Deprivation as Punishment
Deprivation is passive punishment. Deprivation is a strategy for taking away a usual access or social freedom the child values as a consequence of the child's having done a major wrong. Access usually has to do with the privilege of using such things as the computer, the telephone, the TV, the car. Freedom has to do with the permission to socialize on normal terms with friends or engage in normal outside activities.
The longer you take either privilege or permission away, the more you lessen the power of deprivation, because the child just adjusts to doing without, but not without building resentment. For this reason, deprivation needs to be short term to be effective. “For breaking curfew last weekend and not even calling in to explain why you wanted to be late, you have to stay home next Saturday night. You need to keep your agreements with us, and check with us when you want those agreements changed.”
Never use deprivation to take away any outside activity that serves as a pillar of the child's self-esteem, such as church youth group activities or sports. That kind of deprivation is self-defeating. Impose some other social restriction instead.
Deprivation of access can create a lot of anger because the child may see it as a betrayal. What he or she assumed were basic rights — using the telephone and computer, for example — turn out to be privileges given so long as good behavior is given in return.
Extreme use of access deprivation can create significant distrust. “You're only letting me drive a car so you can have that to take away. Well, I don't want to drive a car! I'm not playing the take-away game with you anymore!”
Sometimes in their severity, parents will strip the child of everything he or she values doing to show how serious (or angry) they are. Extreme deprivation is a big mistake. Now the child has nothing left to lose, so the parents have inadvertently set their son or daughter free.
Deprivation of freedom, or “grounding,” is usually used with adolescents who are at the age of growing up when social freedom matters most of all. Grounding can include prohibition against going out with friends, against having friends over, against talking on the phone, against computer messaging with friends, or against engaging in normal social or recreational activities.
Long-term grounding tends to be counterproductive because you turn punishment into a prison sentence, your home into a prison, your child into a prisoner, and yourself into a prison guard as grounded as the prisoner you keep. Over a sustained time, you will both learn only to resent each other.
Long-term grounding in also can have a social cost you do not want your child to pay. If you take your child out of social action in his or her peer group long enough, the child will lose standing in that social order.
On returning, he or she must struggle to reclaim a place that may have been taken by someone else, your child now more subject to peer pressure than was the case before. So if you ground your child by keeping her in this weekend, don't ground her from the phone unless you want her kept out of the loop of information that keeps everyone else connected.
In extreme cases, there is another kind of grounding, different from “grounding in.” Suppose your late adolescent refuses to stay grounded in the house for violating curfew and decides he can leave home anytime he likes and stay gone as long as he wants. At this time, you may elect to use “grounding out.”
So you say something like this to your unruly teenager: “You need to know that we are operating a home, not a prison. As you have made perfectly clear, you can leave whenever you choose and stay out as late as you like. We can't stop you. However, although leaving is up to you, permission to return is up to us. When you want to return, you can call us. From the time of that phone call, you must stay away from home 12 hours for the first curfew infraction, 24 hours for the next curfew infraction, and so on. During that time you will have to make your own living arrangements, and you cannot come by and pick up clothes or any other belongings. At the end of this grounding out, we will meet you at an outside location at a time of our convenience to discuss the rules you must be willing to live by if you want to return to live at home.”