“You are grounded.”
I delivered this proclamation to my 13-year-old daughter with sternness and grace. I was measured but emphatic. Cool and unruffled. Controlled. Unemotional.
Later that day, I sent her an email outlining the terms of her grounding:
• No devices. No screens. Books and music only.
• No friends, no plans, no phone calls.
In addition to what she couldn’t do, I was sure to include what she was expected to do:
• Participate in family activities
• Do chores with a joyful spirit
• Complete homework
I also sent her to her room with an imperative: “I want you to think about what you’ve done.”
As I was shutting her door, I swiftly remembered that when I was grounded at that age, I did not use the time to think about what I’d done at all. Instead, I stewed for a bit about my parents, life, the whole stinkin’ world, and then I likely put on music, started doodling, looked at photos, or made a collage.
My teenage brain was not quite disciplined enough to actually sit and think about what I had done, certainly not in the same way I assess my choices as an adult. But in those grounded moments alone in my room as an adolescent, with no TV, phone, or video games – the “devices” (or are they vices?) of the time – I was contemplating something.
By turning off and tuning out, I was changing my daily reality. Interrupting the patterns of my days forced me to see the world through a different lens and possibly think about the world in a different way. Even if I wasn’t ruminating on the error of my own ways, I was certainly contemplating the world, and my adolescent place in it.
This break, this pause, is so essential. As adults, we crave it. Time to unplug, to unwind. Time to get grounded. Literally, getting “grounded” means to reconnect with the Earth.
According to Cami Walker in an article for Psychology Today, “Grounding yourself is a way to build a relationship with Earth. Grounding means to make a conscious connection between your self and the source of your life force energy. …Earth energy is life force energy.”
Adolescents don’t know they need to get grounded, until they crash up against something or an adult in their lives who loves them says, “Yo! Slow down! You better go check yourself before you wreck yourself, kid.” A reflective practice is critical for humans to develop wisdom.
Reflection can make learning more effective and experiences more productive. In “Learning By Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance” (Harvard Business School, March 2014), the authors note that, while “In our daily battle against the clock, taking time to step back and engage in a deliberate effort to learn from one’s prior experience would seem to be a luxurious pursuit,” performance, learning, and self-confidence often increase with time for reflection.
The authors conclude, “our results reveal deliberation to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey (1933:78): ‘We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.’”
My daughter’s imposed break in daily routine seemed to work. She even missed a communitywide, multi-school dance. Maybe “getting grounded” isn’t like clipping the wings of a free flying bird. Maybe we can see it as supporting the process of being more reflective, of getting Earth-bound, centered, re-focused. aybe we both needed it.
Maybe we both needed it.
See, what my daughter had done shocked me. In our household, we monitor and limit screen time. We live in Vermont, and she attends an independent school modeled after a homeschool cooperative. Up until five years ago, each classroom was heated with a woodstove, and the students were responsible for bringing in the wood and feeding the fire.
We eat whole foods and have dinner together every night as a family. We attend “community resiliency” meetings with our neighbors. If our recent election and current political climate highlighted that there is a national divide, we are solidly enjoying the privilege of living in our progressive “bubble.”
So, when my daughter told her younger brother that if he and his friend made any noise, came in her room, or bothered her in any way that she would “stab you two little bitches,” I nearly fainted. She didn’t deny it. In fact, she seemed to take a sassy pride in having said it.
How had this language and tone infiltrated my home? Hadn’t I striven to do all the “right” things for my kids? No sugary drinks? No “inappropriate” media? Consistent communication with her friends’ parents? For anyone who has raised a teen knows, their favorite thing at this stage of their development is to test boundaries. It’s their job, and they take it seriously.
Before I spiraled into a pit of parenting-fail despair, I recollected that, while I was I growing up in a large family, we threatened each other with violence all the time. My siblings and I certainly said “I’ll kill you!” to each other often enough, but my daughter had delivered her threat with a certain 21st-century flair that I can assure you is not aligned with our values.
In a frenzied, media-saturated world of reactive tweets and instant gratification, we have effectively normalized aggressive, sarcastic, threatening speech. Even though my husband and I had done our due diligence in protecting our kids from the negative influences of mainstream culture, it seeps in like an insidious fog.
One antidote to this acrimony is a reflective practice. Our children, our families, and our nation need to adopt a reflective practice. We must take time to contemplate the consequences of our speech and our actions.
Right Speech, one of the tenets of the Buddhist Eightfold Path, asserts that hateful communication breeds disharmony and can engender physical violence. We often think of violent language as being less harmful than violent action. But violent words, thoughts, and actions are intertwined. Kind words, thoughts, and actions similarly arise together to take flight into the world.
My daughter benefited from getting grounded, and it will likely not be the last time she receives this gift. Meditation and mindfulness are popular alternatives to detention in schools around the globe. Perhaps it’s time for parents to reinvent the discipline of “grounding” kids, without guilt, but with gratitude and intention. Perhaps we simply need to reframe and redefine it as a powerful tool in the discipline towards an educated mind and a compassionate heart. Perhaps children and adults can adopt a reflective practice to assist us in looking outside of ourselves, beyond our bubbles.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” A reflective practice allows us to exercise our minds and build our imaginations to hold multiple perspectives.
This is the path to wisdom and peace.
This post was originally published in Living Education.