Grounding as Effective Discipline for Teenagers

7 Ways to Make Grounding Work

Teenage boy listening to music on a mobile phone.
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Parents often use grounding as a consequence when teenagers violate a basic family rule—like their curfew. 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 drive a wedge between parents and teenagers. Learn how to apply grounding as a consequence.

How Grounding Affects Teens

Interaction with their peer group is a strong priority for teens. Branching out from family and connecting with others of their own age is an important part of the transition to adulthood and independence.

Knowing the importance of these associations, taking them away for a time seems to be a logical punishment when a parent is ready to impose discipline. In many cases, it is. Fear of being grounded will often keep a teenager in line.

But if the consequence of grounding is used inappropriately, it will usually backfire. It may just result in a teen getting more sneaky and deceptive to get what he wants without parents finding out. Or it may drive a serious wedge between your teenager and you. Use these grounding guidelines to get a real change in behavior from your child.

Define What Grounding Means

Figure out what you mean by grounding. There are several types of social interaction that can be restricted. You may want to preserve some of them as valuable while isolating your teen from those that contributed to the infraction.

Grounding may or may not include these forms of interaction:

  • Socializing with peers outside of school
  • Phone calls, text messages, social networking online
  • Extracurricular activities or sports
  • Church or neighborhood events

Natural Consequences Are Best

The more intuitive the consequence, the more effective it will be in preventing unacceptable behavior. Because grounding involves removal from a social setting, it should only be used when the behavior involves a social setting.

For example, a total and lengthy grounding is probably not the most effective punishment for shoplifting unless the event occurred when your teen was with friends. If so, grounding from associating with those friends would be a more fitting consequence, along with another consequence like community service or working without pay for the establishment from which he or she shoplifted.

Establish Rules With Defined Consequences

Both the rule and the consequence should be specific. For example, a family rule might be that the teen has an 11:00 p.m. curfew on a weekend night. When the rule is established, set the consequence—like being grounded from friends for the next two weekends. The punishment is easy to administer when the rule is broken because the consequence was understood up front. It may also be useful to involve your teen in making the rule and setting the consequence. Your child will have a stake in the validity of the rule and know that the consequence is fair and justified.

Don't Make the Grounding Too Long

If too much time gets in between the behavior and the penalty, the message is less clear. Grounding for a week, or two or three weekends is probably sufficient to get the message across without losing it over time. A month may be too long. As the parent of a teen, a shorter time gives you a lesser chance of caving in and reducing the grounding period later.

Consider Ways to Let the Teen Earn a Reduction

You can link grounding to other consequences that would allow teens to earn a reduction in the grounding period if they so choose. This might include things like major jobs around the house (cleaning out the garage or stripping and waxing the kitchen floor) or volunteer time at a local social service agency.

Problem-Solve Together

Applying the consequence of grounding may not be sufficient for preventing a recurrence of the problem. You have your teen's attention, now help him work through why he broke the rule and what he will do in the future. Ask him to identify the problem and develop five possible solutions. Discuss the pros and cons of each of them. You may allow him to reduce the grounding time by writing a report on the unacceptable behavior and developing a plan for not repeating it.

A Word From Verywell

Grounding can be an important tool for parents in their discipline kit. But like any tool, you must 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 lives of our teenagers.

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