It’s in the cards: Using job card grounding to discipline teens

teen disciplineWhen your child was younger, you probably used the Time-Out / Time-In system to encourage good behavior. But now your child is 13 and Time-Out just doesn’t work any more. You’ve tried grounding him or her, but that isn’t really effective either. It sets arbitrary time constraints and creates an adversarial environment in your home. When a child reaches early adolescence or the teen years, I suggest the Job Card Grounding system.

Job Card Grounding creates consequences for inappropriate behavior, while at the same time eliminates the need for reasoning or arguing between parents and children. If your child misbehaves, he or she gets a job card that you’ve created. Each job card is an index card that lists the job and the steps to complete the job. For example:

Clean the Refrigerator:

  • Remove all the leftovers. Empty and wash the containers.
  • Remove any spoiled or expired food.
  • Wipe out all drawers and shelves.
  • Wipe down the walls inside and outside the refrigerator.

The job cards should be very specific so that there is no confusion about what the job entails. Create 10 or so cards to have on hand. Each time a child breaks a house rule, he or she gets a job card. Until the task on the card is completed, he or she is grounded. Grounding means no privileges —no computer (except for school work), no cell phone, no video games, no television, no extra activities that are not related to school.

Once the job card has been handed out, take the approach that you do not care when or if the child completes the job, but ensure that he or she will be bored and without privileges until the job is complete. The job card allows you to walk away and avoid being drawn into an argument or negotiations. The rules are clear — as soon as the job is done, your child is back in your good graces and privileges are returned.

Just like we recommend with younger children, shaping good behavior is not just about punishing bad behavior. It’s important to also acknowledge good behavior. Catch your child being good and give him or her a pat on the back and some positive words. Remember that all children, no matter what their age, have an attention tank that needs filling. If you can fill it with positive attention, your child is less likely to act up so you have to fill it with negative attention.

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blake lancasterBlake Lancaster, PhD, is a Licensed Psychologist and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Division of Child Behavioral Health at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. His clinical practice focuses on providing behavioral health services in primary care pediatric settings, including a wide variety of behavioral health concerns such as sleep problems, toileting issues, ADHD problems, anxiety, depression and general behavior problems.


best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.