Punishment Or Training?

There is nothing more that I would like to post here than that I was a wonderful, perfect parent. That would be such a lie. I was young, intelligent, but uneducated, and married to a man who was young, intelligent, uneducated, and an abusive alcoholic  to top it all.

It’s a damn wonder any of my children survived to be successful adults. Some people, upon hearing of the success of my children have congratulated me on being a wonderful parent. So uninformed they are! My children are successes despite my parenting more than because of it.

Though… I did have a few good points here and there. I was not evil, and never did anything designed to beget failure. I was just, for the most part, not aware that what I was doing might hurt them. I was aware of never wanting to hurt them… but unaware that things I thought “good” for them might not be.

Razib, of Gene Expression highlights research that spanking is detrimental to children. He also highlights that the spanking tends to occur when the chilren are of the more incorrigible type and the parents less intelligent, aggressive and lacking impulse control.

Those who commented on Razib’s take give an interesting but certainly not homogenous take on the issue.  

There are numerous alternatives to spanking for training and discipline and one I’ve become fond of is “time-out”. It’s the new version of sitting in the corner, and I’ve witnessed it’s success. However, there are now psychologists and sociologist who are saying this is also detrimental.

When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’ is a disturbing essay which ultimately suggests (IMHO) no discipline at all.

Apparently I was spanked at a fairly young age. Relatives have told me that once when I was squirming and being a pain during church, that I was repeatedly threatened with being “taken outside to be spanked” until finally I requested (in an apparently loud voice) to be taken outside and spanked”.  Though no one has specifically told me so, I suspect I did not get spanked on that occasion.

The first few spankings I do remember were half-heartedly administered along the lines of “now that I know you are safe and though I’ve thought of killing you for the suffering you put me through, this spanking will have to suffice for both of us.”

When I was older and deliberately disobeyed or ignored rules, I was also spanked, but not until I’d received the full lecture. My father was definitely the strong type, but not silent. He was eloquent in describing my failings. He could describe fluently how I’d disappointed him and made my mother sad. He could do this for hours without actually repeating himself. It was a talent. After 30 – 45 minutes of this, I was sobbing and begging for a beating because that would be so much less painful.

The “beating” was usually sort of half-hearted and never managed to assuage my guilt.

I am not defending true beatings which far too many children have been subjected to. I’m merely stating that parents have psychological weapons that far surpass a mere spanking. A mere spanking is NOT equal to a beating.

Any form of punishment can become abuse, even time-out. Somewhere recently I read that Rose Kennedy would put her children in a dark closet for an equivalent of time out. To me, that’s abuse, but it was probably not considered so at the time.

Now… back to the post title. Whether a parent swats, spanks, puts the kid in time-out, or lectures him to numbness, the effectiveness will be determined mostly by the parents’ intent: are they training or punishing? It’s my opinion that an intent to punish will, regardless the method used, do little good while an intent to train will be very effective.

Intentions, though paving the road to you know where, do have meaning.

4 thoughts on “Punishment Or Training?

  1. I feel the same way – I have the feeling that my children have done well in spite of me rather than because of me. I believe that the key to good parenting is not perfection in technique, but simply in letting them know that they are loved and in establishing boundaries.
    Very good post.

  2. Thanks for commenting Jim.

    When I think hard about it, I’m quite amazed my children turned out so well… even the “difficult” one. All have surpassed my wildest expectations and it is on mother’s day that I feel that the most. That they honor me? I’m not worthy.

    But please don’t tell them because I really enjoy mother’s day!

  3. Excellent post. I now understand where you got the idea that my writing research papers on the consequences of my bad acts was an effective “training tool.” I still think that making me use MLA style was unncessary and cruel. Also I completely agree with your conclusion about intent –children are amazingly bright and can sense when an act is done with love and hesitation.

  4. I remember that incident well. I had a tinge of “now that I know you’re OK” and I definitely wanted your consequence to be something you would remember. Apparently that part worked, although remembering MLA wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

    Ah… the good ole days. Though I never thought at the time that I would ever say it, I miss having a bunch of teenagers around.

Leave a Reply