“That’s it, you’re grounded!”
An all too familiar phrase, right?
Your teen has crossed the line AGAIN, and you think you’re going to lose your mind. Before you can stop, you find yourself saying the same words you grew up hearing.
But it wouldn’t be complete without adding, “Go to your room and don’t come out until you’ve thought about what you did!”.
Send them to the mystical capsule!
I often get a question from parents—”How long should I ground my teenager? What’s the right amount of time for them to learn their lesson?” There’s no ‘big book of grounding’ that has specific times correlated to every misstep your teen might make, at least not that I’m aware of.
The short answer? Longer isn’t necessarily better.
In my opinion, more than seven days may be harming your teen more than it’s helping them because when they’re isolated (no phone, in their room) for an extended period, it can increase feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and depression.
If grounding goes on too long, research shows that kids get preoccupied with the unfairness of the punishment, instead of feeling remorse for what they did wrong which increases defiance.
Your teen’s room is not some mystical capsule where they’ll automatically learn their lesson and they don’t come out magically transformed, remorseful and perfectly aligned and compliant with your values or belief system.
Silence the prisoner!
When I was grounded as a teen, my parents would give me the silent treatment for as long as the grounding lasted. I would sit in my room stewing, escalating the conflict, and becoming further entrenched in my position.
They made up their mind about what I did and who I was without giving me an opportunity to say a word. I was left feeling unheard, hopeless, and full of shame because ‘I didn’t just make a mistake, I WAS a mistake’. Over time, my anger grew into rage and filled my body like poison.
To be clear, I understand as a parent your intention is not to make your teen feel this way and I’m not opposed to grounding as a consequence. However, there’s a time and place for it to be effective, and it’s more than just sending your teen to their room.
First, take a breath.
When your teen does something to get you fired up, your reaction is to stop them and their behaviour RFN! Now you’re leading the power struggle from a place of control.
Your teenager’s brain is very emotionally sensitive so when you react, they perceive rejection, and escalate the conflict by going on the defence and playing into the power struggle.
Instead, take a deep breath to calm your nervous system. This helps you respond with reasoning rather than react from emotion. Once you’ve calmed down, your next step is to have a conversation with your teen.
Why talking (listening) is the best approach.
You may be thinking… “That’s it? How is a conversation going to solve anything if they’re not punished for their behavior?”
Listening to your teenager doesn’t mean they’re getting off scot-free. However, it’s important to understand their perspective and thinking without shutting them down, even if you don’t agree.
When your teen feels genuinely feel seen and heard you create a safe space for them to share the emotions that drove their behaviour. Then you have a clearer idea where in the events they went off course and can be more targeted in your mentorship, rather than assuming, judging, and shaming. Focus on your teen’s intentions, not the outcome.
Talking it out helps your teen develop risk assessment, critical analysis, decision-making skills, and emotional and impulse control – adult level skills their brains are only beginning to have the executive functioning for, and they need your guidance to help build them.
Correction doesn’t mean control.
I get that connecting and listening might feel permissive and soft, so your teen thinks you’re a pushover and takes advantage of you. Science has proven that connection first, coupled with a correlated and reasonable correction is what creates lasting behaviour change.
Think of consequences like the gutter guards on a bowling lane – those plastic things you pull up so your ball stays in the lane but doesn’t get trapped in the gutter. You’re keeping your teen in their lane with room to move and figure out life their way, not putting them under the death ray until they do life in YOUR way.
Sometimes, you’ll know the right consequence, sometimes you’ll need to think about it for a while and other times you’ll have no idea. It’s ok! Asking your teen what they think is appropriate is a powerful way of letting them control their fate and having them buy into the process.
If you’re feeling lost on how to even begin a conversation like this with your teen and want to have firm boundaries without the exhausting need for continuous consequences, it’s time to Become a Boundaries Boss. I’ll walk you through my step-by-step process of setting boundaries that work, plus you’ll get my Compassionate Consequence Formula to guide you through connection and reasonable correction for lasting change.
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