Monday, April 19, 2010


T. loves being grounded. I guess if you're 16 and all your friends are busy "differentiating" while you are bonding with new adoptive parents and you want to hang out at home and feel the love, what better excuse? Perfect cover.

But this time it's a bit much even for him. Recently, we had to "ground" him for a month of weekends (grounding really just means he's lost car and ride privileges, after-school free time and the right to have friends over). Yes, it was THAT serious, though I'll skip the details - if you're parenting a teenager, you know how it is. The usual stuff.

When we told him of his month-long restrictions, he didn't resist. He was relieved, because when he was caught wrongdoing, he actually expected us to "give him back". He packed all his undershorts into his duffle bag and wrote us a baroque letter of apology stating that he knew he had failed us, felt sorry that he "couldn't handle freedom" and understood that he'd have to go back to a group home. We assured him that although we were unsettled by what had happened, calling in the dreaded "7 day notice" to have him removed was absolutely not on the table, not now, not ever. (The 7-day notice happened to him twice before, so he was just reaching conclusions based on what he's known.) We helped him put his clothes back in his dresser and took him to buy some food for his pet lizard, which seemed to calm him down.

Then, to prove our point, we drew up a contract. Part of the purpose of the contract was to show him exactly what consequences would pertain to various types of infraction - and the fact that NONE of them include being "given away."

On his final weekend of being grounded, his best friend had a birthday party. He wanted us to let him off a day early so he could go. We said no - not only because he's grounded, but also because of the nature of the party violates the terms of our contract. He was REALLY mad. We had a two-day standoff during which he tried to sabotage a summer job opportunity to get back at us. When we calmly explained that if he refused to get a job or seek out any gainful activities, he'd be coming to work with one of us (per the contract), he did a complete 180 on the spot. He not only changed his mind, but he sat right down and wrote a wonderful application and organized the letters of reference and all the supporting materials. He did this without spite, even politely asking for advice. And he took great care and pride in the application. It was a great reflection of his skills.

When he was done, to save face, he asked semi-sarcastically, "Are you happy now?" We smiled and pointed to the contract. At the very bottom, it clearly states "Smart decisions and positive behavior will result in happy, cooperative parents and may lead to bonuses and car privileges."

He looked utterly gobsmacked when we pointed it out. I offered, "I'd be happy to take you to get that t-shirt you wanted to buy with next month's allowance." He stared. He calculated for a moment. He said, "I would like to get some Levi's shorts at the mall instead. Is that a bonus?" I said, "Sure thing, it's your bonus so if you want shorts, let's go get shorts."

I'm not saying you should constantly hand out cash and prizes. But I do think that kids like T. get very accustomed to being disciplined. He's been through numerous foster homes where there are wall charts and privileges have to be earned and so on. He has generally viewed the "privileges" as the sort of things kids who aren't in foster care get every day - the right to hang out with friends, for example. The shorts, on the other hand, were definitely "extra" and they were offered happily and quickly. He didn't have to be "good" for a whole month, he just had to do a spectacular job turning his attitude around and pulling off this one big accomplishment.

And in that moment, I believe we all learned a valuable lesson. He learned that family life is a two-way street. And I learned that the "BAT" model of parenting (bribe-and-threaten) that I read about on one of my favorite blogs is completely brilliant. I jest, but no, seriously.


GB's Mom said...

He has come a long way! Great job!

advocatemom said...

BAT sounds good to me. My Younger Kid always did what you describe, "Send me back." So heartbreaking.

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

HA! Maybe it should be a movement!

Really though, I think that kids from unstable background do much better with stuff like groundings. I wonder if they find the predictability calming.

Lulu McCabe said...

I really think so - I think they hear from their friends "Oh, I'm grounded" and it sounds like this tame thing that happens if you live in a family home. We have wondered more than once if saying "I'm grounded" isn't some sort of teen status symbol, status deriving from having loving parents who pay attention to you.

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