“You’re Grounded!” Taking Away Teen Privileges

Who Am I Punishing?

When I was young it was the telephone, time inside, or the dreaded television punishment that had us shaking in our boots. Three measly things our parents had to choose from to use as fear tactics to get us to behave. I can still hear my mom’s voice saying things like “That room is a mess! No telephone for a week!” This punishment never affected me too much. After all, our house was miniscule and for most of my life we just had one phone in the kitchen. The cord (although colossally stretched) didn’t reach my room and so privacy was nil. Therefore, I wasn’t a big phone fan. If my grades were less than what my parents expected, I would typically get grounded for five weeks. This consisted of the inability to leave my home, go outside or hang with friends until the grades were up. Secretly I relished this punishment. I have ALWAYS been a homebody and this kind of discipline tactic allowed me to sit in my cherished black pleather bean bag in the finished basement and watch TV for hours.

Back then, I guess the worst thing that my parents could do to me was to take away the TV. That was like death. No Little House on the Prairie on Monday nights? No MASH? No Wonderful World of Walt Disney? Even worse was not being able to watch my stories. (That was what my mother called them.) After all everyone knows if you miss a day of General Hospital you’d never be able to figure out what was going on because the plot was so complicated! (Snicker.)

Today however, it is different. There seems to be a veritable smorgasbord of punishment choices for mothers like me to choose from. No Facebook, no AIM, no cell phone, no computer, no texting, no Xbox 360, no Playstation3, no WII, no skyping, hand over the IPod Touch, give me the car keys, even the old standby, no TV. I could go on and on. My boys rue getting new privileges and toys because as they say, “I LOVE to take things away from them.”

I try to explain that I am not the one doing the taking but instead they are the ones making the poor choices that cause the privileges to vanish. They insist that I am the only mother who sees these new fangled toys and communication systems as things to hang over their veritable heads.

In a rather heated discussion between me and my 17 year old he insisted that taking away say the computer did not in any way coincide with motivating him to do his homework. He revealed that my tendencies to forbid the things that entertain him are not logical consequences for his lack of effort. Another startling revelation that came out of the argument (okay who am I kidding it was a shouting match) was that the very fact that I punish him in that way makes him dig in to the trenches a little deeper and refuse to do the very thing he is being punished for. He’ll show me. The problem is…  as far as grades… he’s doing himself in. In reality the bottom line is that I have already taken and passed high school courses. His decisions-poor or good-affect his life, not mine. But isn’t it my job to be the guide when the decisions he’s making are detrimental to his future?

It is absolutely positively impossible for me to know that my son is down in the “Teenage Palace” playing on the Xbox with friends, chatting on Facebook, or simply watching TV when I know that his math teacher is afraid he might not pass the class due to the fact that he NEVER (ok, rarely) does his homework. Life just doesn’t work that way. We work first and play when our responsibilities have been fulfilled. Isn’t it my job as a mother to teach him that? Some say I should let him hang—that failing grades are the logical consequences of not doing school work. But the thing is failing grades have consequences too. No college, no scholarships = no empty nest for me. I want him to be successful. Surely teaching him to have some semblance of a work ethic is a necessary thing? Was that meant to be a question? Let me try that again. Surely teaching him to have some semblance of a work ethic is a necessary thing! (She says emphatically. Well sort of emphatically. Ok… you are right. I am just not sure.)

Here’s the thing: I vacillate constantly on this subject, not sure if I can find a happy medium. It doesn’t feel right to do nothing. My son has already proved that if that is the case, he’ll do nothing too… happily… with NO reservations. But it isn’t working with me on his tushy 24/7 either. All that gets me is a kid out for revenge on his nagging mother. Lately I have tried a sort of medium—A nonchalant mention to do his homework before playing here, a suggested nudge to do a weekly internet game for Spanish there. He nods his head as he confidently states, “Got it under control ma.” Then I hear the distinct tone of the Xbox turning on and the familiar murmuring of game communication with friends. I grit my teeth. I stomp around. I spout to whoever listening. I lock myself in my room for an hour or two hoping that at some point he’ll dive into the required work. I tiptoe toward the Teen Palace door and open it slightly. The sounds of guns and aliens and bombs and other video game noise fill my ears and make my temples throb. I tentatively ask, “Got that work done Aid?” “Nope!” He responds sarcastically. “Nope. I. Don’t.” And then I lose it. The rationality of letting him learn from logical consequences flies out the window. The temperance of taking a medium stance hides in a corner of my enraged mind. And then I do what so many mothers have done before me. I scream out that ancient aphorism used for hundreds perhaps thousands of years by mothers all over the world, “You are grounded!”

“From what!” He yells back.

“From the Xbox for a week!”

Hey! It could have been much worse! He could have lost the TV.


Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s MotherhoodEye on EducationFaces, and Appleseed.

12 Comments on ““You’re Grounded!” Taking Away Teen Privileges

  1. My dad and mom choose to take the computer for a desired time when I am bad. I do not like that. There are consequences to bad behavior! We all know that!

  2. Logan – I agree – reading your article was like I was reading my own story. This is exactly what I was looking for. Someone who felt like me. Why do we question ourselves so much? Because we are good parents? We go online to see if what we are saying and doing to our kids is right or wrong. I need to read more articles such as yours. More more more! My husband and I were just discussing this today – insisting on all A’s and B’s, making them be good at SOMETHING! Why do some teens seem to love NOTHING except doing NOTHING – meaning tv, video, and computer games. It’s not like they are going to get interested in animation, web design, computer programming! They just like to play! Why does it feel wrong to be insisting on A’s and B’s instead of letting them fail. Why should we just sit around and let them fail? Ugh – I could go on and on. Thanks for the article.

  3. It was as if I just read my own story! I am currently going through my Junior year all over again! When my son took Geometry last year he kept saying it made no sense and he asked when he would ever need it again. I told him he would need it to help his kids do their homework, just like I did! He eventually failed the Geometry regents ( a NY State test) and class at the end of 10th grade..took it over in summer school where he passed the class but failed the Regents… he just doesn’t “get it” I keep telling him I am trying to prevent him from having that 20/20 Hindsight…but to no avail!

  4. None of us know what we are really supposed to do. We all just do the best we can. If we take away the computer they contact their friends via cell phone. If we take away the x box they play games on their computer. If we take away their phones they communicate via computer. Unless we take it all away and make them sit in front of us then we have not amunition I guess…Taking things away probably doesn’t work nowadays but making them sit with us for a couple of house without phones or laptops may help. Just a couple of hours with nothing but kids and parents and tv makes everyone talk…at least during the comercials!!!

  5. Logan – I am so glad I don’t have kids. LOL! How about mom’s boot camp??

  6. My mother-in-law had a good trick. She would make her boys write an essay about a topic of her choosing–usually related to the crime at hand. You would think you were torturing them with this punishment. BTW,you can hand it back in to be corrected.
    Also, you can buy “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” and leave it where he can see it. Better yet, read passages of it to him.

  7. Logan, you are not alone! I have always told my children that everyone has a job. My job is to go to work each day, pay the bills, take care of the house, and raise the kids. Their job is to go to school and earn good grades. When there are poor grades, I take away what I believe to be related to those poor grades. Not getting homework done? Probably too much Facebook, so bye-bye computer. Bad test grade because you didn’t study? I guess the texting is too distracting, hand over the phone. Sports, hanging with friends, playing games, seeing the girlfriend…they are all privileges. My boys will happily tell you that I am the strictest parent on earth (and I think a few of their friends agree). That said, I still get to particpate in the screaming matches that just seem to be required when dealing with teenagers. Unfortunately, I am 0-60 in seconds. Straight from “Getting a C is not acceptable” to “At this rate you’re going to work at Mcdonald’s for the rest of your life”. I’m working on being more rational :-)

  8. My husband and I grew up quite differently. He was raised in a large family with strict parents that made him tow the line and live up to expectations. He was the trouble maker amongst his siblings, but ended up a wonder successful man. Me on the other hand grew up in an every man (or girl) for themselves type of house. My parents had very few rules, but somehow my sisters and I survived and all grew up to graduate from college, have good jobs and be loving Moms. I think my husband and I tend to parent much more like his parents than mine, but it just goes to show you there’s no one way that will work every time. I guess we just do our best and hope!

  9. First and foremost please remember that teenagers’ brains, especially boys, do not fully develop until, oh, say, 35. With that said it is next to impossible to rationalize with most teens. I honestly think they cannot see beyond their next meal, let alone their future… A privilege is something earned. If you don’t earn it, you don’t get it. If you screw up, you lose it. Unfortunately, most of our children, including my own, have grown up with a notion of entitlement. (Yup, my fault…) So, they don’t quite grasp that whole concept and fight tooth and nail to win the battle/arguement. Right now I have the advantage of being in control of the car ownership and insurance, the cell phone bill (including Internet and unlimited text), and the free home Internet access. This power has a crippling effect. No driving, no phone, no Internet, no life… AND, I am lucky enough to have the power to say, “No, you can’t go out to wing night, basketball game, girlfriend’s house, etc.” It still works. He sulks and makes improvements/straightens things out, until he screws up AGAIN. And then you start all over…

  10. Logan,

    I am SO on the same page as you as far as “taking things away” as a punishment. I have done the cell phone, i-touch, computer, TV,etc. Ali knows that is what “you are grounded” means. How grounded depends on how many “things” get taken away. It is nice to walk by her room and see her reading a book in the middle of the afternoon!

  11. Oh, my! It is a hard thing to know what the right thing is! I continuously discuss this with parents who want to know what they should do about their children that refuse to do their homework. As a teacher, it’s easy to say that of course if the parents doled out punishments and were hard on the kids, then the kids would eventually do their homework, but as a parent, I know that is easier said than done. My son is only 7, so minus a couple of nights where he would have rather played (or watched Spongebob) than do his reading, he’s been cooperative-SO FAR! Oh, I received similar sorts of punishment as you and had very similar circumstances growing up as the oldest of five girls. The worst punishment for me was being grounded FROM my room. I, like you, am perfectly content to have alone time (a rare thing as a mother…), so I had to stay downstairs with my sisters and “do stuff.” GRRRRR. Unavoidable punishment. Maybe why I played school so much to keep order and have control! We had little tv time with our one channel-think lots of TGIF on ABC for a really wild night, but we also watched the same shows as you along with tapes of Westerns and every day at 3, when I got off the school bus, no other than General Hospital so we could watch “Soapies” together. We’ll see what happens when I get to the teen years with my kiddos. Think how many gadgets there will be when that happens…

  12. I understand your frustration completely! There is one child of mine that just does not seem to care if he receives a poor grade and I rarely see him study. The problem is there is little we can take away that will make an impact. He doesn’t have a Facebook acct, no XBox, no cell phone that he cares to use, no car. I guess that leaves the computer and tv, but honestly, he would just as soon go to his room to hang out and do nothing. We don’t know what else to do. Why doesn’t he see that his grades now will impact his future? Most of the time, it ends just how I don’t want it to…with yelling.

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