Our values are the things we think are important in the way we live, work, and manage our relationships. What we value often determines our priorities and guides our behavior. Happiness comes when our actions match our beliefs and values. This means that rules should exist to help teach values, and that consequences should directly relate to the rule. As you create your family rules and consequences, make sure they correspond to your family values. For example, some of your family values may be respect, honesty, responsibility, safety, education, compassion, hard work, or well-being.
Consequences Teach Values
One area of focus you should look at as a parent is living by and respecting those core family values. There are no punishments, only consequences. The consequences should make sense, meaning the action fits the consequence or the crime fits the time. By enforcing consequences in a respectful and caring way, you will be able to help instill positive values and facilitate the lasting change needed to help your struggling teen overcome his/her self-defeating behaviors.
As you create your values-based consequences, keep in mind the following types of consequences:
- Natural consequences are a natural result of the choice. This can be positive, in the form of a privilege or reward, or it can be negative. For example, a teen chooses to do his homework and learns something. Or, he chooses not to do his homework and is unable to follow along in class the next day.
- Logical consequences fit the situation and make sense to everyone involved. For example, the teen does his homework and receives a good grade. Or, he chooses not to do his homework and receives a bad grade.
- Pre-arranged consequences are consequences that are set up before the choice is made. For example, the teen did his homework, so he is able to spend time with his friends. If he chose not to do his homework, he does not spend time with his friends.
- Self-imposed consequences are consequences we impose on ourselves as added incentives to keep the rules. For example, the teen who completed his homework can buy himself a new CD. If he did not complete his homework, he will stay after school and do it in the library.
As you create your values-based consequences, use creativity. The more creative and original you are with the consequence that is issued, the more impactful it will be and the more likely greater lasting change will take place. Also keep in mind that it can be difficult to intervene. There can and will be gray areas with your child and you never want him/her to be in pain. There are times when you should intervene and issue a logical consequence because if you allow the action to continue to the point that a natural consequence takes place, it could be dangerous and harmful. Don’t wait until it is too late! You are giving consequences because you care and if you enforce them in a caring and calm manner, your teen will see it and will eventually respect it.
It is also important to continue working on your relationship with your teen as you establish and follow through with consequences. If there is no respect between you and your teen, it doesn’t matter what you do, your consequences will come across as a punishment. Take time to work on your relationship and there will be times when your hard work will pay off.
Being creative, caring, and consistent as you establish and follow through with your values-based consequences will help your teen make lasting changes and learn to live by important core values.
Creating Values-based Consequences
The following exercises are designed to help your family create consequences that correspond to your family values.
- Identify your family values. Make a list of 5-10 of your basic family rules. After you have listed the rules, go back and identify what value you feel each rule teaches. For example, if you have a family rule that your teen must be home by 11 p.m. on weeknights, you likely value dependability, safety, or responsibility.
- Look at your lists of family values and family rules. While looking at both lists, think about the following questions:
- Are all of your family values represented in your family rules?
- Did your family rules help you to identify other values that are important to your family but are not on your family values list?
The purpose of this exercise is to help you understand the connection between family values and rules. Rules should exist to teach values. Make changes to these two lists as necessary so that your family rules are based on your family values.
- With your family or family therapist, discuss the different types of consequences listed above. Identify which types of consequences are the most effective in your family. Then, as a family, come up with at least one consequence for each of your family rules, and identify which type of consequence it is. Be sure to write these down.