How to Create Consequences with Your Teen
By Delaney Ruston, MD
Originally appeared on Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday blog
In a recent blog, I wrote about how to effectively say “no” around screen time and I promised to write more about accountability and consequences when rules are broken. Enforcing rules is by far one of the hardest things we do as parents, especially with teens. There is so little written that gives example consequences and yet getting ideas is so important as a parent. So, after you read this, share what you do in the comments section below — that would be a real gift.
Knowing I would write this tonight, I decided to clarify with my daughter, Tessa (who is in Screenagers — and now in 11th grade), the consequences regarding the rules (that she helped create) around screen time at night. Sunday through Thursday night, at a time we agreed upon she hands my husband or me her phone, or she or she plugs it in to charge in the corner of my bedroom. The rule includes not using her computer for socializing after that time as well — i.e. no instant messaging or Instagram on the computer.
I asked her for ideas for consequences if she did not turn in the phone at the agreed upon time. Her first one was that if she breaks the rule, she would not have access to her phone for the entire following day. I responded “really?” — with a tone that implied that maybe that would be too harsh. And then, she quickly came up with something a little less harsh, “I can’t bring it to school the next day.” We agreed that made sense.
Next, we started brainstorming ways she would succeed with the rule. I asked if she thought it would help her to put an alarm on her phone for the time that she is supposed to put it in my room. She said, “Yep, that makes sense, I will set it for five minutes before to help remind me.”
Setting fair consequences, that our youth help set (when possible), is a gift we give our children. It is a lot easier to “check out” and just let kids and teens sort out for themselves what, when and how long they want to use screens. But, of course, that is not the solution. Frankly, that approach would prevent many kids from reaching short- and long-term goals. In Screenagers we look at the research about how improving one’s self-control is a predictor of all sorts of positive outcomes later in life. Having a few key rules and practice following them does indeed strengthen executive functioning and self-control.
It is not just a politically correct idea that we involve youth in establishing their rules and consequences, I believe it is actually fundamental. As children become teens, having autonomy and feeling respected are increasingly important. Let them know how much you regard their input and that you understand they want control over their lives. Let them also know that a healthy home has screen time limits, period. It is just the way it is. Research shows that this is extremely important.
A parent’s goal is to enforce a rule in a matter of fact way, staying calm. No lecturing, no yelling. This can be so hard, but it is worth it. This is all about decreasing power struggles. If a rule ultimately does not work, then find a time to discuss the issue — which is one of the main reasons that Tech Talk Tuesdays exists.
We asked several parents for examples of rules and consequences they have. Below are ideas based on their answers.
Rule: Phone gets handed over to a parent at 9 pm.
Predetermined Consequence> If not done, the next night a parent takes the phone at 8 pm. Then, the night after, go back to the original rule where the child hands it over at 9.
Rule: iPad (or another portable screen) is not to be in the bedroom, but to stay in the office or another family common space.
Predetermined Consequence> If brought into the bedroom, iPad is put away for the rest of the day and is not used the next day at all.
Rule: No video games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Predefined Consequence> If found to be playing video games, they lose video game time for one day.
Rule: While doing homework, keep the phone in another room but can take phone breaks.
Predefined Consequence> If they are found with the phone by the computer while they work, then it gets put away for the rest of the day.
Rule: Parent gives a specific amount of time the child/teen can play a video game.
Predefined Consequence> If the child does not comply when the time is up, the time the child can play is shortened by 10 minutes the next scheduled video game play.
Rule: Not to use a personal device at a certain event, such as a family gathering.
Predefined Consequence> If uses a device at the event, they cannot use that device after the event and following morning.
Rule: No use of your phone in class. (You might only hear about this from a teacher or administrator.)
Predefined Consequence> If phone is being used, then it must stay home the next day. If it happens again, it would be for the week.
Rule: No internet or video games during the school week — if needs to check something on the internet, must ask a parent first.
Predefined Consequence> If found doing this during the week then they lose some of Saturday computer time.
Rule: The kitchen is a device-free zone in the house.
Predefined Consequence> When the child is on a device in the kitchen, they get one warning, but the next time they lose the nighttime privilege of 20 minutes of screen time that day.
Here are a few questions to start a conversation for this week’s TTT:
- What are the rules around screen time in our house?
- What are the consequences, or if not known, what should they be?
- What are things that can be done to increase the chance that rules will be followed (such as visual reminders, timers, or even tech solutions such as apps that turn things off automatically)?
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For 20 years Delaney has split her time between providing primary care and creating short and feature-length documentaries, such as Screenagers. Examples of her other films include Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia about her father and Hidden Pictures about global mental health. These films have been screened widely, aired on PBS, and were at the forefront of advocacy campaigns, including with the World Health Organization. For her work in using films to building movements, Delaney has won several awards including Harvard’s McLean National Council Recognition Award and New York’s Fountain House Advocacy Award.
Delaney trained at Stanford Medical School, followed by a medicine residency at UC San Francisco. She has practiced and taught medicine in diverse settings including faculty positions at The University of Washington School of Medicine and at The Center for Medical Humanities, Bioethics and Compassionate Care at Stony Brook School of Medicine, NY.
Ruston has conducted investigative research in diverse fields—including biophysics at NIH, bioethics, and communication at UCSF and behavioural health as a Fulbright Scholar. She has spent the past six years intensely researching the impact of screen time on youth and solutions for screen time balance.