Ask any parent what they struggle with most when it comes to parenting, and chances are many will say “consistency.” It can be challenging to be consistent in every situation. Maybe it’s because you don’t want to always be the “bad guy,” because sometimes it’s just easier to give in or bend the rules than argue, or simply because of distractions and feeling overwhelmed, but regardless of the cause, inconsistency is one of the primary reasons that teens struggle.
The fact is, kids of all ages need boundaries. Consistency with rules, expectations, and consequences provides stability for a child and helps them develop a strong sense of character and the ability to make good decisions for themselves. Without boundaries, teens will inevitably find trouble, but inconsistent enforcement of the rules can lead to even more challenges, including anxiety, depression, stress, and other emotional and behavioral issues.
So how do you create consistency, especially when there is a mismatch between parental expectations (Mom is strict, Dad’s a little more lenient) or other challenges? Committing to standing by your word is key, but you can create more consistency in other ways as well.
1. Make Expectations Clear
Many parents believe that certain expectations go without saying, but you can never assume that your teen knows exactly what is allowed and what isn’t. You must be clear in what you expect and what the boundaries are.
This means clearly articulating the rules so there is no room for interpretation. Tell your teens specifically what is not allowed, and the consequences for not adhering to the rules. Don’t expect your teens to be mind-readers or set them up to fail with unclear boundaries.
2. Setting and Following Through with Consequences
Consequences need to be a natural result of failing to adhere to boundaries. However, all too often parents set rules (“You can’t do X”) without spelling out exactly what will happen if their teen does do whatever it is. Or, they define the consequences, but fail to follow through.
It is vitally important that you set and follow through with consequences, every time. That doesn’t mean you can’t be reasonable — extenuating circumstances may require and adjustment — but in most cases, you must follow through.
3. Proactively Praise
Teenagers thrive when they are trusted, so reward them by expanding boundaries when appropriate. Sometimes, the leniency is for a special occasion (like prom or other major event) or it’s a permanent change. Either way, being proactive and rewarding good behavior in addition to addressing problematic behavior affirms your teen and gives them incentive to follow the rules.
4. Build a Relationship
Rules work best when there is a relationship — otherwise, discipline becomes meaningless and your teen is not really going to care either way about the consequences of their actions. Developing a relationship with your teen is important to establishing consistency, since your child will feel more comfortable with you and be willing to discuss issues before they become real problems.
5. Consider Other Alternatives
Sometimes, maintaining consistency is just too difficult due to family, economic, or other challenges. Sometimes, your teen just needs more support than you are capable of providing at this point.
When that happens, it may be worth investigating other options, such as residential facilities for troubled youth, which can provide the consistency that’s lacking at home. Sometimes all it takes is that consistent environment to turn things around, and if you can’t provide it, looking elsewhere may be a good idea.
6. Choose Your Battles
Your teen is never going to be perfect. He or she is going to have good days and bad days, and you cannot expect to address every single little issue without wearing yourself out and creating resentment. You are better off to remain consistent with a few important issues while maintaining leniency on others, to keep your relationship and your sanity intact.
7. Always Consider Your Teen’s Best Interests
When your teen does something that makes you angry, your response needs to be guided by their best interests, not yours. Doling out punishments just because you are angry or inconvenienced isn’t going to solve anything. Consequences should be designed to teach your teen the right thing to do, not just make everyone miserable.
When the rules are broken, take a moment to consider your response and what is in your child’s best interests. It might be unpleasant to address an issue and easier to ignore it, but that’s not going to solve anything anymore than a knee-jerk reaction will. When you pause before reacting, it allows you to be consistent and fair.
Raising children is difficult, but there’s no need to make it harder on yourself by being inconsistent. Set clear boundaries, follow through on consequences, and keep your relationship at the forefront, and you will have fewer struggles.