I Don't Use Grounding As A Punishment, And Here's Why

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
iStock/Leonard Patrizi

As my children have grown into teenagers, our discipline has changed because, let’s face it, 12-year-olds look ridiculous in the time out chair. We’ve tailored our discipline actions to our kids’ unique personalities and have put a good deal of thought into how to make an infraction or misbehavior a teachable moment. I’ve heard it said that every child has a currency, and my kids respond to the removal of a privilege or an additional chore when they’ve misbehaved and require a punishment. We discuss their transgressions and pass down a fair but firm punishment that fits their teenaged “crime.” We don’t believe in hanging a mistake over our kids’ heads and we don’t feel that prolonging a punishment aids in helping a child to understand consequences in the long term.

For this reason, we don’t ground our children or prevent them from socializing with their friends as a means of punishment.

When I was a kid, I can remember riding my bike on a hot summer afternoon to a friend’s house in hopes of finding a riding companion to join me on the wide streets of our neighborhood. I bounded up to her house, banged on the screen door, and waited for my friend to emerge from the sounds of the A-Team in the depths of the house. My friend came to the door with a dejected look on her face and sadly said, “I can’t ride bikes today. I lied to my mom and I’m grounded for a week.” As I stood there, in my tied-up jumper and tube socks, I commiserated with my friend’s bum deal and unfortunate incarceration on a beautiful summer day. As I slowly walked back to my Huffy and rode home, I remember thinking that grounding was a punishment for the friends of the kid in trouble, too, and I was bummed that I couldn’t hang out with my friend for a week.

Unfortunately, kids today don’t function in the same way as our generation. The days of free range bike rides to collect friends for a pickup game of basketball or converging on a local park to play until dusk reminded you it was dinner time are long gone. Kids today are chained to their couches, faces illuminated with screens and video games, with very little face to face interaction, other than during the day at school. Our kids don’t spend nearly as much time face to face with their friends as we did, and it’s becoming clear that theirs is a generation that deals in tweets rather than banging on doors on a summer day.

And that’s precisely the reason why my kids won’t be at our screen door announcing they’ve had all forms of human contact removed for a week or longer.

Regardless of their misstep, my kids will still be going to their friend’s birthday party or the big football game on Friday night. They need those limited opportunities to bond with their friends almost as much as they need to do their math homework. Our generation learned the art of face-to-face communication because we didn’t have social media limiting our interactions and forcing us to be introverted.

I want my kids to experience their crush walking in the door of a party or the palpable, collective excitement of the crowd when the football team scores the winning goal. In any given week, the opportunities for my kids to spend quality time with their friends is so infrequent, it makes little sense to take that precious time away from them as a punishment for misbehavior. Just like kids need to practice the piano or master geometry, they also need the social skills learned during their teenage years. And, really, who wants to be trapped at home with a sullen teenager, anyway? Certainly not me, that’s for sure.

Grounding kids also forces them to shirk responsibilities they may have to a team or school club. Removing your daughter from a basketball roster for sass-talking or keeping your son home from his part in the play puts your child in the awkward position of letting those around them down. I’d rather have a discussion about their misbehavior and give them a consequence that drives our values home rather than embarrassing them publicly for mistakes that we all made as teenagers. And, honestly, aside from drugs or violence in school, I’m hard-pressed to think of any typical teen misbehavior that is really worthy of a full week at home or missing out on social interaction.

My husband and I more often than not resort to removing a social media or favorite programming privilege rather than grounding in the hopes that our teens will grow up to be social beings. We recognize that, while they may be growing up in a different world than we did, it’s our job to make sure that our consequences teach them valuable lessons about being good individuals. We want them to know we won’t use their friends or their face-to-face social outlets as a carrot towards behaving. Being a teen nowadays is hard enough and now, more than ever, kids need their friends and I’m not going to stand in the way of their social development.

And though I am lenient on the grounding stance, my kids know not to push my limits. I am the keeper of the iPad, driver to the activities, and the gatekeeper of their social schedule. I might not ground them but I’ll certainly pull the plug on their screens without a second thought.

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