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Punishment,Power and Progress: A Simple Look at Discipline

Updated on April 27, 2016


Do we think we own our children? We act like it. Doesn't that kind of take away from their person-hood? Look at slavery, here in the US we have always had this idea that the more people you control completely, the higher your status. And on the topic of slavery, the way our laws are written makes minors possessions, not people. The emancipation proclamation gave slaves their person-hood, and it is no coincidence that being released from your parents before age 18 is also called emancipation. In fact, as defined by the current legal system, children are not people, at least not people with rights. Without the consent of my parents I had no right to speak, to petition, even with their consent I could not bear arms, I have no rights to a public trial, and my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or property, was narrowed down to life until the day I turned 18. My job and the money I made at it were legally my parents property and decision, everything I owned, be it a gift or hard earned possession could be seized at will, I could not even be emancipated without parental consent because how does one get a lawyer when your money is owned and controlled by someone else? My liberty was non-existent; curfews, age limits on everything and parents' eager backhands made sure that my every motion was someone else decision. And they told us it was for our own good. Funny, they said the same thing about women's rights and lack thereof. But now I am expected suddenly to know how juggle all these "adult things" without ever having been taught or able to experiment because all anyone wants from their child is silence and obedience then they wonder why new adults are so confused and go into debt and do not know how anything works. All they teach us is a specific set of actions because we aren't thinkers until we are real people and we aren't real people until we turn 18.
But people say your parents supply everything for you, doesn't that give them a right to control you? The operative word is control. A child is not a robot that you pay for in food and clothes.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Psychology: Maslow

The ethics and definition of person-hood have been and will be under question for all time, but science isn't so debatable. Punishment makes no logical sense from a psychological standpoint. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a person needs things one tier at a time and has almost no drive to achieve the next level of being if one tier is unsatisfied. These levels are as follows: Biological needs, fairly self explanatory, food, water, air. The second tier is safety needs - protection, security, stability, freedom, the idea that you will not be harmed on purpose. The third tier is love and social needs - this can come from being a part of any group, just feeling like you belong in a community, Then we get to education on the fourth tier, Esteem needs - achievement, knowledge, success and respect. And the fifth tier, not very relevant is Self-Actualization but if you never reach the fourth tier it doesn't exist and if the second and third levels are not met the fourth never will be. If your security and freedom and social circles, the most basic being family, are impaired by punishment, then the "education" the punishment attempts to give you can't truly exist.
It is a commonly accepted fact in psychology that punishment is only effective in the short term (i.e. you can make someone not mouth off for a day but not a lifetime) and this makes complete sense. If I don't understand why you want my behavior to change, why would I change it? In other words, when your only motivation for not doing a bad thing is the prospect of punishment, when the threat of punishment is removed or even questionable, the behavior returns.

Progress: Ape to American

The whole point of it is domination, power and control. Why is this bad? Because it implies submission, subservience and the objectification of another human by control. Why is that wrong? Because if it were acceptable then we would all be apes pounding our chests and killing our fathers to take their place. Aren't we that already? Well kind of, but the fact that we find "ape" "Neanderthal" and "savage" generally offensive says something about our desire to be better than that. By using punishment to establish our alpha dominance we stray farther from the course we seem to want to be on.
When speaking of purpose, the real question becomes what is the role of children in society? Productivity? If we put obedience first, that seems to be the goal, but to me, preparation for the future is the role of children, but they do this through daily life and school so they should not have to do much because they are already doing it by being. But discipline, particularly physical discipline, hinders this natural need to learn and grow and become a better next generation.


Power: The Bible and Status Symbols

The fact that this problem still exists is astonishing to me, until I take a hard look at the origin of the guiding principals in our culture. For example, any Christian or anyone who believes in Hell could argue that because God is my father, God punishes me if I do bad. I am my child's father. I should punish my child if he/she is bad. And God is not shy about punishment, especially in the old testament. Turning people into salt, starting wars, in 2 Kings 2:23-24 " From there Elisha [a prophet] went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys." Bears, God had 42 kids torn apart by bears for being rude. Which brings me to my next historical point, here in the states at least, until recently there has been a "man of the house" figure who is all controlling and to be obeyed without question. In fact in old American literature quiet polite kids were taken as a status symbol and displayed like trophies of domination.
The other big reason this is still in issue is our primitive instincts are still in us and they can be aggressive. Our drive for self preservation makes the primate in us lash out at people who break our things or do bad things even on accident. If you've ever hit someone or even wanted to hit someone you know that it is an expression of pure id and sometimes it feels really good. Fortunately this last part coupled with the fact that we are legally allowed to hit our kids and not others turns them into a kind of outlet for our aggression.

Proof: Being a Caretaker

The most credible argument against this is who am I to tell a parent how to parent? I do not have children. I do however work in a group home for adults with severe mental disabilities, whose brains aren't far developed passed that of a child's. I have a lot of the responsibilities of a mother, only part time, but I cook and clean, I help with showers, I provide support and encouragement, I expose them to new things and most importantly I love them unconditionally. What I have learned in my job is that A)parenthood is hard. Really hard. Sometimes I want to rip my hair out and throw things. Sometimes I wish I could just swat their hand or something, just anything for instant progress. But I do not. Because it would not be progress just an illusion of progress. So I take a deep breath and ask what makes me calm down when I am mad or acting out. Which leads me to B) the best thing you can do when a person exhibits disrespectful or harmful behavior is lead by example, talk things out, and guide them through thinking it through. If I yell, they just yell louder, if I were to hit, they would just hit harder, but when I am respectful of them they respect me in return and when I talk quietly they talk quietly and that is enough proof for me.

Are you convinced?

Will you keep punishing your child in the same way?

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