I have always been a fan of parents setting very clear expectations and consequences for their teenagers. If the expectations and consequences are clear before the teen breaks the rule, then the consequence can be put into place much more easily then if a consequence is put into place in the heat of the moment. I think that we all know what I am talking about here. You expect your teenager -- perhaps a new driver -- to be home by 11 p.m. The clock approaches 11:30 p.m. and the teen is not home yet and you haven't received either a phone call or a text from your teen with a reason for the lateness. As a parent, you are scared to death that something may have happened to your child. On the other hand, you are furious that they are breaking the rule and making you worry. The teen gets home at 11:35 p.m. and apologizes profusely. They lost track of time. Perhaps they got lost or their cell phone wasn't charged. Then it happens -- you lose it. You tell the teen that s/he is grounded for a month. Yes, an entire month of staying home. No weekend activities will be allowed and no friends will be allowed over.
The problem is that it is late and you are tired and upset so you really haven't thought through the particulars of the month of grounding. So time passes and what I've seen many parents and teens do is forget about the grounding after a few days. Everyone calms down and the consequence goes out the window. So, what does the teen learn here? S/he learns that parents are inconsistent.
Let's say, though, that you are a parent or set of parents who sticks to the month-long period of grounding. Have you really seen anything positive result from this type of punishment? I'll tell you what I've seen in my practice. Everyone gets upset with each other and this type of punishment drives a wedge between the parents and teens. The parents don't really want the teens home for a month and the teens feel cut off from both their friends and their parents despite being home with them. As time passes between the incident and the days of grounding that follow it becomes less clear why the grounding is in place.
I have rarely seen a period of grounding where parents and teens use the time to get closer, talk about what happened and talk about ways to behave that will improve trust. Instead, resentment builds. I suggest that if you are wedded to grounding as a punishment, then you define the length of time very clearly. Define the parameters. Does it mean that friends can't come over or just that your teen can't leave the house to visit friends? Can your teen earn time off by good behavior? If they help around the house and improve their grades can the period of time that they are grounded for be shortened in duration? If not, then what motivation do they have for behaving nicely during the grounding period? If they have a bad attitude during the time home are you going to lengthen the duration of grounding?
You see, this is why I am not a fan of grounding. The whole issue gets very confusing and it seems to fuel resentment within the family. Why not consider other consequences that are time limited and are more closely related to the behavior? If your teen comes home late, then perhaps their curfew can be earlier for the next weekend. If they do damage, then perhaps they have to use their allowance to pay for the repair. If they bullied someone, then maybe they need to do three good deeds. You see, I want our teens to learn from their errant behavior. I rather not see parents get caught up with giving a consequence that becomes meaningless and breeds ill-will within the family.
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