The Parent Trap – Why Grounding Is Ineffective Punishment

This is the third day of the 7-day Intentional Blogging Challenge. Today’s post is supposed to “pick a fight,” something at which I do not excel. I hope I do strike a chord with you, or at least just make you think. Thanks for bearing with me on this one.

Grounding seems to be the universal, go-to method for punishing teens. Parents fall into the trap of believing that it is the only thing they can use to get their point across. But unfortunately, we’ve observed the overuse of grounding to be an ineffective method of parenting.

This is where it is super important to know your teen or pre-teen really well. What works as a punishment for some kids may not be so effective for others.

This was vividly illustrated for me several years ago, when I still had small children. A friend and I were discussing our commonly used punitive measures for our kids. I told her my toddler son hated to be confined to a time-out chair even for just a few minutes. It was a very effective punishment for him, because he was Mr. Activity and hated to sit still. Our daughter, however, could sit still and stay occupied for hours. Her punishments needed to be more oriented toward privilege denial.

My friend, whose children were a bit older, stated that she, too, had to be clever and come up with different ways to reprimand her daughters.

Her punishment of choice was making the guilty child go out into the yard and pick up rocks so mowing would be easier and safer. The older of her kids HATED doing that. It was torturous to the child to go outside and pick up rocks. It was boring, dirty, and tedious – and it worked. At least for that child.

Not so for daughter number two. She loved picking up rocks. She would spend an hour out in the yard, hunting rocks, examining them, placing the ones she liked in her bucket and playing with them later. Clearly, picking up rocks was not a punishment for her. My friend had to come up with a better, more effective means of conveying her message to that child. Like my son, being confined with little to do for an extended period – in other words, forced boredom – was an effective punishment for her.

My assertion is that you must stretch your imagination and figure out what will have the most impact on your child to improve his or her behavior. After all, isn’t that the point of correcting them in the first place?

Here are 3 arguments for why grounding, especially long term grounding, may not always be the best method of getting your point across.

  1. It makes you all wonder when the torture will END

Having to pay for days or weeks on end when you make a mistake is a rotten existence. If I make a mistake, I do not want to be continuously reminded every hour of every day for a week or a month that I did something wrong. And, you, the parent, must be the one who keeps track of and remembers how long the torturous suspension has been going on.

Pretty soon you are trapped in the miserable grounding cycle with your child. Punishment should be swift and effective. Then it should be over. Avoid dredging up past infractions and hitting your teen in the face with them.

  1. It builds resentment

Your teen is more likely to strike back by doing other things that upset and annoy you if you constantly resort to grounding. Sneaking out of the house or doing things behind your back are also possibilities. If a parent finds the need to ground constantly, obviously something needs to be addressed.

Recently, I heard an ad on the radio for an alarm monitoring system that uses the example of teens sneaking out of the house as a reason for getting an alarm system installed in your home.

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard that was if parents have to install an alarm system to keep their teens from sneaking out of the house, they have bigger problems than any alarm system will solve! It is not a viable, long-term answer to this problem.

  1. It shows that you are more reactive than proactive.

This makes it easier for some teens to “push your buttons” so to speak. Many teens want to test those boundaries, and they want to know what you are going to do about it. Constant grounding for the slightest issue can show the child you are not able to think of anything else to do. You must maintain your status of being the smarter, more self-controlled person in the room when dealing with a punishment situation.

Alternatives to grounding:

  1. A punishment that fits the crime

If the child uses a tone of voice you don’t particularly like, for example, consider why he or she may have done that. Did you speak harshly to him, and thus provoke such a reaction? Is she under a lot of stress at school? After calmly stating that you will not tolerate being spoken to that way, be patient and ask a few questions to show you care about her feelings and let her know you love her. Her anger will be diffused, and so will yours. Talking about it calmly and resolving the issue right then is better than grounding and dragging it out for days or weeks.

  1. Loss of a privilege

The one-time loss of a privilege is sometimes a very appropriate punishment, and does not necessarily fall into the category of grounding. It can be effective in getting your point across to the teen that you will not tolerate the behavior, but he is not saddled with misery for days or weeks on end (and neither are you).

  1. Serious discussions (not yelling) and appropriate consequences.

Obviously, if the teen does something extreme, being grounded to an extent or denied access to something he enjoys is warranted. Taking away the use of the vehicle, or denying the use of the phone for serious phone infractions would be appropriate. You must lovingly, but firmly explain to the teen that you are concerned primarily for her safety and well-being, and that the behavior is completely unacceptable. Long-term, more severe punishments should be used sparingly and only when absolutely necessary.

If you found this post helpful, or if it stepped on your toes at all, or if you disagree and want to share your viewpoint, then please let me know! I will have accomplished my third blogging challenge assignment. Scroll down and leave a comment in the section below.

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4 thoughts on “The Parent Trap – Why Grounding Is Ineffective Punishment

  1. Your comments show the wisdom of having successfully reared well adjusted teens. I congratulate you for your very appropriate efforts you are expending in these insightful articles.

  2. We live in a neighborhood where kids just don’t play outside together. I do take mine to the park every day that it’s warm enough, but grounding them wouldn’t make life much different than it already is since we’re always together anyway. My favorite is making them clean the bedroom of whoever they hit, said a mean thing to, etc. When they are teenagers, I’m sure grounding would be more of a punishment for me than for them. I’ll assign them dinner duty or something helpful instead!

    • That is a good point, Amber, and some good ideas. I like the bedroom cleaning thing. People don’t realize how clever you have to be when you have teens. They are smart, but you have to be smarter and stay just one step ahead. Having chores for them to do as punishment for infractions is a constructive way to go. Thanks for your comment!