Question: A 16-year-old who stays out 30 minutes after curfew is grounded for a month. Is this a reasonable punishment for such a violation?
Answer: Punishments should always fit the crime. In this case, I do think it's a little excessive -- in fact quite excessive. I joke with my kids when they broke the rules that they were punished for life. They knew it was a joke.
The point is, is that we need to talk with this teenager about what was going on. Did she know she was late? Was she losing track of time? Why didn't she call home? Was she pressured by peers to do this? Was she acting up a little bit to push the parents' buttons because they knew it was going to get them angry? So trying to talk with this teenager is very important if you're fortunate you'll be able to have that dialogue.
The other question is: Are your expectations clear? I mean, most teenagers have fairly limited expectations. They're supposed to do well in school; they're supposed to have friends; they're supposed to engage in activities. And they should know kind of the rules of the house and abide by them, and if they have disagreements, engage in conversation. The more you do that, the better it's going to be for your relationship between you and your teenager. And it will pave the way for more difficult conversations.
I mean, this is just a blip on the radar screen. The bigger fish to fry here are dating, sex, drugs and alcohol, and other high-risk behavior that you want to be able to talk about with your daughter and let the punishments fit the crime. I would prefer not to be grounded for that period of time, but see what you feel is expectable and reasonable given the circumstances.