Teenagers sometimes test limits and break rules. Using our Talking to Teens interactive guide
, you can see how different approaches to handling this tricky situation can get different results.
Sometimes your child might behave in ways that test your limits or break the rules you’ve agreed on. One way to deal with this is by using consequences.
Make the consequence fit
If you can make the consequence fit the misbehaviour, it gets your child to think about the issue and can feel fairer to your child too. For example, if your child is home later than the agreed time, a fitting consequence might be having to come home early next time.
The aim of this strategy is to help your child understand your perspective and to learn that she needs to give and take.
For example, if your child wants you to drive him to social outings, you could say you’ll do this if he follows the rules. Try to avoid making this into a bribe.
Let your child know beforehand that you might withdraw your cooperation as a consequence for misbehaviour. For example, ‘If you’d like me to keep driving you, you need to come home on time. If you’re late, I won’t drive you next time’. The aim is to help your child understand your perspective and to learn that he needs to give and take.
This consequence should be used sparingly – if you use it too much, it won’t work as well. The idea is to remove something that you know your child enjoys – for example, going to a friend’s house. You need to let your child know in advance that this is what you plan to do.
You don’t need to withdraw privileges for a long time for this consequence to be effective. Aim for a short withdrawal that occurs within the few days following the misbehaviour.
Whatever consequence you choose, these strategies might help to reinforce it:
Communication: explain calmly and clearly what the problem is to your child. Tell her how she hasn’t stuck to the rules you agreed on, and let her know that you’ll be applying the agreed consequence.
Self-reflection: encourage your child to think about his behaviour and how it could be different in the future. Talk with him about the agreement you had, and what he thinks should happen as a consequence of breaking it. Often teenagers will be much harsher than their parents. This allows you to settle on future consequences that you both see as fair.
It’s best to balance rules and consequences with warmth and positivity. Try to aim for six positive comments for every negative comment.
Why teenagers test the limits
Teenagers have the job of developing into independent adults. One way they do this is to test boundaries, and then see how others react to their behaviour. This teaches them what the social expectations are. As they receive feedback, they learn what’s expected.
On top of this the teenage brain goes through massive growth and development during adolescence. As a result teenagers try new things but don’t always make good decisions. They’re more influenced by peers. And they feel things more intensely than you do.
At the same time, teenagers are getting better at seeing the big picture and reasoning. This means they question their world more and use creative ways to solve problems.
For all these reasons, it might sometimes feel like you’re on a collision course with your child. But you can work around obstacles with your child and guide her away from tricky situations.