SETTING BOUNDARIES/SHAPING CONNECTIONS

Laurie and John are struggling with how best to discipline their generally well-behaved teenaged son, Sam. They share similar views on parenting except when it comes to discipline. Specifically, they are at odds with each other about grounding Sam. Both John and Laurie’s parents grounded them as adolescents. While John didn’t like being grounded, he appreciates the merit of his parents’ methods now. Laurie’s memories of being grounded remind her how painfully harsh her parents acted by giving the emotional equivalent of bread and water—like jailers.

John maintains that grounding Sam allows him the space to ‘recalibrate’ by spending time in a stable, familiar environment. Sure, Sam may resent the temporary loss of freedom and yet the goal, according to John, is to allow Sam the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of his responsibilities and agreements. Laurie understands that misdeeds warrant discipline and even feels that John’s approach makes sense. 

Laurie’s struggle with setting boundaries is linked to her painful memories of feeling banished by her parents while she served her ‘sentence.’ She hates the thought of cutting off from Sam when he acts up because she doesn’t want him to have to feel as awful about himself as she did growing up. Her approach is to avoid the situation (as well as John and Sam) and put the incident behind her as quickly as possible. 

Clinical Considerations 
What happens when Sam misbehaves? Essentially, he gets ignored as his parents bicker about how to best punish him. It is possible that at these times Sam feels as painfully isolated as Laurie once felt. 

Boundaries—when set appropriately—reinforce security and actually bring parents and children closer. Teens want to feel connected to their parents despite their increasing desire for independence. If Laurie and John join to create a team effort, she may be surprised by the positive impact ‘punishment’ can have on her relationship with Sam.

Will Laurie be able to interrupt the patterns of her past in order to build a stronger family of her own? It seems likely that she will work to resolve her painful adolescent experiences to join effectively with John for Sam.