Natural Consequences or Parental Action


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 138 · Duration: 00:20:41

Natural Consequences or Parental Action

What do you do when you read an article on the internet that tells you to use a parenting approach you're not comfortable with?

Today, we're answering a question from Denise from Florida. She writes:

Natural Consequences or Parental ActionI read an article on the internet called "5 Natural Consequences You Should Let Your Child Face" and one of those is: Responsibility for personal space and personal belongings. I often struggle getting my 15 year old daughter to clean her room. When she was young, I did it with her but she’s too old for that now and it becomes ridiculously messy. I don’t see how she knows clean clothes from dirty. Her grades aren’t what they should be and I don’t see how she can keep track of her work given how out of control her work space is. If I ground her to clean her room, she’ll do a half-ass job, which is at least an improvement. Have I been doing the wrong thing here? Should I be letting go of this and let Natural Consequences be the consequences?

Thanks for your question Denise, and it’s important for 2 reasons, one, of course, is your direct question about requiring kids to clean their rooms or not. The other reason is there is lots of information about how to raise kids and teenagers, some helpful and some not.

Wadding Through Advice For Parents

Here’s what I often discover about generic advice. If it’s science based and offers important data, that’s great. An example of this would be if they said school-age children and teens who get less than one half hour a day of vigorous exercise are 60% more prone to mental health symptoms than children and teens who do. Then they might go on to explain the study and draw some conclusions about how schools and parents can support exercise with kids.

Then there are articles that seem a bit vanilla but can be useful to a parent wanting a review on a subject they hadn’t thought through before. For instance, "How To Help Your Anxious Child" or "How To Help Your Middle School Teen When They Are Feeling Left Out." There are probably a ton of articles on subjects like these, but if you have a site that you follow and articles like these pop up in a timely way, excellent.

And then there’s advice that experts give that is general, and doesn’t take into account the unique characteristics of a specific kid or of specific parents. That advice too often leaves out the needs of the parents and assumes that if they know some universal truth about parenting, that they can simply implement it regardless of their specific personality, workload, culture, personal preferences and needs. What a concept, parents have needs too.

Denise, I think the article you read falls into that category. I found the article you read and I’ll go through the 5 circumstances the author encourages in a bit.

Natural Consequences

First of all, your child, and in fact all of us, experience natural consequences all the time. If I don’t make a list when I go to the grocery store, inevitably I’ll forget something I need, a natural consequence of not making a list. When your teenager loses the sweatshirt her friend loaned her and her friend is angry with her, the natural consequence is an injured friendship. Now, if a parent runs out and buys a replacement sweatshirt, that undermines the lesson of the natural consequence. If on the other hand, the parent discusses the situation with their teenager and helps the teenager come to the conclusion that they need to replace the sweatshirt, and they support their teenager in using their funds to replace it, excellent: Natural Consequences and a lesson learned.

The question is when should we let go of parental mandates and consequences and let life’s natural consequences be your teenager’s teacher?

When should we let go of parental mandates and consequences and let life’s natural consequences be your teenager’s teacher?Click To Tweet

But really let’s get the bigger picture here. If you care, as you apparently do, Denise, about whether or not your teenager cleans her room, it’s for good reasons. One set of reasons could be about you. You like a clean house and having a smelly disorganized room, even if it’s your daughter’s room, is offensive to you. That’s a legitimate reason. After you’ve nurtured, loved, taught, played with and otherwise invested in you child, requiring that she keep her room to some standard of cleanliness is, I think reasonable. There could be other legitimate reasons; for instance you don’t like to see the laundry you just did on the floor with dirty clothes. It’s insulting to your efforts. Reasons that are about your daughter’s best interest might include; you know your daughter does better and feels better when her room and her things are picked up and organized. Also, it’s a life skill you want her to learn as she grows through her adolescence on her way to young adulthood. All legitimate reasons.

We also know that teenagers tend to live in the moment, looking for something exciting to stimulate them. Room cleaning and organizing could be on the back burner of a teenager’s efforts for a long time without parental support or engagement. And if they have ADHD or are organizationally challenged, well, natural consequences may get them into a negative cycle.

  1. Teen doesn't clean and organize their room.
  2. Believes they are simply bad at keeping things straight, keeping track of things.
  3. It negatively impacts school performance and makes them feel overwhelmed.
  4. Self-esteem suffers and see these issues as evidence of personal inadequacy.
  5. Trying to clean room triggers these feelings so teen avoids cleaning and engages avoidance activity, such as connected devices or maybe weed.

Resolving The Battle With Your Teenage

So Denise, now that we’ve decided that caring that your daughter cleans her room is perfectly legitimate, how can you not struggle with her or have to ground her to get her to do a half assed job?

I’ll offer a couple of ideas:

  • Talk with her about the struggle and that you don’t want that kind of relationship with her.
  • Explain your reasons for wanting her to have an organized and clean room.
  • If you get a common retort that “It’s my room, I know where everything is and I just like it that way.” Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in an argument. Validate her thoughts and feelings, acknowledge that you want her to enjoy her room and have it be uniquely hers, but that there is a standard of cleanliness and organization that’s required.
  • You could add that you’ve always had this standard and just because she’s a teenager doesn’t change anything. That in your eyes, when you see her being organized and taking care of her room and her things, that’s a sign of maturity to you and helps you see her as responsible and independent.
  • Then go on to talk about how, when, and the actual standard you expect for cleanliness. Maybe give some help a few times to get things started.

This week I read the article Denise mentioned, "5 Natural Consequences You Should Let Your Child Face." The author gave advice that mostly leaves out kids for whom the advice would be bad and parents’ needs and preferences as well. Some of the author’s advice depends on the kid and the parent, and I disagree and have some better advice with some of it.

  1. Getting in Trouble at School. Yes, you don’t want to be a parent who’s child can do no wrong and how dare the school discipline my little angel. But, is there a social conflict at school that the administration is blind to or ignoring? Does my child or teen have a condition that isn’t being addressed except inappropriately with punishment? These are all factors to consider.
  2. Responsibility for Personal Space and Belongings. If your child or teen is losing things they care about, yes, don’t run out and replace it. Let them experience the loss.
  3. Not Completing Household Chores. The author suggests giving allowance for each chore and not paying as the natural consequence of not doing the chore. I disagree. Chores are things everyone in the family does because everyone needs to pitch in. That’s being a family, a team, a community. Paying and letting natural consequences be the motivator allows kids to say I don’t want the money so I’m not going to do the chore. Sorry, not okay.
  4. Bad Grades. If your youth cares about bad grades and putting in a half-hearted effort gets them a result they don’t like and they pick up their game, great. But often, bad grades reflect developmental issues that will require parental understanding, structure and support.
  5. Bad Behavior Outside the Home. If a teen misbehaves at someone else’s house, that usually represents a bigger problem than acting out in their own home. If our teens are getting in trouble being out independently, then teenagers are in effect saying, "I’m not ready for this level of independence yet" and parents need to help them learn and grow from the experience and let them know that they need to mature in certain areas before they can be out independently.

When it comes to Natural Consequences, life gives plenty of those. For children, adolescents, and young adults, accountability to parental limits and standards can be a natural consequence. When a college student uses up his allowance, that’s his problem. When a high school student gets a detention for too many tardies, that’s a learning opportunity. When your 14 year old loans his friend his baseball glove and doesn’t get it back, natural consequence and learning opportunity, as long as Dad doesn’t run out and buy him a new one. When you give your 14 year old their first smart phone and they misuse it and you take it away, that’s a natural consequence of that behavior.

As parents we want to support child and adolescent learning and growing. That means we’re cautious about running interference and not allowing them to learn from their mistakes. It also means we put structures in place that can help our teenagers manage their complex lives and learn and internalize vital life skills. Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to you Denise for your question.

Parents: support your teen's learning and growing. Be cautious about running interference, not allowing them to learn from their mistakes. Put structures in place that can help our teenagers manage their complex lives and learn vital life skills.Click To Tweet

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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  1. My 15 year old daughter started hanging out with a new best friend about 10 months ago. Since then her behaviour has taken a downward spiral. She also became more secretive and engaging in inappropriate behaviours including sneaking out, drinking and sending inappropriate pictures to boys. Her grades have also dropped and her attitude and lack of respect towards me have reached a point of extreme concern. She has recently been diagnosed with ADHD but is not totally on board with taking medication to help her focus. Previously our relationship was very close and she confided in me about everything going on in her life. She doesn’t seem to understand the pain she is causing to myself and those around her. I am at my wits end knowing how to deal with this.

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