By Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT
Tell me, would you rather learn the consequence of procrastinating turning in a book report while you are in elementary or high school – or – would you rather experience the consequence of procrastinating a project at work as an adult, supporting a family?
Would you rather experience the consequence of getting kicked off a sports team in high school because you didn’t keep your grade up or because you made a bad choice with a friend (stealing, cheating, bullying) – or – would you rather reap the consequence of similar behaviors when you’re adult and you can lose a job or stand in front of a judge as an adult?
Let’s look at these varying consequences:
- Not turning in a paper earns you an F for the paper or the class. Maybe you have to repeat the class next year. Maybe you’re not allowed to try out for sports teams. Maybe your parent grounds you or takes away your video games/cell phone.
- Not turning in a project at work can get you demoted, written up, or fired. You can’t pay your bills. You move back into your parents house.
In either scenario, you learn the lesson to respect deadlines, right? But which consequence would you rather to teach you that lesson?
WHEN WE ARE INCONSISTENT WITH OUR CHILDREN & TEENS WE ARE ROBBING THEM OF THE “EASIER” CONSEQUENCE.
Repeating a class is easier than losing your job, right? Being kicked off a sports team is easier than jail, right?
So, when your child or teenager is rolling their eyes, trying to negotiate with you to get out of their consequence, asking you to cover for them when they failed to plan – just keep these scenarios in mind. You won’t be there when they are adults, they need to learn these lessons while you are still there to be their safety net and to help their egos navigate the consequences of their actions.
I have always felt that when parenting it’s best (and easiest for me) to start with the least harsh consequence that works to change the behavior. If you start out with guns blazing you’ll have no where to go when the child/teen tests to see if you’re bluffing. If the easier consequence doesn’t work, you can always go a little more strict until you’ve found something that works.
Some people just want to be the “nice parent” or the “buddy parent” – but consequences are part of boundaries, and they are a part of life. Teaching your child to respect herself and respect others will go a very long way when she’s responsible for navigating the big world all on her own someday. Boundaries and consequences are one way a child/teen gauges “if you love them and are willing to do what it takes to keep them safe” – they don’t act like it, and they certainly won’t act like they appreciate it right now, but down in their subconscious they feel a sense of relief that they don’t have to negotiate this world alone, and they know they need someone to help outline the boundary lines and teach cause & effect.
Grounded in their bedroom with the soft, comfy bed & personal belongings is so much nicer than being grounded in a jail cell, or grounded by demotions or job losses. But that’s just my perspective, and it’s what keeps me strong when I have to deal with the natural insolence of the teenager who I love.
You can follow up with this topic in the article titled Boundaries in Parenting.
Jessica Darling Wilkerson, LMFT 104464 is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California. She works with adults, teens, and couples both in-person and online. As long as the client is located in California she can help them online for traditional talk therapy or with EMDR. Jessica has offices in Redding, CA and in Chico, CA where she works with clients in-person.
Jessica was the sister of a brother with severe ADHD and during her undergrad years she studied ADHD and ADD so she could become a teacher. She ended up going into the corporate world with her degree in business, but later returned to her passion of learning about the brain and behaviors. She uses her lived experience along with all her advanced training to help teens, parents, and families get through the hurdles that come along with the teen years. These years are harder than the little kid years in so many unexpected ways!