I've always believed in the parenting principle of finding out what your kids like the most... and then taking it away from them as a form of punishment.
The thing is, kids are very transparent, or "authentic" in today's social media terminology. They simply cannot hide when there is a toy they really love, a friend they prefer over all others, or an activity they can't wait to do. Favourite things vary for each child, and of course this changes for the child themselves as they go through different ages and stages. I have four children, and taking away Star Wars Lego is a much bigger punishment for my nine-year-old son than it is of course for his 18-year-old brother. On the other hand, they'd both feel the pain from an imposed Xbox ban -- something that wouldn't bother either one of my daughters at all. I even have one child who would be extremely unhappy if I didn't let him mop the kitchen floor anymore. (I rarely use this as punishment. Why deny him such fun? )
But as kids outgrow their personal preferences and you start to think about resorting to the age old parenting technique of grounding them, remember that this action results in them spending more time in the house (you want to think this one through, trust me). We can also run out of ways to follow through on the verbal threat, simply exhausting the list of appropriate non-permanently damaging course of punishment actions. This can sometimes result in an empty threat, such as "You'll never watch TV again." At this point, all of your threats and promises become meaningless, and they know it. Kids sense indecision like dogs sense fear.
Which is why I love parenting in this digital age. While many parents (rightfully) bemoan the challenges of guiding their children through the online complexities of email, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet as a whole, I embrace these challenges as a small price to pay to encourage my kids to get online for the simple reason that it gives me a whole new set of punishment tools.
"Don't want to clean up your room? No Facebook for you."
"You're going to talk to me like that? I guess you won't be emailing with your friends about how unfair I am."
I even once made my teenage son friend me on Facebook as a type of punishment. They really don't want to be your friend, and they really don't like it when you comment "Cute top!" under a picture of them at a party.
And we haven't even begun to discuss the pure parenting enjoyment that comes from taking away a smartphone. Or simply letting their pre-paid cell phone run out as a more passive-aggressive form of digital punishment.
Forget the Time Out Mat; let their phones time out instead. And tell them everyone you connected with on Twitter agrees with you. You might want to even "favourite" it yourself.
Follow Kathy Buckworth on Twitter @KathyBuckworth; visit www.kathybuckworth.com. Kathy's latest book, "I Am So The Boss of You" will be released by McClelland & Stewart in March, 2013.