Is It Useful To Ground A Twenty-Year-Old?


“Is it useful to ground a twenty-year-old?”

This is the question that came up while talking with a Dad this week. He has a now twenty-year-old daughter living in his house, and she doesn’t do anything he asks of her.

We’re not talking about your average defiant kid, though. In fact, she is respectful and sweet. She just doesn’t get things done. The problem is chronic overwhelm, not laziness or disregard for the rules. Whether it’s filling out paperwork, or washing laundry, tasks aren’t completed when they need to be.

She stopped functioning due to legitimate symptoms of depression and anxiety that hit during formative years. But there’s no getting up and getting moving now that symptoms have leveled off. She doesn’t even know how to get moving. She never learned the basics of how to make herself take care of daily responsibilities when she was unmotivated or uninterested. Being sick got in the way of important life lessons. For a while, it was a true crisis and everything was on hold.

“Now that she’s an adult, I’m not sure what to do,” he said. “I was thinking I should take her phone and teach her a lesson about acting like a grown up.”

I asked him if he heard the incongruence between his intent (to have her behave like an adult) and his planned intervention (to punish her like a child).

“Well what else can I do?” he asked.

Suddenly he finds himself trying to “ground” his adult daughter, and it is immediately clear that this isn’t going to work.

The problem with grounding a twenty-year-old is that it communicates that the parent is the adult, and the twenty is expected to be a good child. Grounding fails because being a submissive child isn’t working anymore. She needs to own up to her responsibilities like an adult.

So what’s the answer if grounding isn’t going to work?

The world around won’t her ground her and won’t try to teach her a lesson, but the lessons will come. Those who don’t follow the rules face the consequences.

“Can you imagine this situation with someone other than your daughter? A family friend moves in, and he’s lying in bed in a dirty bedroom, not doing his laundry. What do you do then?” I ask.

He says, “I send him back to his parents, because I’m not going to put up with that. But it’s different. This is my kid. I’m stuck with her.”

“Are you stuck with her?” I ask. “Maybe she needs to be the one who is left holding the responsibility for herself. Maybe it shouldn’t be you who is stuck with the responsibility, but her.”

He has a long way to go still, but this got him thinking. I don’t think he’ll ground her after all.

Posted on April 23, 2018 .