KidsPeace’s TeenCentral.com service offers advice and answers questions from young people. Recently a young correspondent posed an intriguing inquiry:
“Hi. I’m a 16 y/o girl and I’m generally a good kid. As a result, I’ve never been grounded before in my life. I’ve had to deal w/ other forms of punishment, but never being grounded. Most of my friends have been grounded before. I actually wonder what it’s like. Like, to the degree that I find myself wondering what I could do to get myself grounded so I can find out. Am I out of my mind for doing this? I know most people wouldn’t want to be grounded, but I do…”
According to Jodi Whitcomb of TeenCentral, the young person’s curiosity isn’t unusual:
Actually, it’s perfectly normal for a young person to explore boundaries and limits. The idea of a young person wanting to know what the limits are on life and testing those limits to make sure there is a firm and safe boundary set for them is one way they FEEL SAFE in life.
Many kids test the limits of their family’s boundaries by acting out. This results in various types of punishments like having things taken away or being “grounded”… OR it can result in no one placing any kind of limits on the behavior, or in ignoring the behavior or having an inconsistent reaction to it. As you can imagine, that results in the young person continuing to act out in order to figure out where the real boundary is so that they feel safe. When boundaries are a moving target it causes insecurity for the child.
Open communication between parents and kids about limits and boundaries is really important. It should never be a guessing game for the kid. They should know exactly what will happen as a consequence for their choices.
For our TeenCentral writer, we recommended that she ask her parents/guardians what it would take for her to be “grounded” – i.e., what behaviors would cause them to “ground” her. This way she would know what those limits are. We suggested to our writer that she might even pick a practice weekend where she could test out what grounding would be like; following all the rules of “grounding” in her family for a weekend to see what that punishment is like, so she could know how the limit feels. This way she would know the cost of those behaviors.
Parents and kids alike should remember this: everyone – EVERYONE – has boundaries in their lives. You learn to have healthy boundaries as a kid so that when you grow up you can draw your own healthy boundaries in your own life, around work, health, finance, wellness, family life – everything. Having healthy, strong, loving boundaries in your home that are not hurting you is a great way to grow up.
Understanding limits gives a young person a lasting positive lesson: it’s not about control; it’s about guidance.