How to Effectively Impose Consequences for Bad Behavior

If you've tried everything to get through to your teenager, and nothing is working, don't despair. The Savvy Psychologist, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, joins Mighty Mommy with 4 expert tips on how to use consequences to minimize bad behavior.

Cheryl Butler
4-minute read

Tip #3: Set a consequence and an incentive he actually cares about. A note about punishment: there is increasing evidence that punishment doesn’t work and instead either pushes the bad behavior underground or leads to worse behavior.  

This makes intuitive sense.  If you missed a deadline at work and your boss said “That’s it!  I’m taking away your next two paychecks! That’ll teach you!” would you nod approvingly and thoughtfully reflect on the ways you could improve? I didn’t think so.  Instead, you’d be pissed.  You’d fume about how much you hate your boss.  You’d probably play out some revenge fantasies in your head.  And now that you know just how to push your boss’s buttons, you might even do it again.

With small potatoes bad behavior, it’s best to minimize punishment and try a positive approach.  However, with truly unsafe behavior, like lying about where he is, becomes chronic, punishment does have a role.

Here’s how to do it well: First, choose a consequence he actually cares about.  If you take away his phone but he can just chat with his friends from his laptop, it’s not going to work.  So choose something that he will actually be motivated about, whether it’s use of the car, having money, or being able to stay out as late as his friends. Spell out the consequence for breaking the rule just as specifically as the rule itself.  Write it down and display it, just like the rule.

Next, add an incentive for adhering to the rule.  Some parents think that this means rewarding kids for doing something they’re supposed to be doing anyway.  But a one-sided punishment-only approach isn’t going to get him excited.  Add some carrots as well as sticks, and you’ll get a more motivated response.  This is where you can get your child’s input.  Discuss it together and come to a mutually acceptable reward.  For instance, for every weekend night he makes curfew, he gets to stay out half an hour later the next weekend night.  Again, write it down and display it.

Tip #4: After the rules and consequences are set, no negotiating.  Whatever’s in the agreement goes.  When your child tries to argue, point to the written agreement. They’ll try to escalate at first, but hold your ground.  It will save you energy and arguments in the long run.  


Click here to read the second part of this episode, how to handle teenage defiance and rebellion.

Thank you to Dr. Hendriksen for these helpful tips. You can check out the Savvy Psychologist podcast at QuickandDirtytips.com/Savvy-Psychologist or subscribe to the show on iTunes

If you have a defiant teen in your life, try out these helpful tips. I'd love to hear how they worked for your family. And if you have any other strategies for dealing with a defiant teen, share them in the Comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page or email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com



All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.