How To Ground Your Adolescent

Sometimes parents get frustrated with their adolescents when they violate basic family rules (e.g., curfews), and grounding them becomes a natural reaction. Grounding can be an effective disciplinary technique if it is applied at the right time, in the right circumstances, and for the right length of time. But if not, it can really drive a wedge between moms and dads and adolescents.

Particularly with adolescents, it is often the case that interaction with their peer-group is a strong priority. As they mature, it is a natural course of events for them to branch out from family and familiar faces and connect with friends their own age. After all, we do hope they grow up and move out at some point. Gradually connecting more and more with those outside the family is an important part of that transition to adulthood and independence.

As moms and dads, we intuitively know that these relationships are important to our adolescents, so when we are ready to impose discipline, taking those associations away from them for a period of time seems to be a logical consequence. And, in many cases, it is. Fear of being grounded will often keep an adolescent in line …there are few things he or she values more.

But if the consequence of grounding is used inappropriately, it will usually backfire. It may just result in an adolescent getting more sneaky and deceptive to get what he/she wants without moms and dads finding out, or it may drive a serious wedge between your adolescent and you.

So, what does a parent need to do to successfully use this disciplinary tool to get a real change in behavior from the youngster? Here are some crucial tips:

1. Consider Ways to Let Them Earn it Off. Many experts suggest linking grounding to other consequences that would allow adolescents to earn a reduction in the grounding period if they so choose. This might include things like major jobs around the house (e.g., cleaning out the garage, stripping and waxing the kitchen floor, etc.). It might include volunteer time at a local social service agency. Some moms and dads have let their kids reduce grounding time if they write a report on their unacceptable behavior and develop a plan for not repeating it.

2. Define What Grounding Means. Before you find yourself in the heat of the moment, it is important to define what you mean by grounding. What about phone calls and text messages? What about extracurricular activities or church or neighborhood events? How about social networking on the Internet? Does it just mean a period of time without socializing outside of school?

3. Don't Make the Grounding Too Long. Grounding an adolescent for more than 10 days is probably not a good idea. If too much time gets in between the behavior and the penalty, the message gets lost. Grounding for a week, or two or three weekends is probably sufficient to get the message across without losing it over time. And having a shorter time gives you as a mother or father a lesser chance of caving-in and reducing the grounding period later.

4. Establish Rules with Defined Consequences. Because grounding involves removal from a social setting, it should only be used when the behavior involves a social setting. And it should be a consequence connected to a specific house rule. For example, a house rule might be that we have an 11:30 p.m. curfew on a weekend night. When the rule is established, a consequence should be affixed (e.g., being grounded from friends for the next two weekends). Then, when the curfew is broken, the consequence is easy to administer because it was understood up front.

5. Natural Consequences are Best. Most parenting experts agree that we should work to establish natural consequences for kid's behavior. The more intuitive the consequence, the more effective it will be in preventing unacceptable behavior. So, for example, a total and lengthy grounding would not be an effective discipline for shoplifting – unless the event occurred when your adolescent was hanging with the wrong crowd at the time. Grounding from those peers, along with another consequence – community service or working without pay for the business from which he/she shoplifted – would be a more fitting consequence.

Grounding can be an important tool for moms and dads in their parenting toolbox. But like any tool, it's important to use it when it is appropriate and for the right kind of job. Following a few simple principles will make grounding a very effective tool for changing behavior in the life of your adolescent.

Discipline for Defiant Teens: Parenting Course

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