I was doing my usual thing, scrolling through Pinterest (hey don’t judge me!) and other social media, when I came across this post. The title of this post was “Parenting 101”, as if this was the best piece of parenting advice someone had ever received. At first I chuckled. I saw a few of my friends had shared it on Facebook. But then, I started to think seriously about what exactly this post is saying. Is this really bad parenting?
Discipline Versus Punishment
The first thing that I considered was that whoever thinks this is a good idea, doesn’t know the difference between discipline and punishment. According to Google, discipline is: “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.” Discipline isn’t bad, ever. Discipline is what teaches a child not to think it’s okay to hit his friends when he loses at a video game. Discipline is what is keeping the people of this world from tearing it apart.
Punishment, on the other hand, is defined as such: “the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense”. Punishment is when you take a child’s video game away because he hit his friend when he lost. When you touch a hot stove and burn your hand, the burn is punishment. The discipline is that you don’t touch the hot stove again in the future. Discipline and punishment go hand in hand, but they are not the same.
Punishment without discipline does nothing to teach the person receiving the punishment that what they did was wrong. Let’s say that I come home from work and my dog has made a mess on the floor. If I proceed to kick said dog, the dog doesn’t know why I’m doing that. There is no discipline there. It’s just swift punishment meted out because I was angry with my dog in that moment. The dog learns improper fear of me because he thinks I will just kick him for no reason. This is bad parenting.
This brings me back to my original point.
What have you accomplished?
If you punish a child by deleting their Minecraft village, in and of itself it does nothing to teach them that talking back is bad. Take one second and imagine what the next actions of the child will be. Throwing a tantrum? Probably. Saying even more mean and hurtful things to you? Definitely. But will the child learn why what they did was wrong? Hardly.
The punishment comes because you laid out strict guidelines as to how the child was supposed to treat you the parent with respect. You specifically told them: “I am your parent, I take care of you, feed you, give you a house to live in. You have to treat me with respect. If you do not, there will be consequences.” Aside from the fact that your child owes you respect, this is also teaching them that in society, they must learn to respect those in positions of authority. By depriving them of this lesson, you are not only hurting yourself, but also the child, and society as a whole.
By meting out punishment that doesn’t serve the purpose of discipline, you are engaging in retaliation. You have stooped to the level of your seven year old. Let that sink in.
Why this is retaliation and not discipline
Retaliation: the action of harming someone because they have harmed oneself; revenge.
In the criminal justice system, there is a theory called retributive justice. You’ve probably heard it as such: “The punishment must fit the crime.” Eye for an eye. Life for a life. That is retributive. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t actually state this, but the Eight Amendment does outlaw “cruel and unusual” punishment.
Look at this from your child’s perspective: Their Minecraft village isn’t just some simple toy that you can take away. They have probably spent many hours meticulously building their village. You probably wouldn’t believe the amount of time that some have put into their Minecraft creations. To the child, you aren’t just disciplining them for talking back. You’re destroying something that they put a lot of time and heart into.
They hurt you, so you want to hurt them.
Am I in favor of children talking back to their parents?
I’m not trying to diminish when a child talks back to his parent. Quite the opposite in fact. I have seen it too many times in public, I have experienced it too many times with my friends and their children. I wholeheartedly support teaching a child that he must respect his parents, and in turn authority.
However, I am simply pointing out that this form of “discipline” not only fails to teach the child that lesson, but it in fact lessons the respect that the child has for their parent. It’s a catch 22.
Is there a better way?
Well, yes. When I was young, there were many occasions that my parents taught my siblings and me that talking back to them was not okay. They would take away our privileges to play our video games. They wouldn’t let us go to our friends house. But the punishment always followed the discipline. We learned that we should respect our parents. Well, kind of…
How is this accomplished? Parents.com has a very nice article explaining some basic tips. But let me summarize it for you.
First, you as the parent must keep your composure. Running off and deleting their Minecraft village is not. Tell your child beforehand that it is not okay for them to talk to you in certain ways. Talking back, rude comments, in this day and age even verbal abuse comes from children. These things are not acceptable. If they talk to you that way, follow up with clear and fair punishment that serves the purpose of discipline.
Also consider that there may be extenuating circumstances. Maybe the child is tired or hungry, or maybe he had a bad day at school. Don’t dismiss his bad behavior as acceptable, but keep these things in mind when dealing out discipline. It’s possible the child may regret on his own what he said or did after he calms down. And never forget to reinforce good behavior. Treat respectful talk with respectful talk in return.
I should have probably prefaced all of this with admitting that I am not a parent. I am not a teacher. I’ve never really been in a position where I had to teach kids respect. But I was a kid not terribly long ago, and reading this comment from the perspective of a kid coming from a parent threw me off guard. I’m one of those rare people that wishes my parents had been stricter than they were. I hope that this did something to help you appreciate the difference between discipline and punishment.