I recently received an email from two co-parents who wrote to me together — a novel approach, I must say. They were looking for direction. They knew they have a problem, they just weren’t sure what to do. They asked, “What’s good ex-etiquette when…”
Parent A: My 14-year-old does something my ex doesn’t like and he’s immediately grounded from his phone. I can’t talk to him for weeks at a time when he’s grounded, and I pay for the phone!
Parent B: Nothing really matters to our 14-year-old son but his phone. It’s the only thing that makes an impression. I used to say, “grounded from everyone but your dad,” but those calls with dad are then turned into three or four calls a night for sometimes an hour at a time. I had to cut it off or the grounding would make no impression on him. (Mom and dad can easily be reversed in this scenario)
Your first take may be that these parents need to improve their communication — but, to me, it sounds like they are communicating just fine. They aren’t cooperating with each other. Grounding is a very personal approach to discipline — and it takes on a whole different vibe when the child lives in two homes.
“Grounded here means you’re grounded there,” rarely works when parents do not live together. No matter how well parents get along, most secretly hope they will win the “most favored parent” tug of war. Rarely do parents realize that when a child prefers one parent over the other, it’s a red flag that the child is in trouble.
For this reason, I rarely suggest the “grounded here, grounded there,” approach to discipline. It’s too easy to sabotage and too difficult to monitor. And if grounding is too sever or too often, children, particularly teens, won’t want to come back and most courts will support an older teen's choice. So now you’re setting both yourself and your child up for failure. That’s why cooperating with your child’s other parent is imperative. Your child needs both parents. You must be allies, not enemies, for the sake of your children.
In this particular case, if grounding is the only alternative, grounding from talking on the phone to everyone but the other parent is appropriate if boundaries are put in place before the grounding — and the other parent sticks to the agreement.
That means, yes, you can talk to Dad (or Mom), but Dad has to support the tactic. After a conversation simply reinforce, “Son, you didn’t do your homework because you were on the phone and you know the rule is homework first, then the phone. Your mother and I decided taking away phone privileges will let you know we mean business. I have spoken to you for a half-hour now. That’s enough. Time to put the phone away. Next time do your homework first.”
Secretly gloating that you’ve spoken to your child for hours because he’s grounded from everyone else doesn’t help your child, undermines his other parent and teaches your child to manipulate. Don’t be surprised if you are his next victim. You’ve taught him to disrespect authority. He will disrespect your authority, as well.
Co-parents, the best parenting tool you have is each other. That’s good ex-etiquette.
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