Parenting: Giving Consequences vs Wisdom Lectures

Klaus Klein is guest blogger today at Learning the Now.  He has been a school-based counsellor and has been contracted to work as a therapist for the Take-A-Hike Program at John Oliver Secondary since September 2000. He provides therapy to grade 11 and 12 students in both an office setting and on multi-day wilderness camping trips.

Klaus has a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and has completed post-graduate training in Satir family systems therapy. He has been providing counselling to adolescents and their families for over 10 years both in private practice and in a school-based setting. As well as servicing our community, Klaus is a BC Registered Clinical Counsellor who works in the Vancouver and Burnaby area. He provides individual and family counselling to teens and parents.

Many parents will tell you that the ages of 14 to 18 represent the “dark years” of adolescence.  Who is this child?  This is not the girl/boy that I know! I am very pleased to have Klaus write today about “parenting teens” and I am blessed to have him at John Oliver so that as I try to “figure out” what is going on with my own teenaged daughter, I can consult with him.

This is Klaus Klein’s blog post:

In a recent article, Jenny Runkel, a teacher in Atlanta, Georgia and member of The Scream Free Parenting Institute, shared 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. However, some students did not follow through. She explained everything again and yet, some students still did not follow through.

Finally, instead of giving out 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 had been set. Instead of trying to “protect” students from receiving consequences by more lecturing, she finally allowed students to experience the consequences of their actions.

Forget for a moment about good and bad pedagogy with regard to assessment practices: this is not the point. Many times as parents we, like the classroom teacher, 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 often truly believe 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 for the teens results in the manifestation of an “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 a reality that is ripe with consequences.

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:

  1. 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 follow through on, it is likely to be ineffective.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 behaviour.
  4. 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.
  5. Follow through each and every time – saying one thing and doing another is inviting a 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.
  6. If you’re not sure of what you should choose as a consequence, take some time and talk it over with your 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 a “parallel” world where bosses and people in authority usually don’t beg, bargain, plead, or cajole in order to achieve an objective. As adults most of us don’t have people lecturing us on various aspects of our lives. We typically rebel against being lectured at. What we learned through our own life experiences usually came in the form of reward or consequence of our actions.

Guiding your teen to learn through experience is preparing them for life in the long run.
This does not 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.