What kind of correction works best with teenagers? This is a generational quandary! What is the best way to positively address the areas in their lives where they need growth and direction? The time-honored favorite method of correction is consequences! But, the issue is what kind of consequences?
If consequences nourish and build up a young person, this is a good thing and qualifies as biblical discipline. In case you are questioning where the idea of nourishment comes from, look with me at Ephesians 6:4:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
The English words “bring them up” are a translation of the greek word which means nourish. So, nourishment is an appropriate term to associate with consequences that are honoring to God. Lasting heart change is best accomplished this way.
However, if consequences are deployed as punishment or perceived as punishment then the outcome will not be pleasant for the parent or the teenager. This is because punishment has to do with fear. In contrast true biblical discipline has to do with love. Look at I John 4:18:
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Consequences that focus on punishment and payment for wrong doing may change behavior for the short-term, but they will not yield dependence on the gospel and will not nourish relationships with parents or with God.
Biblical discipline, including consequences, must be rooted in loving nourishment and not punishment. Therefore, consequences must have a focus on building up and producing growth. I John is clear, punishment produces fear. This is because punishment is about retribution, payment for wrong doing. This will produce a response of fear and anger in your teenagers.
Biblical discipline on the other hand produces security and peace. Thus, if your correction is not directly connected to the restorative power of the gospel it will resemble punishment more than discipline.
Consequences that focus on extra chores or being restricted from favorite activities with no positive value other than payment for poor or unacceptable behavior will not benefit your teenager or draw them closer to God. See Colossians 2:20-23. These consequences will increase anger and build relational barriers between you and your teenagers.
An additional negative outcome of these types of consequences is that they may make your teenager think he or she has somehow paid for their sin by doing the consequence. This kind of trade-off is dangerous. Christ alone is the only one who can pay or make atonement for your children’s sins. Indeed, teenagers will sometimes endure these negative consequences, simply because they are willing to trade-off good times for some bad-times. This is not healthy!
Remember that Paul’s instruction in Ephesians is to not provoke children to anger but to instead nourish them with truth firmly rooted in the grace of the gospel.
So what is a consequence that would be helpful and not destructive? One approach would be spending time with your teenage son talking through the circumstances that led to the problematic behavior. This would involve loving him enough to really understand that the problem from his perspective and then talking through what a positive response would look like. There is one draw back to this approach: time! This kind of relational involvement takes time. It requires investing deeply in your teenager’s life. This is what a consequence that nourishes looks like. Your children and their relationship with God are worth every second of this investment.
Don’t invest in punishment. Nourish your teenager with the richness of the gospel.