What Do You Consider "Grounding" and What Do You Make Exceptions For?

Updated on July 21, 2014
J.B. asks from Boston, MA
24 answers

So my knucklehead 16-year-old son has been grounded since the beginning of May for saying that he was sleeping over a friend's house and spending the night with his girlfriend and another couple instead. In the aftermath of that I found inappropriate texts and pics from his girlfriend as well. I took his phone and iPad, he can use the family computer only with permission and supervision, and he is grounded for 3 to 6 months (3 months initially with gradual restoration of privileges over the next 3 months as we see changes in attitude and behavior).

His girlfriend's prom was less than 2 weeks after this incident and everything was already paid for so I did let him go to the prom but drove him there and picked him up, no after parties or anything. I also let him go on a weekend trip to Washington, DC at the end of June with his best friend and the friend's parents. It was already paid for, there was a lot of educational stuff packed into the trip, and this family is full of the kind of good people I want him to spend more time with. I think it's no coincidence that after this trip, he finally broke up with his girlfriend (yay! - their relationship was very intense and toxic).

His best friend is very shy, has a very small social circle (which my son is a key part of) and my son's grounding has basically been a punishment to him too. His mom asked if my son could join them (son and parents) to celebrate his friend's birthday. They're taking a sailing lesson and going out to dinner - fun, but not some wild, unsuperised party. This is before his initial 3 month grounding period is up. I'm inclined to say yes because it's a special event for a friend but my husband thinks I'm not sticking to the terms of the punishment. I should add that while he hasn't had a complete behavioral turnaround in the past 2.5 months, he is going to counseling and is working on the key areas of change that we agreed on and pretty much goes to work, does chores, and hangs out at home, so I'm seeing progress.

Would you allow the birthday celebration? Or stick strictly to the terms of the punishment?


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So What Happened?

Thanks everyone! Well after some discussion my husband and I agreed to let him go and presented it as "because you have done X, Y & Z AND we think of this friend and his family as practically family to us and trust them, we are allowing you this privilege. Keep up the positive work and we'll start to talk about reinstating other privileges in August."

As for the length of time...he actually suggested it! When I first confronted him his reaction was "great, so I'm grounded for like, 6 months?" and I actually hadn't even hinted at time frame at that point. So I figured that if he picked that harsh a sentence for himself, it was a sign that perhaps he thought he needed that long. I certainly wasn't going to say "oh no, I was thinking a month, 6 would be crazy!" LOL. I think the break has done him good and that he did need it. He had some time at the end of the school year to focus on grades, is less of an ass in general, has read some books, has gotten way better at guitar, learned how to do more around the house (patch drywall, maintain the pool) and has reconnected with his younger brothers because he has nothing else to do. He's at an age where even the "good kid" friends are making stupid decisions (drinking, smoking pot) and in a way, I think he's relieved to not have to make any decisions about partying or not, and the disconnection from social media has been good for him too. His life has been temporarily simplified at a time when it was getting very complicated and things were moving fast. He's had some time to take a break and center himself and get some clarity around what's important. My hope is that he comes out of this a little wiser and more mature. And it doesn't hurt that his friends think I'm the craziest parent out there ;-)

Featured Answers


answers from San Francisco on

I would let him go. Being flexible is important at this age. Parents who come down the hardest with no room for compromise often end up with the most defiant kids.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I would let him earn it, or if you think that he has earned it already by going to counseling and working to change, let him know and reinstate some 'privileges' (like the the friend's birthday celebration) because of the effort you have seen him make towards change.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I would say yes. It's his friend's birthday, which only comes once a year, and it will be closely supervised by friend's parents, who you seem to trust since you let him go on a trip with them. This isn't just "man, a movie is coming out that I really want to see!" this is his best friend's birthday.

7 moms found this helpful

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answers from Houston on

Personally, I think the time frame was way too long but I'm not his parent so who am I to judge. I have found, with my kids, that long groundings don't re-enforce or encourage the behavior I am looking to correct. My kids were like "well shoot it doesn't matter what I do, I'm grounded forever".

I think that with the break up with the girlfriend, he is getting counseling, you have seen a improvement, I would use this as an award.

"Billy, we are so proud of the improvements we see in you. You have worked really hard and I want you to know that we see it. I think going to Bob's birthday and sailing is a good idea. We want you to see that we do realize you are making progress. That doesn't mean that you have complete freedom again BUT, we do want you to know that we see the improvement. Keep up the good work and we love you so very much."

Something along those lines.

I was grounded for a month on my 15th birthday. My mother did let me have a small sleepover during that time since it was already planned. Boy I sure remember that!!!

14 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I think that you have done a good job grounding but I think that your time frame is really excessive. I think you got the point accross. I would let up on it and let him go back to being a kid. Sometimes it makes the problem worse instead of better. He is a kid he chose to do something not allowed. You caught him and punished him. but are you still punishing him for the incident or are you now adding on? he didn't listen, he smarted off, etc

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answers from Washington DC on

i think i would, since he is making progress. it's not a wild free-for-all hoopla.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I would drop the grounding entirely. If I had been grounded for 6 months, I would have thought that was forever and it would have made zero impact on my actions (since I was going to be grounded forever). Since it sounds like your son is doing well, I would let him attend the birthday celebration and then let him know you are pleased with the progress he has made and he is free.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

I would let him go, especially since he has been on good behavior this summer.

I don't like excessive legalism. Trust your gut mom instincts. You always sound like an excellent mom to me JB. If I felt you were enabling him too much I'd say it.


6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

OK, so one person's definition of grounding is not another's. Got that out of the way.

As long as you, your husband and your son had the same understanding of his restrictions, it sounds like big steps have been taken. No loosey-goosey social nights. No frivolous fun. Counseling. Improved behavior (perfection is not a goal, only for those who seek frustration). Yeah!

Since the grounding was for a very long time, I think you could go either way. It's not so much right or wrong. First, you and your husband have to find a way to agree. Then any outing with this friend could be presented as an acknowledgement of the progress made. Or if you both decide that he should not go, feel fine about that too. It's not too restictive, and if your husband thinks the 3 month limit was a solid punishment, then stick to it. If you and your husband cannot exactly agree, I would suggest that you stick with the original plan. Whatever you do, be proud of youself and your husband. Parenting teenagers is the hardest job evah!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

My kids are younger (oldest is turning 12), but to me, 3-6 months seems like a VERY long time to be grounded. If it were me, I think grounding him for the 2 week period initially after the incident would have been sufficient (specifically so he would have missed the prom - I mean, if you can still go to the prom, are you really grounded?). Missing the prom would probably have made an impression on him, I would think?

Around here, if I confiscate my daughter's iPhone and laptop and tell her she can't go to ballet (she lives for ballet and takes lessons 6 days per week at this point), that's enough to cause her to be very, very sorry for whatever she did. I guess with a teen it would have to be a bigger consequence in order to make an impression, but still, to me I think 3 months is a really long time for being grounded.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dover on

I think I would let him go for the birthday celebration. It's not like the parents aren't going too. I usually make exceptions when to not adversely affect others (like prom and the other trip). As the parent, it is your option.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

If he's making progress, it MIGHT be ok to ease up a little bit.
You know your kid better than I do.
Is he likely to see it as a "we're working together and I've earned back a little trust" moment or would he think "great! Mom caved in! now I can raise hell and not care about the consequences"?
Depending on the kid it could go either way.
I'd try compromise first but if it ever got to the point where it was proved it's not working THEN you know compromise is not something that you can do with this kid.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

My cousin's were grounded for long periods of time. They would have consecutive groundings where after one grounding was over the next started. In total one cousin was grounded for 9 months but it didn't stick because my Aunt and Uncle would forget how long they were grounded. It became a joke to them. I think taking the phone and ipad is good but a long grounding isn't. He will get used to it and find other ways to do what he wants like my cousins did.

Since he is grounded I wouldn't let him go to the party. This is a fun event and he shouldn't have fun. His friend will just have to deal with your sons grounding. Maybe the friend can talk your son into making better choices. Good luck!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I may be a sucker, but yes, I would allow it. It's his best friend, and he's a good kid.

Your husband has already shown himself to be overly rigid. Being flexible when it's reasonable is good parenting practice and this is an exceptionally long grounding, after all.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I'm on the fence with this one, but my objective, initial reaction is if you want him to behave a certain way you need to give him the opportunity and "exposure" to that kind of behavior.

This family/friend would be the only exception, but just for selective occasions.

Do these parents understand what you are trying to teach your son? That would be great support if they do. If not, I would just be very selective about the occasions.

Even with this family/friend being the only exception, he is still missing out on things.

But you know your son best.

I did the same thing with a friend when I was 16. I was a good student, good kid, did no drugs or alcohol, no sex, but I hated my home life.

I just wanted to have fun and be care free. We got caught, and what made the biggest impact was that I could've lost my friend and that I disappointed her parents ( mine didn't give a rats a$$$).

Please know that in no way am I saying your son your son feels this way about his home life. Just sharing my perspective :-).

Best of luck to you

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I suggest that grounding for longer than a week or two is counterproductive. My family is in family counseling with a teen. The therspist suggests that consequences need to be swift, related to the offense and quickly over. One advantage to following that policy is you won't have this problem.

What incentive does your son have to be "good?" How does he earn back trust? He does learn that breaking the rules gets him in big trouble but does it teach him how to stay out of trouble?

Three months is time enough for anger and frustration to fester to the point that he will find ways to misbehave and hide it from you. How is he behaving? Do you have a loving relationship with each other? Is his attitude improving or are there frequent battles? Or the opposite of cold silence.

That being said, I say you have to be very careful about making exceptions. I suggest that parents should only use grounding as a consequence when they're able to consistently enforce it. You've already made an exception twice. To not grant an exception this time would be mean in its capriciousness.

If the offense is lying about where he was then it makes sense he has to earn back your trust before he can go out on his own. Makes no sense to keep him from an event that involves other people; one in which you'll know if he's there or not.

To be effective discipline has to teach and not punish the child/teen and be easily enforced. It should not punish other people. I suggest 3-6 months grounding as you've set it up is too global causing such difficulties that you describe here.

I urge you to read Love and Logic for Teens by Foster Cline.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Yes. Keeping him shut up in his bedroom isn't going to teach him to be a better person. It's been several months now. He did make some BIG mistakes. But he's broken up with the girl. He needs to bond and get close to his friends that are going to take her place in his spare time.

If she's around him when school starts he's going to be drawn back to her if he hasn't moved on.

Let him do some stuff. I'd still supervise him on the computer and make sure the other parents know he's made serious mistakes on electronic equipment. This way they won't think you're being a hard hiney and just being mean. They might let him sneak use at their house otherwise.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Absolutely not! If you keep giving in and allowing him to do "special" things, the punishment may not have the lasting effect that you're looking for. He could easily talk himself into doing something knuckleheaded again, knowing that if anything really fun and different comes up, he won't have to miss out because mom will cave. He needs to suffer the consequences and feel the full effect of the punishment.

I'm sorry about the other boy, but you have to decide who is more important to you - your son or the other boy.

I learned early on raising my daughter as a single mom that grounding was NOT the way for me to go because when she was grounded, so was I. I only grounded her twice before I learned my lesson!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Iowa City on

You have already allowed multiple excursions so what is one more? Most people view grounding as a loss of all activities with exceptions for school and work.

I think you should let him go and then revise the terms of his punishment (so everyone is clear on things...you, husband and son) since you haven't really been sticking to a conventional grounding from the beginning.

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answers from New York on

In my eyes, he has not been grounded.

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answers from New York on

I'm not a big fan of grounding or any punishment that punishes me as well. LOL.

I'm an all or nothing kind of parent and have one kid that is either black or white with no colors or shades of gray. So for this kid the punishment would need to continue but I never gave out groundings that lasted for 3-6 months.

To answer your question I wouldn't let my kid go to any of the stuff you let your kid go to during the punishment period but I had a different kind of kid. I'm just so happy he'll be 20 in September and is doing well. My other kid tries to never get into any trouble ever he's 18 and I am concerned because he is such a people pleaser and passive aggressive. LOL

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

My daughter was grounded for a similar offense when she was that age. I had let her use my car to go spend the night with a girlfriend, and instead she called the girlfriend and cancelled their sleepover, and sneaked into her boyfriend's house and spent the night. I didn't care that they were sexually active - I knew that already. It was the fact that she lied to me that pissed me off.

Grounding meant the loss of ALL privileges.
- No driving. She was not allowed to go anywhere I did not take her, and the only places I was willing to take her were school and work. She was not allowed to ride anywhere with friends.
- No socializing. She came home from school, did her homework, went to work, went to bed. She was not allowed to go to other people's houses, and she was not allowed to have friends over.
- No phone. No internet.
- No exceptions for activities that were already paid for. Her stepdad and I had given her concert tickets for Christmas, and on the date of the concert, she was still grounded. She was not allowed to go to the concert. We took the tickets away and gave them to the friend she had used as an alibi.

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answers from Washington DC on

I agree that he hasn't been grounded. He has been on a trip of a lifetime (DC at his age is fabulous) and prom. Big events that he should have had to miss and repay you the money for missing.

I also think 3-6 months is excessive - but my kids aren't that age yet and not into the opposite sex.

So I am with your husband. Sucks for his friend, but your son needs the punishment you handed him, not punishment only when it works for you/him. Don't ground him for that length of time if you can't stick to it . I never give huge punishments like that because I don't want the backlash of it myself, so I would have made him miss prom and called it good - plus charged him the money I spent on it. Or something like that....but no, no sailing/dinner trip.

And it may do you good to tell this family he isn't available for anything until the 6 month period is up.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I would have said do some menial labor of your choosing around the house to earn the privilege of going out for that night and keep up the good attitude and work.

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