Does grounding teens work?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 28, 2010 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Barbara,

I have a 15 year old daughter who recently came to live with me full time. I have always been a part of her life and felt like we were close.

Recently I found out from an ex-friend of her's that she, and the friend had snuck in two boys and had sex. I sat my daughter down and calmly explained what I had heard and she admitted to doing that. Me and my wife have grounded her. We did not set a deadline to when she would be ungrounded. I explained that she was grounded for breaking the rules by sneaking the boys in, and that our trust will have to be rebuilt.

We have had weekly conversations about sex, diseases, pregnancy and that didn't seem to help when it came down to her decision. I have read several contradicting facts about grounding and would like to know what you think is the appropriate punishment?

From: Cap, Dallas


Hi Cap,

No, I don't. Grounding tends to be the first response for parents, but I'm not a fan. Teens are clever and will find ways around what they want to do if they are determined enough to do it. (Forgive me for this indulgence: In high school, I had a boyfriend whose parents grounded him for the weekend, literally sending him to his room. He climbed out his window and showed up on my doorstep. As a teenage girl? Boy, was I impressed!) More recently, I interviewed teens to ask them if grounding works. Not one said yes.

Grounding as a consequences only tells a teen, "I"m angry at you, I think you did something stupid," and, especially if used repeatedly, makes a teen resentful and angry which drives a giant wedge down the middle of the relationship at a time when the relationship matters more than ever.

That doesn't mean grounding can't ever be used effectively; I hope we will hear from some parents who have found it to be successful. But I suspect they will say that they use it sparingly; use it only when it is related to the offending behavior (breaking a curfew, for instance); and don't drag it out too long. A weekend, maybe two, for the first missed curfew is plenty.

So what to do in your daughter's situation? My first reaction was, how do you know an ex-friend is even telling the truth? Since your daughter admitted to it, that kinda makes me wonder: did she want you to find out? Did she know you would be talking to this ex-friend?

With the background you describe, your credibility and your relationship are on the line here. Weekly conversations about some of these hard topics -- that's a good consequence. Maybe throw in a required reading on teen pregnancy, girls and alcohol, something you both read and discuss. She might hate it initially, but it could lead to some pretty good conversations where you get to put your values out, front and center, and to a deepening of your relationship.

Some parents, when they find out about something like this, are frightened to the point of inaction. They throw their hands up and say, I've done all I can. Good for you for not doing that. Your daughter is struggling and maybe even looking for attention.

One other thought: At least for the foreseeable future, a more fitting consequence than grounding is that you cannot trust her to be alone at your house, and if she is going to a friend's house, you cannot trust that the parents will be there so you're going to have to call the parents every time she's going to someone's house. She will really hate that. Oh well. She is also getting this message: "Dad really cares about me."


I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

5 comments so far...
  1. I'm 24--as much as I hate to admit it, I remember these years well because honestly they weren't that long ago.

    Don't ground her. It doesn't work, and won't have any long-term impact on her. Like Barbara said, teens will find ways to do what they want to do. Grounding is like the parental Band-Aid: Kid screws up, parent doesn't want to cure the problem or tackle the hard work of dealing with it, and slaps on a one-size-fits-all bandage over it and hopes that by the time the grounding is over, everyone's forgotten. It doesn't really work that way.

    At this age, you are far better off being a more supervisory parent. Barbara's suggestions are spot on--call every parent of every friend she will spend time with, particularly if she is going to their homes. Do not allow her to be home alone. Do not allow her to drive in friends' cars (this is a big one). Limit the time she is unsupervised, basically. All the while be sure to emphasize that when she is able to demonstrate that you can trust her to be independent and make responsible decisions, she will have more freedom. This will be the most unfair thing you could do---but also the most effective at ensuring she begins taking responsibility for her actions. She will think "I have no freedom anymore. I should start finding ways to prove to Dad that I am an adult. I really wish he treated me like an adult."

    At 15, pretty soon she is going feel like shes a grownup. Make sure that when she starts behaving like one, you treat her like one. That's the biggest reward you can give at this age, and the promise of such will be her biggest incentive.

    In the meantime, keep up the transparency about safe sex. Its important information that she needs to know.

    Posted by Sarah B May 28, 10 08:50 AM
  1. I know the question was about grounding, but I'd also like to suggest that you take your daughter to an OB/GYN. Big girl choices such as having sex require follow-up, and she needs to take care of her health. If your discussions have not included topics such as HPV and others, its time she hears about them, whether from you or the doc (and yes, gets checked for them). Welcome to the annual exam!

    Posted by a Mom May 28, 10 10:43 AM
  1. I assume she came to live with you and your wife because her mother couldn't handle her or there was some other problem. So, she was already acting out. Now, you find out she's sexually active at age 15.

    She sounds like me at her age. I was a total hot mess - drugs, sex, depression, and I thought I was totally normal.

    I encourage you to find an excellent teen-based therapist so she will have a non-judgmental third party to help negotiate the minefield that is teenagerhood these days. If I had had professional help in my teens, I would not have wasted the following 20 years trying to figure things out on my own.

    Make sure she is on birth control -- hopefully at least one passive method (like shots or implants).

    Grounding isn't the answer -- oopen communication, honesty, and unconditional love are what will work. For both of you! Best of luck.

    Posted by Anonymous June 1, 10 10:25 AM
  1. I think the issue here is that she thinks that she's an adult and is making the right decisions. I know because I'm 23, and when I was 16, I was absolutely sure I was ready to have sex (I was not, and I ended up unintentionaly waiting until I was 20).

    What would I do? Well, what's the point of punishing her? To keep her from having sex? I think that calling the parents of whichever friend she's staying with might be a good idea, since that would probably prevent it from happening until later that night ...

    But really, I think that right now, you need to make sure she's safe. She needs to go to an OBGYN, and she needs to be using some form of birth control and some form of STD prevention. Therapy might be a good idea, but if she doesn't want to do it, then it's NOT a good idea. Pushing therapy on an unwilling teen is not in any way the smart thing to do.

    By showing her that being sexually active is an adult responsibility, you're showing her that you know she's not a little kid, but you'll also be making it clear that if she's going to engage in an adult activity, then she needs to be mature about it.

    Finally, talk to her about pregnancy, specifically what she plans to do if she gets pregnant. Would she want to abort a pregnancy? Would you support her if she did? Or if she didn't? Etc. etc. Using pregnancy as a scare tactic is irresponsible, but making it clear that she needs to think about what she would do in that situation is not.

    Posted by sabend June 1, 10 01:42 PM
  1. I am a 17 year old girl, and I can tell you from personal experience that being grounded for having sex is pointless. There is no way of stopping a teen from having sex; sure, you can educate your child so when they do have sex they are smart about it. But having sex was not the reason why I have been grounded. I was grounded for lying, and yes it was over a boy. I admit that lying to your parents is wrong and I have learned my lesson. But my parents have grounded me for I don't know how long this time around and they have banned me from this boy--this boy and I have had a somewhat of secretive relationship for a couple of months and then once my parents caught me talking on the phone to him at 1am, I lied about who I was talking to because they hate this boy..,I was grounded for two weeks and told to never see or talk to this boy again. But since then, I lied to my parents again about getting involved with this boy because there was no open communication between us.

    My grounding now is under no timeline, I able to do nothing for I don't know how long. They tell me I will slowly earn things back like; text messaging, calling anyone I want privileges, watching tv/movies, social networking, spending time with friends, going out to do things by myself (go for walks, work out, run to the store things like that), etc. It can honestly be summed up as house arrest for an indefinite amount of time.

    My thought about Cap's situation from a child's perspective is, take her to the doctor, get her checked out, put her on the pill if she isn't on it already (make her pay with her own money for being put on the pill), and try to explain the dangers of having sex. But don't scare her away from it, teenagers are going to do what they want--trust me, I would know--and just try to keep open communication about sex. My parents, once they found out I was having sex, were slightly disappointed in me because it was with a boy they didn't approve. But then they moved on from the disappoint and began discussing sex with me, asking me if I had any questions.
    It really opened up a new door in my relationship with my parents. I hope your daughter will reflect on this punishment like I have and realize what you're doing is for the best.

    Posted by Lilia B. June 4, 12 08:22 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. I'm 24--as much as I hate to admit it, I remember these years well because honestly they weren't that long ago.

    Don't ground her. It doesn't work, and won't have any long-term impact on her. Like Barbara said, teens will find ways to do what they want to do. Grounding is like the parental Band-Aid: Kid screws up, parent doesn't want to cure the problem or tackle the hard work of dealing with it, and slaps on a one-size-fits-all bandage over it and hopes that by the time the grounding is over, everyone's forgotten. It doesn't really work that way.

    At this age, you are far better off being a more supervisory parent. Barbara's suggestions are spot on--call every parent of every friend she will spend time with, particularly if she is going to their homes. Do not allow her to be home alone. Do not allow her to drive in friends' cars (this is a big one). Limit the time she is unsupervised, basically. All the while be sure to emphasize that when she is able to demonstrate that you can trust her to be independent and make responsible decisions, she will have more freedom. This will be the most unfair thing you could do---but also the most effective at ensuring she begins taking responsibility for her actions. She will think "I have no freedom anymore. I should start finding ways to prove to Dad that I am an adult. I really wish he treated me like an adult."

    At 15, pretty soon she is going feel like shes a grownup. Make sure that when she starts behaving like one, you treat her like one. That's the biggest reward you can give at this age, and the promise of such will be her biggest incentive.

    In the meantime, keep up the transparency about safe sex. Its important information that she needs to know.

    Posted by Sarah B May 28, 10 08:50 AM
  1. I know the question was about grounding, but I'd also like to suggest that you take your daughter to an OB/GYN. Big girl choices such as having sex require follow-up, and she needs to take care of her health. If your discussions have not included topics such as HPV and others, its time she hears about them, whether from you or the doc (and yes, gets checked for them). Welcome to the annual exam!

    Posted by a Mom May 28, 10 10:43 AM
  1. I assume she came to live with you and your wife because her mother couldn't handle her or there was some other problem. So, she was already acting out. Now, you find out she's sexually active at age 15.

    She sounds like me at her age. I was a total hot mess - drugs, sex, depression, and I thought I was totally normal.

    I encourage you to find an excellent teen-based therapist so she will have a non-judgmental third party to help negotiate the minefield that is teenagerhood these days. If I had had professional help in my teens, I would not have wasted the following 20 years trying to figure things out on my own.

    Make sure she is on birth control -- hopefully at least one passive method (like shots or implants).

    Grounding isn't the answer -- oopen communication, honesty, and unconditional love are what will work. For both of you! Best of luck.

    Posted by Anonymous June 1, 10 10:25 AM
  1. I think the issue here is that she thinks that she's an adult and is making the right decisions. I know because I'm 23, and when I was 16, I was absolutely sure I was ready to have sex (I was not, and I ended up unintentionaly waiting until I was 20).

    What would I do? Well, what's the point of punishing her? To keep her from having sex? I think that calling the parents of whichever friend she's staying with might be a good idea, since that would probably prevent it from happening until later that night ...

    But really, I think that right now, you need to make sure she's safe. She needs to go to an OBGYN, and she needs to be using some form of birth control and some form of STD prevention. Therapy might be a good idea, but if she doesn't want to do it, then it's NOT a good idea. Pushing therapy on an unwilling teen is not in any way the smart thing to do.

    By showing her that being sexually active is an adult responsibility, you're showing her that you know she's not a little kid, but you'll also be making it clear that if she's going to engage in an adult activity, then she needs to be mature about it.

    Finally, talk to her about pregnancy, specifically what she plans to do if she gets pregnant. Would she want to abort a pregnancy? Would you support her if she did? Or if she didn't? Etc. etc. Using pregnancy as a scare tactic is irresponsible, but making it clear that she needs to think about what she would do in that situation is not.

    Posted by sabend June 1, 10 01:42 PM
  1. I am a 17 year old girl, and I can tell you from personal experience that being grounded for having sex is pointless. There is no way of stopping a teen from having sex; sure, you can educate your child so when they do have sex they are smart about it. But having sex was not the reason why I have been grounded. I was grounded for lying, and yes it was over a boy. I admit that lying to your parents is wrong and I have learned my lesson. But my parents have grounded me for I don't know how long this time around and they have banned me from this boy--this boy and I have had a somewhat of secretive relationship for a couple of months and then once my parents caught me talking on the phone to him at 1am, I lied about who I was talking to because they hate this boy..,I was grounded for two weeks and told to never see or talk to this boy again. But since then, I lied to my parents again about getting involved with this boy because there was no open communication between us.

    My grounding now is under no timeline, I able to do nothing for I don't know how long. They tell me I will slowly earn things back like; text messaging, calling anyone I want privileges, watching tv/movies, social networking, spending time with friends, going out to do things by myself (go for walks, work out, run to the store things like that), etc. It can honestly be summed up as house arrest for an indefinite amount of time.

    My thought about Cap's situation from a child's perspective is, take her to the doctor, get her checked out, put her on the pill if she isn't on it already (make her pay with her own money for being put on the pill), and try to explain the dangers of having sex. But don't scare her away from it, teenagers are going to do what they want--trust me, I would know--and just try to keep open communication about sex. My parents, once they found out I was having sex, were slightly disappointed in me because it was with a boy they didn't approve. But then they moved on from the disappoint and began discussing sex with me, asking me if I had any questions.
    It really opened up a new door in my relationship with my parents. I hope your daughter will reflect on this punishment like I have and realize what you're doing is for the best.

    Posted by Lilia B. June 4, 12 08:22 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives