that media is an appropriate consequence that will help them in the long run.

Listen; you are not being a bad parent by allowing these appropriate consequences to follow your teen’s actions.  In fact, you are helping your child learn valuable life lessons, and grow into a mature adult.  That’s being a good parent!  Every culture on earth has a similar proverb like this one: If you rescue them once, you will just have to rescue them again.  Don’t swoop in and rescue your kid when they are face-to-face with the outcome of a bad decision.

Are you willing to start relinquishing control and helping your teenager find out who he is and who God desires for him to be?  This doesn’t mean you stop helping your child.  But it does mean that you guide them into a problem-solving process, even if you don’t solve problems 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.  And that’s sweet music to any parent’s ears!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.


Three Simple Ways to Connect With Your Teen

Teen DiscussionAny problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication.  Someone isn’t listening – Emma Thompson

Around the dinner table, or over the weekends, what do you and your teen talk about?  If you’re like most parents, the conversations fall into a few standard categories: academics, work, behaviors, privileges, sports, friends, clothes, chores, or the rules of the house.  This is a long list, full of important topics that are worth discussing.  But can you think back to a conversation with your child that didn’t revolve around these typical aspects of a teen’s life?  Unfortunately, most of what we talk about relates to what our teens are doing (or in many cases not doing).  But we often forget to ask what they’re thinking—what their passions and goals are in life.

Good communication is essential to establishing a healthy and loving relationship with your teen.  When I mention this, many parents of struggling teens tell me, “But Mark, my teen and I talk all the time!”  The truth is, talking to your teenager does not necessarily mean that you’re communicating.  In fact, too much talk can cover up what really needs to be said or asked.

Mom and dad, do you want to connect with your teen in a way that helps them share their deepest hopes, biggest concerns or growing fears?  Or is the standard mode of communication between the two of you an endless stream of superficial words, demands, and lecturing?  Let me share with you three simple ways you can improve your communication and make a meaningful connection with your teen.

Communicate By Asking Questions

One of the most powerful tools in a parent’s toolbox is a good question.  With the right question, you can gain entrance into your child’s world and have a greater opportunity to speak into their lives.  It’s the same way with adults.  When someone asks our opinion, we feel valued.  When someone shows interest in our passions and interests, we feel appreciated.  Our favorite subject is often ourselves!  Ask even a reserved teenager a good question, and you’ll probably find yourself waist deep in a stream of conversation.  

So what counts as a good question?  You can go ahead and forget about questions like “How was your day?” or “What were you thinking?”  If a question can be answered in a single word, then it won’t build good communication.  And if your question is laced with sarcasm, judgment or meant to embarrass, chances are your teen won’t even hear it.  Good questions convey a sense of value and relationship.  They are a way to move toward your teen by asking what they think, how they feel, and giving them the freedom answer honestly.

Some examples of good questions include:

  • What would be one thing I could do for you to make your life better?
  • We’re all known for something.  What would you like to be known for?
  • Do you think the music (or movies, TV shows) you watch or listen to influences you, or is just an expression of what you feel, or what you’re in the mood for?
  • What would make school better for you?
  • What’s a lesson about life you’ve learned this week?
  • When you hear someone talk about a “real man” who comes to mind?
  • If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would you choose?

It’s crucial we keep our mouths shut long enough to hear a child’s answer.  And when the real answer comes out, regardless of how shocking it may be, don’t respond with anger or disappointment.  Just listen.  Establishing a line of communication is far more important at this point than scolding or saying “I told you so.

Often, just by asking questions, you empower your teens to apply the values you have already taught them.  Your questions might also encourage your teen to ask questions of you, so be ready to give thoughtful and honest answers!

Communicate Respect in Times of Conflict

Maintaining an attitude of respect is a large part of healthy communication.  If you demand a level of respect from your teenager, then they also expect a measure of consideration from you.  This spills over not only into our words, but also into our tone and demeanor.  You wouldn’t yell at, belittle, or talk down to someone you respect, so why would do that to your teen?  Show grace and respect in the way you communicate with your child, and they’ll be quicker to respond in the same way with you.

Conflict is inevitable when it comes to parenting teenagers.  Try and make it your goal at the end of any argument to provide an opportunity for a hug.  Just because there’s conflict doesn’t mean the relationship is ruined.  Even if I can’t agree with my kids, I still want them to know that they are loved.  Being respectful has nothing to do with the consequences you may need to enforce, or the problems that need to be dealt with.  Instead, it means maintaining the right approach in communicating with your teen.

When you need to address a problem or behavioral issue, I again recommend asking a good question.  It can help engage a teen’s thinking process and the system of beliefs you’ve taught them.  You may be surprised to find they come to the right conclusion all on their own!

Communicate by Listening More, Speaking Less

Staying silent when our teen is talking isn’t necessarily the same thing as listening.  We may hear the words our teen is using, but do we really understand what they’re trying to say?

In the many years I’ve worked with kids, I’ve found that they often say things not to communicate valuable information, but simply to process life.  Your daughter isn’t necessarily looking for a response when she vents about issues with a homework assignment.  Your son may not need an opinion or a solution when he explains his problem with a friend.  They may just need a listening ear.  Take time to hear what they have to say—without putting in your two cents.

A Sunday school teacher once asked the ten-year-olds in her class, “What’s wrong with grown-ups?” A boy responded, “Grown-ups never really listen because they already know what they’re going to answer.”  I’ll admit; many times that was me.  And if this sounds like you, it may be time to own up to the fact that your listening skills could use some improvement.

Being consistent in listening to your child goes a long way in determining his or her willingness to share their deep concerns with you.  If a teen shares her heart and it’s misunderstood or met with quick judgments and opinions, they will eventually quit sharing.  If our teen is in the shutdown mode, there is a reason.  And the reason may be that we aren’t listening anyway.

Maybe your connection to your teen is a bit frayed at the moment.  A little bit of intentionality and care will go a long way in this area!  My prayer is that these three communication methods can help you reconnect with your son and daughter, and help you establish more open, loving relationships in your home.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.


The Honest Truth About Teen Dishonesty

Merry Christmas from Parenting Today's TeensAlways tell the truth.  If you can’t always tell the truth, don’t lie. –Author Unknown

Have you ever told a little white lie?  Ever crossed your fingers behind your back when you did it?  One of the legends regarding that little act originated with Roman persecution of Christians. It was said that to escape death, those who lied about their faith in Christ, just as Peter did, made the sign of the cross behind their back to ask God’s forgiveness.  It seems that somehow, sign language would nullify the deceit!

The legend of crossing your fingers seems like a myth to me.  But what is not a myth is the fact that many teenagers today are making a habit of “crossing their fingers behind their backs.”  A recent Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, shows that 61% of teens admit to lying to a teacher about something important, and a whopping 76% admitted to lying to their parents last year.  Another study, this one conducted in Britain, indicates that an overwhelming 84% of teens said they’ve regularly copied information from the Internet and pasted it right into their homework.

But it wasn’t necessarily those numbers that shocked me.  What really rocked me back on my heels was that this recent study of American teenagers reported that while over 50% of teenagers admitted lying, cheating, or stealing within that last year, 93% of those same kids said they are “satisfied with their personal ethics and character.” In addition, 81% of those teenagers said that “when it comes to doing what’s right, they are better than most people they know.”

It would seem, sadly, that while dishonesty is taking a hold of more and more teenagers, they are blind to the fact that it is morally wrong. While it is in no way an excuse, we cannot overlook the way our culture glorifies all forms of dishonesty. I think we’d all be hard-pressed to name five unimpeachably honest public figures today.  Who hasn’t turned on the TV or read the news in which a politician, business leader, sports figure, police officer, teacher or even a judge — those people we look up to as role models — has been caught in a lie, or has had a scandal exposed?  And let’s not forget the explosion of popular, so-called, “reality” TV shows, whose strategy is usually based on deception and lying in order to gain a monetary prize or fame.  While we should stress to our kids that we are all accountable for our own decisions, it’s difficult to reinforce the standards of honesty in a society that seems to broadcast that dishonesty is the far better road to travel.

So how can we reverse those statistics, and help our kids embrace truth over the lies?

Monitor the Media

Due to its anonymity and ease, the Internet is often a place where dishonesty abounds.  Within the safety of the web, teens can speak or act out anything they desire, regardless if it’s the truth.  Parents should be realize that such web-based deception can spill over and fuel an attitude of dishonesty in other areas of a teen’s life, as well.

When it comes to the Internet, or other forms of media, I tell parents to follow their instincts. Even if there is no obvious cause for concern, they should keep a wary eye on their child’s online surfing and make it a policy to know all of their teenager’s web passwords.  In fact, I recommend parents install good monitoring software to track all of their teen’s Internet activity.  Knowing that mom and dad are monitoring will go a long way toward keeping the teen honest in what they see, do and say on the Internet.

Make it a point to discuss with your teen the values they see in movies, television, or music.  Though we cannot control all the input that our kids receive on a daily basis, we can use media opportunities to have discussions about life, morality and values.  After a watching a television program or movie, ask your child afterward, Why did that character act that way?  What do you think they were trying to gain?  Do you think they will ultimately achieve something by acting dishonestly?  What would you do differently? These types of questions can steer your child into interpreting what they see and hear in more honest ways.

Reduce the Pressure to Perform

Lofty academic expectations can put a lot of pressure on a teen to cheat. Holding kids to unnecessarily high achievement standards can often spur kids to achieve good grades at any cost. These looming stresses at school are more troubling for kids than many parents realize.  In fact, the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the stress to perform well in school keeps 68% of students awake at night.  With a lack of sleep, students have a reduced ability to think clearly and handle stress, so it becomes a vicious cycle.  As they fall farther behind, overwhelmed students may be tempted to cheat and lie their way to academic success.

If your child has been caught cheating at school, perhaps it’s time to bring the expectations down to a serviceable level for your teen.  Of course, we want our kids to do well in school, but we’d all agree that we want them to do so honestly.  It’s far better to have “C” student who came by their grades fairly, than an “A” student who was compelled to cheat because of unrealistic pressure at home.  By your words and actions, tell your children that grades and academic achievement don’t matter as much as honesty.

Don’t Avoid or Ignore the Problem

While dishonesty may seem like a minor issue in comparison to other problems like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and eating disorders, it is a vice that parents should not ignore. Dishonesty is rooted in an attitude of disrespect—disrespect for others, authority, possessions, family’s values, and disrespect for oneself.  If you ignore your teen’s dishonest actions today, you may have to deal with bigger problems later.  Deceit won’t go away with the mere passage of time.  It will reappear at significant stress points later in your child’s life—when they go off to college, get a job, or get married.  Getting away with lying, cheating or theft today can lead to a lifetime of dishonesty, and that can land them in real heartache in the future.

If you’ve seen dishonesty creeping into how your teen talks or acts, or if you’ve learned they have cheated or stolen something, today is the day to expose it.  Here’s how to deal with the problem properly.  First, briefly describe the dishonest behavior, so you both know what happened.  Second, tell your child how you feel about it and how it that action is neither wise nor moral.  Then, most importantly, affirm that you know they can do better.  Let your teen know that you believe they can change their behavior.  Give them the confidence to do what’s right.  After your discussion, have your teen right their wrong, including confessing to whomever was wronged from the dishonesty, cheating or theft.  Finally, enforce appropriate consequences and make sure they know that you will be on the lookout for any form of dishonesty in the future.

Also, be sure to model honesty yourself, and make it a habit to be truthful.  If you think you’ve hidden dishonesty from them in the past, think again. Teens are extremely intuitive and they can spot hypocrisy a mile away.  If you know you’ve been dishonest in front of your teen, ask their forgiveness, and give yourself some consequences for the bad behavior, so your teen knows how important it is to be honest.  Teens need some good role models in regard to honesty.  Live out Proverbs 8:7, and your teen will follow suit; I always speak the truth and refuse to tell a lie.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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.