There comes a time when time-outs don't cut it anymore.

Normally, when my kids exercise poor judgement, I let them experience natural consequences. However, sometimes their actions go against what we are teaching them and the consequences are rewarding.

When pre-teens break the rules or disobey, what consequences are appropriate?


4 Answers 4


It depends on the privileges they have. Sometimes, giving them extra chores is appropriate (say, if they've broken something and you want them to make restitution.) Many times, though, you'll want to take something away from them. Anything short of food, clothing, and the roof over their heads is fair game-- depending on the severity of their rule breaking.


  • Cell phone
  • computer
  • TV
  • games


  • Playing with friends
  • Being driven places
  • Getting allowance

My dad always used to ask us the trick question: "What punishment do you think you deserve?" You can try that one if you run out of ideas ;)

  • I'd like to note that the trick question only works if the child feels like they've messed up and so feel guilty for it. One with more, shall we say, chutzpah might simply brush off the question. Be wary of this trick being transparent as the get older.
    – Aarthi
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 13:44
  • 2
    This answer works with kids that are generally compliant to begin with, but unfortunately misses out on opportunities for life lessons about decision making AND understanding WHY certain things need to be done. It lacks empathy and is also likely to cause more fights and resentment with MANY kids. It is an answer more about control than about discipline. Commented Nov 11, 2012 at 17:48
  • This is a terrible answer. The last thing you want is to take away one of the few ways of your child getting someone responsible on alert in case of problems - their phone. Taking away the "computer" is also extremely stupid - as it isn't a toy, like a videogame is, but it is instead a tool for learning and working that can also be used to play games. Please don't do any of this.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Jan 11, 2021 at 2:27

Developmentally, preteens and teens are at the age they are supposed to question everything. This makes for some delightful challenges. The piece that helps with their questioning is that they also like to feel like they have some ownership or control over their life. It is absolutely appropriate at that age to sit down with your children and review the family rules and discuss them - find out what your children think of the rules - are there any they think should be added, amended or deleted. Ask them to justify any changes they are proposing and afford them the same. The more you involve children in these age groups with decisions, and explain the though behind them, the better decision makers they will be when you are not standing next to them. Additionally, ask them to help establish consequences. Depending on your child's personality, writing these out and posting them may have a great power for avoiding consequences.

It is additionally important to have behaviors that will earn rewards and discuss those along with what the rewards will be. Most tweens are still very interested in pleasing adults and if they know that sweeping the kitchen floor will earn them a reward (thereby letting them know it has pleased you) they are more likely to complete the task.

I do recall the "worst" punishment from my parents at that age was having a discussion about my bad decision, what was so bad about it, how I was going to rectify it and what I was going to do in the future - they were agonizing talks at the time, but they taught me how to think about results of decisions I make, eventually I was able to foresee the discussion and therefore avoid the behavior.


Besides taking away privileges, it is really important to kids this age to express themselves as individuals. You may not always like what they choose to wear but sometimes it's tolerable. Make sure you have given them enough so that there is plenty to take away.

How they want their hair done. A special pair of shoes. Food they like to share with their friends.

If they like to sleep in on the weekends. Make them go to bed early and get up early in the morning. Then have them do something physical; pull weeds, lifting heave objects, etc...

  • @nGinius: that's what I also thought. Excellent point, as we really on very hard "protest days" have the problem that there are not enough privileges to take away. Hm.
    – BBM
    Commented Sep 16, 2011 at 8:30

Preteens are at a particular stage in life that makes them very different from their younger selves and very different from adults. That means they are often motivated differently so your question is exceptional in its likely quality in terms of others needing similar advice.

The first thing to know is that at this point in their development, teens are actually having a growth spurt in their brains equivalent to the one they had when they were between two and five years old. They are not growing new cells, but the are growing new synapses (or connections) between the cells they have as well as a myelin sheath over the cells in their frontal lobes. Sometimes, things they could do only a month ago are actually difficult for them now because they honestly get muddled and forgetful at times. This doesn't excuse things like not getting work in, but it makes it a lot easier as parent to be a little more patient about it. If the trouble is organizational or related to things like picking up or turning off lights etc. Talk to them about their brain development and use things like planners, calendars and to-do lists with them. Einstein didn't learn his own phone number - this genius' explanation, "I have enough to remember already." He could look his phone number up if it was written down and he knew which book to use. Work on teaching them to use methods that require less memory.

Teens and pre-teens also have a lot chemically going on (changing and raging hormones) that in an adult would be enough to cause us to be diagnosed as clinically insane and prescribed drugs to help moderate it all. They are learning how to balance all of this when that myelin sheath is still growing and their brains aren't really built how to moderate emotion yet. This results in back-talk, fit throwing and a host of other super wonderful parent favorites. Take a deep breath, remind yourself that, "this too shall pass." and then try to use empathy. Even though they are not yet adults, they really want to be treated like adults. They need you to listen, empathize and understand not to yell and lecture. It is often more effective to acknowledge their feelings, listen, paraphrase calmly and then calmly state your concern. Follow your statement of concern with a question - what does your child think the answer is? You may be surprised to find they know what is happening is wrong and may even suggest a punishment more harsh than you would have thought to give yourself. Or they may express a need for help and how they can get that help from you.

Instead of using punishments or rewards, continue to focus on finding the natural consequences. For example, when a child doesn't turn in their work, their grade suffers. When a grade suffers, so do future prospects for further education and careers. If your child wants to live a vagabond kind of life, let them live it. People who aren't gainfully employed don't have money to stay "in fashion," go to the movies, hang with friends, by cool stuff like the latest i-pad, i-pod and i-phone. Don't warn, threaten and cajole, just take the privilege away and describe the connection in one paragraph or less coupled with empathy. "I'm so sorry that you haven't been taking care of first things first. It is such a bummer you can't go to the theater tonight, but people who don't get their work done, don't have money for such frivolous things." Don't argue, don't worry if they pout, just repeat yourself and walk away - they'll get the point.

Teens also need something that is "theirs". A way to stand above the crowd in a positive way. Does your kid have an outlet that is related to a special interest or talent? At parties and such, adults are identified by their careers and their special interests. Teens want this too so if they have it don't take it away and if they don't, help them find it!

It also may be that they need employment. Do you feel good about yourself and at your best when you aren't productive? If they can't get formal employment right now, why not pay them for a "special job" that will use their best in your home? I'm not talking about paying for chores here, give them something that wouldn't be the average kid's work for the family anyway. **Or **find a volunteer situation that gives them real-world experience in an interest area.

See this article for more, similar ideas.

  • The question is about pre-teens.
    – user420
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 14:17
  • 1
    Yes, I guess I should clarify. Preteens are at the very beginning of all these changes so the preteen years are the time to begin setting things up to honor more decision making on their part while setting up yourself as a fabulous listener and supportive person. The parts at the end about employment are something that obviously would come later, but most of this applies to both. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 15:44

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