Teens learn about consequences in childhood, from the day they were born. Consequences are outcomes – negative or positive – of a person’s action. By their nature, they gauge our behavior because we as humans strive for positive outcomes or consequences or we try our best to avoid negative outcomes and behaviors. When dealing with discipline and teens, there are two types of consequences that you’ll need to be concerned with: natural and logical. Both of these types can be positive or negative. To help you get a handle of what each type means, I’ll define them and give both a positive and negative example.

Natural consequences occur naturally, hence the name. They are not controlled or manipulated by anyone, they simply just happen but are not always a surprise. When you plant a flower in your garden and take care of it, it grows. That is a positive example of natural consequences. When you put your finger in an electric socket, you get a shock. That is an example of negative natural consequences. Note that natural consequences happen whether you know what the outcome will be or not and you cannot control what the outcome will be.

Logical consequences are situations engineered by the person in authority and they are logically connected to the wrong. It is logical because it “fits” the offense. For example, if your teen breaks curfew, they aren’t allowed out the next night or you can tighten the curfew by making it one hour earlier. If they don’t eat dinner, they don’t get dessert. These are examples of negative logical consequences. Setting up a reward system for good grades and giving the reward when the grade is obtained is an example of a positive logical consequence.

Deciding Between Natural or Logical Consequences

When parents want their children to learn from their mistakes, they have the choice of allowing the child to deal with the natural consequences or set up logical consequences. But how do you choose between the two types of consequences? When is one more effective than the other?

When natural consequences are immediate they are very effective. If your teen touches a hot pot, they will get burned and is not likely to do that again. Many times, however, natural consequences are not immediate or are too dangerous to allow. Running into the street without looking does not always have immediate consequences. Either does not wearing a seat belt when driving. Both actions, though, could have dire natural consequences in the future that no one wants. Therefore, the natural consequences aren’t what a parent should use to teach their teen the responsibility of their own safety and it is up to the parents to sort out a logical consequence that will promote the desired behavior – in this instance not running into the street without looking or wearing a seat belt.

Another instance of when logical consequences will be more effective than natural consequences is while your teen is getting a high school education. The benefits of good grades in school are so far off into the future that teens do not fully comprehend them, if they pay attention to them at all. While your teen can repeat what they have been told: ‘good grades will get you into a good college and you’ll make more money’, until they see the type of job or paycheck a college education can get, they will not understand the difference. Logical consequences, including rewards for good grades and privileges taken for poor grades work best as your teen can fully understand these.

There are times when the natural consequence is the better choice for the parent to make. One excellent example is when your teen is dating or making friends. Finding out what type of person your teen wants to be with and how your teen wants to be treated is going to be their choice. Dating or making friends with someone who isn’t their type is going to show that to them. Barring any mistreatment from a friend or a date, parents will need to hold their tongue and refrain from giving their opinions in order to let the natural consequences – positive or negative – happen.

Discipline choices are never easy. Hopefully knowing the difference between natural and logical consequences will help you make the right choices for you and your teen. For more, read about clear communication in discipline here.