Dear Dr. Ray,

Two times in two weeks my fourteen-year-old son was not where he told us he’d be with his friends. My husband says two weeks’ grounding. I say indefinitely. What do you say?

Fooled Me Twice

I’ve been married twenty 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 not where he should have been? It’s one thing to stop at Burger Binge after a 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. He headed somewhere he wouldn’t have a prayer of being allowed even if he had asked you on bended knee.

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 Number 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 everybody – young and old – does a lot more than we’re caught at. Since a primordial drive of adolescence is for more social freedom that 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, as 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. You gave him freedom commensurate with your judgment of his worthiness. If he has shown you that you underestimated his judgment – when he is with peers, at least – then you need to reassess your judgment.

One option is to curtail your son’s freedom of movement for awhile, as he reproves 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 holding 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 unlike controlling a feisty colt. You have to hold the rope tightly and real close to his bridle. The more inches of rope between your hand and his 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, training horses to cooperate is easier.

Good Discipline, Great Teens Pages 121-123
Copyright © 2007, Ray Guarendi
Servant Books