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You’re Grounded
Mom with a View

You’re Grounded

This wasn’t one of our best parenting moments.


We always believed in the power of positive reinforcement. Our parenting strategy has reflected the philosophy that bribes work better than threats –and that threats should be used only if you really plan to carry them out. (A word to the wise: be extra careful; sometimes the punishment i.e. staying home from a fun experience with friends – ends up being at our expense!) In general, this approach has been successful and we have stuck with it.

That’s why we were stumped the other night when a situation arose that didn’t fit our heretofore successful model. We gave our teenage son a certain curfew. Like all adolescents, he complained that it was too early. (I think it wouldn’t matter what time it was, that is the standard response!) We didn’t budge. He argued that he wasn’t driving so he didn’t have control. We argued that he needed to alert his friends to his situation. And so it went – back and forth and back and forth. He argued that he couldn’t “make” his friends listen to him. We were adamant that it wasn’t safe to be out any later, than our ability to sleep required he be home at a reasonable hour. Finally he gave in (it was either that or stay home).

You can probably see where this story is going. He arrived home past his curfew. We were upset, frustrated – and exhausted. “You’re grounded,” my husband told him. “But, but, but…” our son sputtered but we stood our ground. We had rules and they weren’t followed. So far so good.

We were now able to relax and go to sleep. The real trouble began in the morning. “What does it mean to be grounded?” asked the teenager in question. We were stumped. We hadn’t grounded anyone before. This didn’t fit within our “positive reinforcement” style of parenting. What was the answer to that question?

In addition, since he doesn’t drive what new limitations were we actually imposing on him? It was a dilemma and we didn’t resolve it so easily. In the meantime, the rest of the family thought it was very humorous and got a good laugh out of the absurdity of asserting that a child is grounded and having absolutely no idea what that meant.

Ultimately we resolved upon a compromise. My son argued yet again that he told his friends when he needed to be home and that he (and they) made a good faith effort to comply, that it was only a matter of a few minutes and that a little flexibility might be called for. At this point we accepted his argument, either because we were worn down, because it made sense or because we couldn’t really define what being grounded meant.

It certainly wasn’t our best parenting moment (!) but I actually think our teenager got the message. He knew we were upset. He understood that the curfew meant something, that some boundaries are necessary and even (well maybe I’m carrying this too far) that some sensitivity to a parent’s needs and feelings is called for.

The lesson was learned – by all of us. And he hasn’t missed curfew since (but don’t test us; we’ll be better prepared next time!).

May 17, 2014

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Visitor Comments: 7

(6) JB Destiny, May 22, 2014 9:01 PM

Give him the responsibility

IMHO, the problem is in arguing with him about curfew in the first place. You're the parent, you set the time he needs to be home and the consequences if he violates it. He decides if the consequence is worth the violation and takes responsibility for it. Parent: "Be in by 10 pm." Child: "But my friends are driving, I don't have control over that!" Parent: "This isn't open for discussion. You need to decide if you're going. Ask your friends to accommodate your curfew. If you aren't in by 10 pm, (you lose a privilege, you have additional chores, etc.). Oh, and if you are late, call us so at least we won't worry about your safety, even though we will be mad about your missing curfew."

HF, May 26, 2014 6:20 PM

You think you can give him such a long speech and he'll agree not to answer??!

You write that you shouldn't "argue." But you can't mean that you shouldn't discuss! How can you possibly hope for good results if you say, "Blah blah blah. DOn't answer me: Good night!"

(5) Judith Dowla, May 22, 2014 8:12 PM

The Punishment Fits The Crime

Emanu, that word grounding is easy to say but like you said we need to know what kind of beneficial discipline we need to render upon our children. We need to think ahead of time what goes with what challenge and broken law. As my parents said to me as a teenager, do not be late or else. I received the else and lived with it for one month and apologized to my parents and did not repeat the offense again. I knew the rules for just in case I was going to be late due to circumstances beyond my control. Good on you Emanu. Thanks for the reminder.

(4) Anonymous, May 22, 2014 7:21 PM

What about a call?

A simple cellphone call can tell a parent when a child is heading home and if there is a delay on the return home to alleviate parental concerns. If the child leaves at a reasonable time when he would normally be able to return home on time then there really is no cause for a punishment if there is an unanticipated delay. Rules and boundaries are necessary, but this doesn't mean the parent should be unreasonable or inflexible.

(3) Anonymous, May 22, 2014 5:05 PM

What would be gained by PROHIBITING the son to go out?

If the transport to this event was NOT under the son's control, (and the parents were -- apparently -- unwilling or unable to provide the necessary transportation, then would it have been sensible to tell the son "NO" -- he could not attend since he could not control when he would get home. IF this would have been a proper response, then THAT is what the parents should have stated -- i.e., that son can only attend events such that he can control his transportation. HOWEVER, if this is not considered a "fair" or proper response, then the parents should have simply come to a different arrangement rather than hold the son to a "standard" not under the son's control.

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