My Punishment For My Kids? Send Them To The 1970s

by Lisa Heffernan
Originally Published: 
A bundle of printed pictures with content from the 70's featuring Farrah Fawcett, The Brady Bunch an...

If I didn’t have it in 1977, you won’t be allowed to have it today…

My children believe that there is no place worse than the 1970s. When their father and I tell them stories of our childhoods, they look at us with a mixture of bemusement and pity, but mostly what I see in their faces is relief that this is a world they will never inhabit. When they ask us why we participated in what now seem like tedious activities, the answer, which they now chime in chorus is, “because there was nothing else to do.”

Other than their healthy dose of sarcasm about my childhood, most of the time I have great kids. But they are kids and sometimes I enforce consequences for their actions. I do this by sending them to the one place they fear the most. I send them to the 1970s.

In our house, the ’70s is the big gun, the punishment for having committed a major transgression, and it turns out they don’t need too much time travel before they get the message.

I know that some parents are not big believers in punishment, but let me just say that I am. They argue that there is value in discussing misdeeds, reasoning with your children, and showing them your point of view. All valid arguments, and I couldn’t agree more. Yet sometimes children are beyond reason, and time away is best for both parent and child. When they go out into the world, there will be repercussions for misdeeds, and I consider it my job to teach them this at home.

If your kids are anything like mine, they know exactly what they did wrong and why it was wrong. They know the rules of our home, yet in a moment of impulse, they sometimes decide not to obey them. I get that decision; I was a kid once too, and while I would hope against hope that I wouldn’t get caught, discipline has its place. I have tried talking, and I have tried punishment, and not surprisingly, consequences work best.

Sending my children back in time became a form of punishment when it became clear that sending them anyplace else wasn’t working. The earliest consequence for my tiny kids was “Go to the corner!” I think it was a throwback to my elementary school years when teachers invoked this penance for talking too much in class. I was a regular visitor to the corner (facing the wall, back to the class, standing upright) and often all four corners of a classroom were occupied. So off to the corner I sent my kids only to find them lying on the floor, legs up on the wall, daydreaming or reading a book they had grabbed on the way. Hmmm, I needed stronger stuff.

As they got older, I tried “Go to your room!” With cell phones and laptops, or even just books and toys, their rooms were not places they dreaded, and when I would shout to them that they could come out, they would scream back, “That’s okay, Mom, I think I will just stay here.”

So I pulled out the final weapon in my arsenal, the most dreaded punishment of my youth, “You are grounded!” The result? See above. In a world filled with communication devices, they did not fear the four walls of our home any more than the four walls of their bedrooms. Kids of my children’s age seem to like their homes and the company of their parents far better than our generation ever did and being trapped with us was perhaps an annoyance, but far from a disaster. A good grounding just isn’t what it used to be.

My failed attempts at getting their attention with any sort of meaningful punishment were put right when, in response to yet another tiresome tale of our childhood, my youngest son said, “I would hate to have been a kid then.” Oh my, little boy…the answer lay right in front of me.

I am not a big believer in surprise punishment, if for no better reason than kids should find us predictable and stable and any deterrent effect is entirely lost if they don’t know what’s coming. So I laid it out for them. If you violate any of the major rules of our family (for example, lying, cruel behavior, disrespect, getting in a car with a friend on a learner’s license…you get the idea), you will go back to the ’70s.

If I didn’t have it in 1977, you won’t be allowed it in 2015. Network television? Enjoy. Landline telephone? That thing you three never touch, go ahead and chat to your heart’s content. We had a microwave oven in 1977, but I am pretty sure Bagel Bites and Hot Pockets had not been invented. Maybe you should grab an apple.

Here are a few, just a few, things that will be off-limits: cell phone, computer, DVD, GPS (get out a map, kid), iPod, Xbox, iPad, Kindle, Netflix, HBO, cable TV, and here is the clincher in my family: ESPN. Yes, boys, sports were on the network channels, on weekends, and games were only broadcast once.

I make exceptions for airbags, anti-lock brakes and shoulder harnesses—parental prerogative. My kids have not enjoyed their trips back in time. Although every child seems to have a fantasy about time travel, my kids hate it. However, at least in our family, no better punishment was ever dreamed up.

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