Natural Consequences

What are they and how can I get my teen to face them?

Posted Nov 04, 2014

Does your teen break the rules and not want to face the consequences? Do you feel like everything you ask your teen to do becomes a battle? Has “no” lost its power? Do you find yourself giving in because it’s easier than constantly arguing? 

Simply stated, a consequence is the result, either negative or positive, of a person's action. Consequences measure our behavior and for the most part we strive to achieve positive outcomes and avoid negative outcomes.

Teens can certainly discern the difference between the two. So, when dealing with discipline and teens, the goal of consequences is to teach your child responsibility and appropriate behavior.

There are two types of consequences: natural and logical. Natural consequences, the ones we are addressing now, happen as a result of behavior that are not planned or controlled. Nature, society, or another person, without parental involvement, imposes natural consequences. Parents neither determine nor deliver natural consequences. Instead, you allow nature or society to impose the consequence on your child by not interfering. Logical consequences do not occur “naturally” as a result of behavior, they are determined and delivered by the parent.

Parents tend to worry about their child’s ability to cope with life’s natural “negative” consequences. In fact, today’s parents, in an effort to be helpful and involved, actually impose themselves to minimize natural negative consequences so that their teen can avoid the subsequent discomfort, pain, and shame of his actions. 

Our culture holds a faulty belief that effective parenting means protecting your child from uncomfortable emotions and experiences. As parents, we often feel emotionally depleted because we do too much in the wrong areas (over-parenting, rushing in to “fix” things, micromanaging) and too little in the right areas (role-modeling, allowing your child to have his own struggles and feelings, stepping back and breathing). 

Many parents believe that if their child is uncomfortable or suffering the normal pains of life, they are failing as a parent. Parents ask themselves, “What more can I do?” instead of asking, “What more can my child do?” Rather than provide support for the child as he moves through his issue, the parent attempts to rush in and fix whatever is troubling him so both the parent and their child can be happy again and the parent can feel like a good parent.

The problem is, while their efforts may provide a temporary Band Aid over their child’s emotions, the damaging messages their actions send mitigate any of the discomfort their child may have endured. 

Here are some of the messages parents give their children when they attempt to fix things for them:

You are special so normal rules don’t apply to you.

You are weak and incapable of dealing with this; so let me fix it for you.

Failure is bad and must be avoided at all costs.

You are incapable of coming up with a solution yourself. 

First we need to reframe the way our society views things like mistakes and failure. If your child chooses to not do their homework and consequently fails the exam, he must face the natural consequences of his actions, which may be frustration, shame, and fear over receiving a failing grade. If you rush in to explain to his teacher that he deserves another chance because he was sick, or had a sports practice, you may think you are doing something noble by advocating for your child and giving him the opportunity to get a better grade (and feel better about himself). But the truth is, there is a great benefit in letting your child feel discomfort. And discomfort can mean fear, anger, anxiety, loneliness, in other words; these are all natural consequences to your child’s actions. In his discomfort, you can guide him towards self-reflections about his part in the situation, his priorities in his life, and how he might want to behave differently the next time. 

As your child faces natural consequences, they are learning important coping skills. They build up a tolerance for discomfort, which is an important part of life. If your child doesn’t learn to tolerate discomfort, he will become, at the very least, an unhappy and frustrated adult, and at the worst, a self-involved, entitled human who lacks self-awareness and empathy.

Copyright Mendi Baron