Consequences are a part of life. When your children say or do something – good or bad – there is often a natural consequence resulting from their choice. The problem children and teens have is that word “often”. Bad things don’t always happen when they make a poor choice and good things don’t always happen when they make a good choice. Why? Because we live in a fallen world and consequences don’t always appear consistent or even fair. Why does a teen who had his first drink of alcohol die in a horrible car crash while another teen who drives high regularly never even has a fender bender?
Which is why conversations about consequences are often ignored – especially by teens. They think they have seen enough people make bad choices with zero consequences that they can play the odds and make poor choices safely, too. I’ve even heard more than one teen explain a life plan that includes “enjoying” living a sinful life as long as possible and then becoming a Christian when they become “too old” to enjoy sinning.
While it is important to discuss hidden consequences (like mental anguish), cumulative consequences (like bad health or broken relationships), and even eternal consequences, sometimes a more hands-on practical, approach can help. If you consistently give natural consequences for rebellious behavior, hopefully your children will eventually understand their words and actions have consequences.
There are, however, some fun things you can do with them that might help speed the process up a bit.
- Which comes first game. Young children need to first learn about cause and effect before they can understand that actions have consequences. You can play the game with pictures cut from a magazine or just verbally. Pose questions like, “Which came first, the scraped knee or tripping and falling?” Start with obvious, simple choices before you give more complex ones. Don’t forget to throw in a few fun ones like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
- Picture book consequences. As you read picture books together, pause periodically after a character decides to say or do something and have your kids guess what might happen next. Point out when bad choices had negative consequences and good choices had positive ones. If a character somehow makes a poor choice with no consequences, ask what they think could happen over time if the character keeps making the same poor choice.
- Story change up. Kids who are older can play a variation of the game with news articles, books, movies or even history. In fact there is an entire genre in literature now of “alternate history”. Ask your child to imagine what might have happened had the person in question made a slightly different choice – or a radically different one. How would that have impacted not just that one incident, but perhaps the entire course of the story? You don’t want to frighten them into total inaction in life or make them believe they can’t recover from mistakes, but they do need an awareness that choices can have long term consequences for them and perhaps even other people in their lives.
- Kitchen chemistry. There are all sorts of fun kitchen chemistry ideas online or you can also purchase books or even kits with everything you need to do certain experiments. While you’re having fun, periodically ask why certain reactions (consequences) happened when you did certain things. Ask them what might have happened had they left out a step or done it differently. (For teens who enjoy cooking, there are books with recipe formulas that they can then use to create their own original recipes.)
- Bible trivia game – with a twist. This will require a bit of thinking on your part before playing. Write down every story you can think of that had an action and a consequence in it. Read just the consequence (with no names attached to make it more difficult) and see if your kids can guess what was done that resulted in that consequence. For example “I turned into a pillar of salt.” Answer: What happened when Lot’s wife disobeyed God and looked back.
- God’s roadmap of consequences. Ok, this may be a little more serious, but it is important. Point our that God’s commands are not to prevent us from having fun, but are there to protect us. In many places, God even takes the time to explain what negative consequences can come from certain behaviors and attitudes individually (in addition to the major consequences possible from rejecting God’s commands). Encourage your kids to find examples in Proverbs and some of the books in the New Testament. This is also a good exercise for helping them practice how to find relevant answers to their questions in the Bible. If they are well versed in finding scriptures they want or need, make it into a game by seeing who can find the most examples in five minutes or who can come up with an answer for every letter in the alphabet, etc.
Have fun with it, but make sure your children thoroughly understand that actions have consequences. It can help them make wiser decisions.