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How to Ground Your Teenager

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson


Sometimes grounding seems like the best punishment for the teen or preteen child. Since getting together with friends is the most important thing for older kids, the threat of keeping them from social interactions can be a powerful weapon in keeping kids’ behavior in check.

But, like all discipline techniques, there are ways to ground a teen that are more and less effective.  For grounding to result in a long-lasting behavior adjustment, so that the two of you are not always in conflict and you’re not always meting out punishment, you’ve got to do grounding right. Here are some guidelines.

  1. Reserve grounding for older children and teens. Kids younger than 10 have a hard time understanding time and cause-and-effect situations. They are less able to keep in mind the goal of going out with friends in the future and adjust their behavior now to achieve that goal.
  2. Communicate your conditions early. It’s just unfair to spring on a child the fact that, since her room is a mess, she can’t go to a party. If getting the room clean is a condition of going, she has to be told that far enough in advance to be able to clean up the room and far enough in advance that she doesn’t have to completely rearrange her plans to meet it. The morning of a day when she has already committed to babysit while a neighbor goes shopping is not the time to tell her that, in addition, she has to clean her room before she goes out at night.
  3. Make your conditions specific. It’s unfair to tell a child he can go to the theme park with friends on Saturday if he’s had a “good week” at school. What’s a “good week”? Spell out what you mean in terms that are easy to measure.
  4. Make your conditions reasonable and achievable. If it’s your intention to make the condition for going out so impossible to achieve that your kid is already grounded, then don’t go through the charade of saying, “If you do this, you can go.” Better to just say, “No,” if you really don’t want your child to go.
  5. Make the timespan of your conditions short. The longer the timespan, the more outside factors will get in the way and the less control your child has over events and her own behavior. Telling a child she can go someplace special over spring break if she gets all her homework in on time this semester is just asking for disappointment and dispute. There are too many possibilities for failure – one missed assignment calls off the entire deal – and no options for a reset. A shorter timespan or more child-friendly conditions that account for occasional lapses, will work better and seem fairer.

Remember that your objective in disciplining a child always is not to make the child feel badly or to make yourself feel powerful. Your objective always is to teach behavior that makes life better in the short-term and will develop in your child skills to help him in his adult life. Threatening to ground your kid just to be mean is not good parenting. Setting up conditions for going out that you know are impossible to attain is not good parenting.

When you create an if-then scenario with your child (“if you do this, then you can do that”), you are teaching goal-setting, time management skills, and skills in negotiation and conflict resolution. These are important.  If done right, if-then scenarios will strengthen your bond with your teen, not destroy it.

Grounding. It can work if you do it right.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.