Business-like Consequences For Teenagers


How do you discipline a teenager?  What consequences are most likely to be effective with a teen?

The answer may be different than you expect.

Let’s imagine it’s you who needs a consequence.  Picture this:  You messed up at work.  Pretend you missed a deadline, and you know your boss has to do something about it.

There are two ways this can go.

Scene 1: your boss says “Hey, you missed that deadline.  Was there anything unclear about what was expected?”…  “Well, next time please submit a week early so we know it’s ready.  Thanks.”

Scene 2: “I’m really disappointed that you missed that deadline.  Why did you miss that deadline?  I thought we had an understanding.  I need you to turn that in a week early next time.  I mean, this can’t happen again.  You are better than this.  And I’m going to follow up on it, and now you’ve made extra work for me and I’ve got to babysit your job in addition to doing my own.  So, a week early next time.  Got that?  A week early.”

Which boss reaction makes you want to do better next time?  Which one leaves you feeling ticked off at the boss instead of regretting your poor choice?  Which one might actually correct your behavior while preserving a good opinion of your boss?

In that example lies our answer about how to discipline a teen – be businesslike about consequences.  Short and sweet.  Swoop in with the logical consequence in the most non-emotional way you can muster, and then make your exit.  The sooner you exit, the quicker they can get back to mulling over what they did wrong instead of being ticked at you.

The Love and Logic Institute ( ) suggests that a strong dose of empathy alongside a logical consequence is the best recipe to get your teen thinking “How much pain will this choice cost me?” rather than “How ticked will my parents be if I do this?”  You may be upset about a choice your teen has made and need to create a consequence, but also try to see it from your child’s perspective for a moment – it is a bummer when a choice you have made causes consequences for yourself.  Empathize with that, and suddenly their choice is the enemy, not you as the parent.  That’s what you want – for the bad choice to be the enemy, and you as the parent to be the structure and support.

What might that look like in action?

  • “Hey babe, you knew coming in past curfew meant no going out next time. Sorry you made that choice.  No going out tonight.”
  • “Driving people in the car that we didn’t approve first means no car for next week. I know that’s hard; it’s going to be difficult week for both of us.”
  • “You don’t have your homework done yet, no video games. You knew the rule and you chose to break it.  You can try again tomorrow” (then take the controller, turn it off, whatever ends video games for the night.)
  • “I’m very sorry you chose to wear that shirt we agreed wasn’t appropriate for school. It will belong to me now since having it in your closet was too tempting.”

Your kids may still be angry at you – but hopefully the tide will turn as your parenting reactions get smaller and your teenager learns that their choices hurt themselves most of all.