Sending My Kids to the 70s

If I didn’t have it in 1977, you won’t be allowed it today…

My children believe that there is no place worse than the 1970s.  When their father and I tell them stories of our youth they look at us with a mixture of bemusement and pity, but mostly what I see in their faces is relief that this a world they will never inhabit. When they ask us why we participated in what now seem like tedious activities, the answer, which they now chime in chorus is, “because there was nothing else to do.”


Other than their healthy dose of sarcasm about my childhood, most of the time I have great kids. But they are kids and sometimes I enforce consequences for their actions.  I do this by sending them to the one place they fear the most, I send them to the 1970s.  In our house the 70s is the big gun, the punishment for having committed a major transgression and it turns out they don’t need too many intertemporal trips before they get the message.

I know that some parents are not big believers in punishment, but let me just say that I am.
They argue that there is value in discussing misdeeds, reasoning with your children, and showing them your point of view. All valid arguments and I couldn’t agree more. Yet sometimes children are beyond reason and time away is best for both parent and child. When they go out into the world there will be repercussions for misdeeds and I think it my job to teach them this at home.

And if your kids are anything like mine, they know exactly what they did wrong and why.  They know the rules of our house but at one particular time, most likely in a moment of impulse, they decided not to obey them.  I get that decision,  I was a kid once too, and while I would hope against hope that I wouldn’t get caught, discipline has its place.  I have tried talking and then I have tried punishment and, not surprisingly, consequences work best.

Sending my children back in time became a form of punishment when it became clear that sending them anyplace else wasn’t working.  The earliest consequence for my tiny kids was, Go to the corner!  I think it was a throwback to my elementary school years when teachers invoked this penance for talking too much in class.  I was a regular visitor to the corner (facing the wall, back to the class, standing upright) and often all four corners were occupied.  Once the corners were filled, I would be relieved of my dreaded post by the newest transgressor. So off to the corner I sent my kids only to find them lying on the floor, legs up the wall, daydreaming or reading a book they had grabbed on the way.  Hmmm, needed stronger stuff.

As they got older I tried, Go to your room!–with cell phone and laptop, or even just books and toys, their room was not a place they dreaded and when I would shout to them that they could come out, they would scream back, “That’s okay Mom, I think I will just stay here.”

So I pulled out the final weapon in my arsenal, the most dreaded punishment of my youth, You are grounded! The result? See above. In world filled with communications devices they did not fear the four walls of our home any more than the four walls of their bedroom.  Kids of my children’s age seem to like their homes and the company of their parents far better than our generation ever did and being trapped with us was perhaps an annoyance, but far from a disaster.  A good grounding just isn’t what it used to be.

My failed attempts at getting their attention with any sort of meaningful punishment were put right when, in response to yet another tiresome tale of our childhood, my youngest son said, “I would hate to have been a kid then.”  Oh my little boy…the answer lay right in front of me.

I am not a big believer in surprise punishment, if for no better reason than kids should find us predictable and stable and any deterrent effect is entirely lost if they don’t know what’s coming. So I laid it out for them.  If you violate any of the major rules of our family  (eg lying, cruel behavior, disrespect, getting in a car with a friend on a learner’s license…you get the idea) you will go back to the 70s.

If I didn’t have it in 1977, you won’t be allowed it in 2012. Network television, enjoy. Landline telephone–you know that strange ringing thing you have never touched–you might want to figure out how it works.  We had a microwave oven in 1977,  but I am pretty sure Bagel Bites and Hot Pockets had not been invented.  Maybe you should grab an apple.

And there are a few, just a few things that will be off limits…cell phone, computer, DVD, GPS (get out a map, kid), iPod, Xbox, iPad, Kindle, Cable TV and here is the clincher in my family, ESPN.  Yes, boys, sports were on the network, on the weekend and they were only broadcast once.  I make exceptions for air bags, anti-locking brakes and shoulder harnesses–parental prerogative. My kids have not enjoyed their trips back in time. Although every child seems to have a fantasy about time travel, my kids hate it.  However, at least in our family, no better punishment was ever dreamed up.

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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