Believe it or not, kids thrive on consistency. Really! They may rant and rave about how they hate your stupid rules and how you have no idea what the world is like today, but they still thrive when they have structure and consistency. Research proves it!
So, one of the worst things a parent can do is skip the follow-through when they proclaim a consequence, or skip a consequence from a rule their kids didn’t follow.
Why is this the case? Teens operate with a constant underlying insecurity, which comes with the developmental process of identity formation. In this process, teens constantly seek for approval, acceptance, acknowledgement, self-confidence, and to define themselves. Eventually, teens manage to define themselves through a messy and rocky process of trial and error, “practice relationships,” and through testing their limits and boundaries.
That means your teens are CONSTANTLY collecting data and feedback from the responses and behaviors of the people around them, including YOU.
Your teen begs you for permission to go on a trip that you know may be dangerous. You say no.
Your teen may hate your answer and even say they hate you, but somewhere within themselves, they will also know that your love for them is so strong that you won’t let them get harmed. Your answer (and maybe you) will be annoying to your teen, but also subtly comforting. They may even tell their friends that you are stupid, old-fashioned, out-of-touch, etc., but part of them is remembering that you cared.
Your 13-year-old boy hits his 10-year-old brother, fails his pre-algebra test, and slams doors at home.
Is it worth a response from you? YES! A lack of parental follow-through in consequence may, ironically, encourage your son to act poorly. Why?
Because in your son’s subconscious quest for success and acceptance, he can’t know how to succeed unless he knows exactly where your parameters of failure and success really are. If he can’t get consistent “push-back” from his parents when he behaves badly, then he doesn’t know if he is noticed, he doesn’t know what is disappointing to you, and he will then feel more insecure about whether or not his behavior even matters. As a result, he may continue to act poorly to get the attention he expected in the first place.
Once this happens (and especially once his parents finally explode in pent-up frustration), he may subconsciously remember that the only way to get your attention was to act out in bigger ways (failing a test and slamming doors wasn’t enough because they were ignored). Remember the old saying “Negative attention is better than no attention”? It’s true, and kids know it.
To add insult to injury, in your son’s mind, any goals he has of being praised for his successes may seem impossible to reach because he has now been repeatedly overlooked until his parents finally lash out at him.
It’s important to remember that we aren’t going to be perfect 100% of the time with our follow-through, and our kids aren’t going to end up in the legal system because of that.
We just need to be as consistent as possible.
If we do decide to change a consequence that our child was expecting would happen, we need to formally address it by explaining that the circumstance changed, or because of _______________(insert specific reason), we have decided “in this particular instance” to change the consequence.
The bottom line? We will have happier, more self-confident kids if we will simply be more consistent in our follow-through. Want to show love to your teens? Follow-through!