Time to Switch from Consequences to Privileges

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 056 · Duration: 00:12:21

Time to Switch from Consequences to Privileges

If you are in a pattern of giving your child or teenager consequences, only to have them do the same behavior again, it may be time to switch to a new paradigm.

Time to Switch from Consequences to PrivilegesMark from Englewood, NJ writes:

I’ve read your book and stopped giving consequences when my kids do something wrong, and instead let them know that they earn privileges by managing their responsibilities. My 14 year-old son’s favorite thing is playing video games. When he doesn’t do a good job on his homework or other responsibilities, I take away that privilege. Now he’s arguing that taking away video games doesn’t make any sense. He says the only reason I’m taking away video games is because he likes them. “So essentially it’s a punishment, that you’re taking it away to make me do my homework better.”
How do I answer him?

Thanks for your question Mark.

Privileges & Consequences

First, let me explain the concept of privileges instead of consequences. When our kids do something wrong, it’s common to give them a consequence, take away something, usually for a specific period of time depending on the severity of the infraction, something like grounding for the weekend, no use of the computer for a while, etc. Hopefully our kid gets the message and changes their behavior. In many cases, it’s fine. The child or teenager understands there are good and bad consequences for their choices, so if they make a bad choice, there will be a bad outcome or consequence.

In many situations however, kids aren’t inclined to take responsibility for their actions, so when their parent delivers a consequence, such as taking away their video games, the kid screams “no fair.”My behavior wasn’t that bad to deserve that”, or “you’re too strict, or you’re just trying to control me by taking away things that I like.”

When issuing consequences, my teen often says: 'No fair.' or 'My behavior wasn’t that bad to deserve that.' or 'You're too strict.'Click To Tweet

In other words, rather than focusing on and adjusting their behavior, they’re trying to get the parent to change theirs. That, my friends, is a Control Battle; where kids are trying to fight their parents’ efforts to change their behavior. And, to complete the Control Battle, parents try to get their kids to change their behavior by giving consequences.

Managing Responsibilities

The privileges concept approaches things differently. It invites and encourages kids to learn the concept of taking responsibility. When kids get this concept, it’s empowering. When they adopt the concept of personal responsibility, they then have the power to set and achieve their own goals. We offer our kids certain privileges, when they can manage and are committed to managing the responsibilities that go along with that privilege.

As I’ve often said, all privileges have conditions. The privilege to go out with friends requires that the teenager has the ability and commitment to make healthy decisions when they are out and unsupervised. A child gets to enjoy dessert when they eat a reasonable portion of the healthy part of the meal. An older teen gets a drivers license when they are trustworthy and responsible to follow the rules of the road, go where they say they’re going, and return home at the agreed upon time. You get the idea.

In a way, a privilege can be a celebration of achieving a level of competence and trust.

Privileges can be a celebration of achieving a level of competence and trust.Click To Tweet

So Mark, you’re on the right track. You’ve established that your son needs to take his homework and other responsibilities seriously. You’ve also established that playing video games is a privilege that he earns when he is committed to a high standard of managing his responsibilities. In other words, doing a good job on his homework.

Just to be clear, doing a good job doesn’t mean working for hours, obsessing over every detail, or getting everything right, or getting “A’s.” It means applying himself and not rushing through it to get to his video games. When kids apply themselves, they learn and grow. They train their brains to think and problem solve. So then, whether they are still teens, or they’re young adults, or adults, and they need to do hard work, they’ve trained their brains to turn on and think creatively. When kids rush through their work, they get nothing out of it and they develop avoidant brains that aren’t prepared to conquer difficult tasks.

When kids rush through their work, they get nothing out of it and they develop avoidant brains that aren’t prepared to conquer difficult tasks.Click To Tweet

Addressing Resistance From Your Teenager

Now, how can you move forward Mark? For starters, it sounds like your son likes to argue, and while we want to raise empowered kids who can advocate for themselves, arguing for the sake of arguing or resisting parental authority, parental guidance, and standards isn’t good.

Here’s my advice. Let your son know that you are willing to explain and not argue. I’d start with explaining just what I’ve said, that you want him to do his best for all the reasons we just discussed. That he has a great brain, and you want him to use it and develop his thinking abilities by doing his best. Just the same as lifting weights to build muscles, we do hard thinking to build our brain muscles or brain capacity.

Now, it’s not that you are coercing him to do a better job on his homework by taking away something he likes. He is in charge of his actions and choices. You are in charge of establishing clear standards and accountability to those standards; that’s a parent’s job.

Teens are in charge of their actions and choices. Parents are in charge of establishing clear standards and accountability to those standards.Click To Tweet

The value you have established is: First, we do our work, up to the best of our ability, and then we enjoy things we do for recreation. That’s a value your parents probably taught you and it’s a value you hold dear, and it’s a value you are passing on to him.

If you are regularly taking away the privilege, you might be calling it losing a privilege, but it’s the same as giving a consequence.

Try this: take away any carte blanche video game privilege and make it a by-permission-only opportunity. Even if it’s a one hour or 90 minute a night privilege currently, I’d make it that he has to complete his homework and other responsibilities qualitatively and have it reviewed by a parent before he can play any games.

Then, of course, be sure that you review his work and are monitoring his effort consistently so that the standards don’t get worn down and you’re back to square one after a short lived improvement. This way, you can establish that your son is accountable to you and to the value of applying himself when doing his work, and of course, any other responsibilities you expect from him.

If he needs support to keep his focus on his work, then you may need to provide that support. Not to the point, however, that you are making him do his work, only to the point that you are supporting him in applying himself.

Once your son gets the hang of truly applying himself and doing his best work, and he articulates it and demonstrates it, then the condition of the privilege can change from always needing to ask, to using it when he’s completed his responsibilities qualitatively on his own. At that point, he’ll care about the quality of his work and may actually be enthusiastic about his work.

A Challenge For Parents

So parents, let’s all take a challenge from Mark’s question.

Are we constantly struggling to get our kids to do their homework or manage other responsibilities? Are we constantly taking things away to get them to perform better?

If we are, it’s time to shift the paradigm and realize that trying to get our kids to perform is manipulation and coercion. As long as it’s our job to get them to manage their responsibilities, then it’s not theirs. They are the only ones who can get themselves to perform and, guess what, they are completely capable to doing just that.

Stay positive, let them know the standards, and let them earn their privileges. Once they get the hang of it, they’ll be empowered teenagers, and after all, that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Thanks for tuning in today everyone, and special thanks Mark from Englewood, NJ.

Last week, I completed the first Empowered Teen Parenting Course. The participants found great benefit from it and are already starting to see positive changes in their family! Details on the next course offering will be coming in the future. If you want to hear more information on the next course, be sure to sign up for the waitlist or send me an email!

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

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