Intentional Grounding

Two times in two weeks my 14-year-old son was not where he told us he’d be with his friends. My husband says a two-week grounding is in order. I say we ground him indefinitely. What do you say?

I’ve been married 20 years. I have five daughters. I’ve learned to give the female perspective great consideration. That said, I have a few questions. Where was your son when he was where he shouldn’t have been? It’s one thing to stop at Burger Binge after the game without asking. It’s quite another to head to Bambi’s party, especially when Mr. and Mrs. Buck aren’t home.

I’m going to assume because of your reaction that your son didn’t just stop off at church to pray an extra half-hour.

Next question: How do you know you were fooled twice? You may have been fooled more, but you were so fooled you never realized you were fooled. Discipline Reality No. 104: Teens usually do more things wrong than they’re caught at. This isn’t being cynical or untrusting of kids. This is accepting reality. Almost every one of us, young and old, does a lot more wrong than we’re caught at. Since a primordial drive of adolescence is for more social freedom than parents know is good, it’s only logical that periodically (or regularly) opportunity and temptation will overcome a youngster’s conscience and fear of penalty.

I can’t know, of course, where and how often your son has pushed his social boundaries, but you did catch him twice in only two weeks. You’re either vigilant or lucky — or both — or he’s sloppy or guilt ridden. Or both. Either way, at the very least, in the future, don’t presume anything. Always have a way of checking.

Now, how long a grounding? Most parents are on the side of your husband. That is, if a youngster abuses a privilege, he loses the privilege for a set period of time, and then life returns to the pre-grounding state.

I, on the other hand, am on your side. And it’s not just because you’re a woman. Your son broke your trust, deliberately, it appears. His conduct not only raises the question of ground-worthiness. It raises the question of trustworthiness. You gave your son freedom commensurate with your judgment of his trustworthiness. If he has shown you that you underestimated his judgment — with peers, at least — then you need to reassess your judgment.

One option is to curtail your son’s freedom of movement for a while, as he re-proves to you that he can be trusted. More closely monitor the who, what, when and where of his social world. Consider a two-week full grounding, followed by a clear pulling in of the reins for as long as you judge necessary to teach the lesson and to restore your confidence in your son.

Raising teens is a lot like controlling a feisty colt. You have to hold the rope real tight and real close to the bridle. The more inches of rope between your hand and your son’s head, the less you can direct him anywhere. With both horses and teens, hold the rope close, letting it out by the inch as they settle.

Some might disapprove of my comparing adolescent boys and horses. I understand. For one thing, horses can be taught to cooperate quicker.

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The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy