Q&A Parenting: Consequences or Not?


A therapist friend recently said not to give teens consequences for misbehaviors, but to process with them their fears that lead to misbehavior. He said this is the recent philosophy.

An example:
Our son, “Josh,” called from a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve and asked to sleep over, saying the parents had gone to bed, but were there. We agreed to the sleep over. The next day I called him to pick him up, no answer. I called the parents; they were out of town. My husband and I first discussed with Josh our disappointment that he would lie (I cried a bit) and his responsibility to Heavenly Father as a priesthood holder. Josh was defiant, stating he didn’t get why I would cry. We didn’t yell, but consequences were stiff: no phone, no sleepovers, no friends for a period of time.

During this time Josh and I had discussions about why he lied. He knew I would never let him have a sleepover without supervision. I helped him bring out his feelings about his desire to be accepted. This particular friend is quite popular. Josh said that while he was lying the Spirit touched him and he felt guilty but he chose to lie. He told me how bad he felt and we discussed the power of repentance.

My question- my husband has heard you speak and he remembers your saying something like there is only one way of really effective parenting: the Lord’s way. He interpreted that to be that God gives rules and consequences. He remembered your saying that many fads of disciplining children come and go, but stick to God’s plan.

We had a small disagreement after I discussed my friend’s viewpoint. What do you think?


Although I do believe there really is basically one way to parent well and that is the Lord’s way (as I believe there is basically one way to have a good marriage and one way to live), that’s not to say that there isn’t a range within that one way and some need for flexibility.

That said, I don’t understand people who say there shouldn’t be consequences for misbehavior. In the eternal scheme of things, there are always consequences. The laws of physics say the same thing (for every action there is a equal and opposite reaction). And I think failing to impose consequences for lying sends a scary message. Of course, there is a big difference between imposing consequences and getting super-angry and punishing. The relationship is important and I completely agree with the approach of discussing what went on, what the kid was thinking, showing love, understanding, etc., etc., etc. But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t still be a consequence. It just shouldn’t be done in the heat of anger or to vent our frustrations. It should be a natural consequence, where possible (and it’s often not possible), otherwise, a logical consequence. If a child lies to us, I think it’s logical to withdraw some privileges associated with trust. And then, there may need to be some pretty consistent verification of things for a while until he has established a good track record of complete honesty.

Frankly, to me, lying is HUGE. God is a God of truth. Lies are so offensive to Him. And it’s not hard to see why. How do you have any kind of meaningful relationship with someone who isn’t truthful with you? I remember David O. McKay saying that trust is more important than love. That makes perfect sense to me. So, I think it’s incredibly important to send a strong message about how crucial honesty is. Again, that doesn’t excuse harsh or punitive measures, but I do believe that consequences are definitely in order. Check out Alma 42–the whole chapter–for a great explanation of why there are consequences for sin.

BTW, I am seldom too impressed by the current philosophies in marriage and family relations. Some ideas can be interesting, I suppose, but, when it comes to parenting ideas for instance, we are in such a permissive mode as a society that we need to be extremely cautious. Neal A. Maxwell warned,

“The more what is politically correct seeks to replace what God has declared correct, the more ineffective approaches to human problems there will be, all reminding us of C. S. Lewis’s metaphor about those who run around with fire extinguishers in times of flood. For instance, there are increasing numbers of victims of violence and crime, yet special attention is paid to the rights of criminals. Accompanying an ever-increasing addiction to pornography are loud alarms against censorship. Rising illegitimacy destroys families and threatens the funding capacities of governments; nevertheless, chastity and fidelity are mocked. These and other consequences produce a harsh cacophony. When Nero fiddled as Rome burned, at least he made a little music! I HAVE NO HESITANCY, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, IN STATING THAT UNLESS CHECKED, PERMISSIVENESS, BY THE END OF ITS JOURNEY, WILL CAUSE HUMANITY TO STARE IN MUTE DISBELIEF AT ITS AWFUL CONSEQUENCES.

Ironically, as some people become harder, they use softer words to describe dark deeds.” (Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Becometh As a Child’,” Ensign, May 1996, 68, emphasis added.)

That last sentence is important to me, too. Lying is a hard term, but it’s so important not to minimize–or soften–how seriously offensive to God it is and how destructive it is to all our relationships. ALL THIS, however, can and should be done in the context of a strong, loving relationship with our kids. So it sounds like your discussion with Josh was good and strengthened your relationship. That’s always a positive. It’s just also essential that the message is delivered clearly and, in my opinion, God is clear on the fact that consequences are an eternal reality. In fact, a big part of parenting, in my opinion, is that—within the context of a strong, positive, loving relationship—we need to make it worth our children’s while, through the use of consequences, for our children to harness their own natural man.

Carry on.

  1. Pops says:

    Looking at the subject from a slightly different angle, I would add that one of the most corrosive beliefs a person can possess is the belief he or she can “get away” with something. Part of becoming mature ought to be gaining the ability to detect and eliminate that attitude within one’s self.

  2. Lili says:

    Excellent point. Some people seem to believe that they are above the law. Rules don’t apply to them. They can–and should–get away with whatever they choose to do.

    I think God makes a very clear statement concerning such individuals in D&C 88:35:

    That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, BUT SEEKETH TO BECOME A LAW UNTO ITSELF and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still.

  3. Great Maxwell quote — thanks!

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