Doling out a punishment to a teen can be a precarious thing. Too much leniency and she'll walk all over you; throw the book at her and you risk losing her trust or driving her to rebel even more. Grounding is a severe punishment for a teenager who craves freedom, and that's what makes it a powerful one -- when used sparingly and carefully.
1. Deciding to Ground
Taking away her car keys for a day or adding extra chores to her list is hardly going to please your teen, but grounding her will really get her attention. For most teens, being stuck at home is one of the worst punishments. Grounding should be used in response to big offenses. A teen who ignores your repeated requests to do the dishes could be assigned extra days of dish duty; use grounding in response to something this minor and it won't have much impact when used to discipline a teen who committed a serious offense. Hold this punishment in your back pocket for behaviors that put your teen's safety or future at risk. Using illegal substances, skipping school and sneaking out in the middle of the night are all choices worthy of grounding.
2. How Long to Ground
If you're going to use grounding with your teen, talk to her in advance about what crimes will result in this punishment. If she comes home with alcohol on her breath, she shouldn't be surprised to hear that she's under lockdown. When determining the length of her sentence, avoid being overly harsh out of anger. Take a few minutes to breathe and cool down before deciding how long her punishment will last. Anything more than a few days is overkill for many teen screw-ups. In fact, according to the HealthyChildren website, most punishments start to lose their effectiveness if they last longer than 24 hours. A one-day grounding might be enough to teach your teen a lesson, but if she shrugs off such a short punishment, or if you think she needs a break from friends who are bad influences, you might ground her for several days or a week.
3. Defining "Grounded"
"You're grounded" means something different in each family. Once you've sentenced your teen to her punishment, tell her exactly what being grounded will entail. Explain that she'll still go to school and work, but that hanging out with friends is off-limits for now. You might allow her to participate in school club meetings or let her exercise at the gym, or you might declare these activities forbidden during her punishment and take away TV privileges too. Don't ban her from activities that help build her self-esteem, suggests psychologist Dr. Carl Pickhardt. The volunteer gig that makes her feel important shouldn't be affected by grounding. You might also create a modified definition of grounded that works for your family. For instance, she's free to see friends after school, but must be home by 6 p.m. each night for a week instead of her usual 10 p.m. curfew.
4. Making Grounding Work
You're not the one who skipped school or got caught shoplifting, but when your teen is grounded, some of your freedoms might disappear too. In order to make sure she learns her lesson about consequences, you or another adult will need to monitor your kid's activities. If she's supposed to be at home, someone else should be too or it'll be easy for her to slip out. When she learns that you mean business, she'll be less likely to commit grounding-worthy offenses in the future. Remember that this, and every punishment, should be used to teach your teen how to behave, not to break her down. Talk to her about why her actions were unacceptable, advises the KidsHealth website. Help her make a plan to do things differently next time, and shower her with praise for everything she does right.