All Punishments are Physical
Punishments are not voluntary. Punishments are unpleasantnesses that are forced upon a person by an authorized person, in order to convince him to change his behaviour; if an action is not all of these things, it’s not a punishment.
– If it’s not unpleasant for the recipient, it’s not a punishment. It’s either neutral, or it’s a reward.
– If the punisher isn’t a proper, legal authority, it’s somewhere between unauthorized punishment and abuse.
– If it’s not intended to change the recipient’s behaviour, it doesn’t count as punishment, only as retribution.
– That leaves me with force:
People tell me, a lot, that they don’t have to force punishments on their kids, that the kid seems willing enough to take their timeouts, their groundings, the restrictions on their favourite activities – all in everyone’s list of non-physical punishments – in stride. That seems, uh, counterintuitive to me. I mean, I can see that there are many instances of a person taking his punishment with no apparent force. There are certainly cases of prisoners walking to the electric chair under their own power – but to assume that this display means the condemned man has a choice in the matter is assuming too much. He’s going to the chair, and he has plenty of able-bodied men there to help him if his natural instinct to run gets the better of him. The stoic Dead Man’s Walk is only about decorum, appearances. He gets to look like a tough guy, willing to pay the price, and we get to watch a scene somewhat less horrifying than if we had to carry him in there kicking and screaming. I believe that any instance of a person willingly taking his penalty is a similar thing: the person knows there is no choice, and they know that if they fight the designated penalty, it only gets worse for them.
The punished person knows it, the condemned know it, our children know it . . . it would seem to be only the parents that don’t. Modern, deluded parents.
In some ways, the old-fashioned ways of parenting and punishing are preferable, I mean, at least an unapologetic parent who deals out spankings and slaps is honest about it, at least he knows he’s being physical, and more importantly, his kids know it. In a certain sense, his kids have a better chance at understanding what happened to them, they can have some clarity. But the kids whose parents “don’t believe in physical punishing methods,” the kids who suffered their timeouts, their groundings, having their favourite things confiscated and their ‘screen times’ curtailed, the kids who were subject to these sorts of deprivations but have to go through life trying to support the idea that their parents didn’t abuse them, didn’t physically punish them . . . there isn’t likely to be any clarity for these kids. They can’t know that their rights were infringed upon, because their parents don’t realize it either. There will be no resolution for many of these kids.
But I ask you: are these penalties optional? If the kid doesn’t feel like taking the timeout, or living without his new toy, what then? Are we not holding him in the timeout chair, or holding the door closed, which are physical things? Is playing ‘keepaway’ with his new toy not physical? Do we suggest that the toddler take a timeout, and then wait for him to agree and do it himself? Do we ask him to put his new toy down and stay away from it for a specified period and wait for him to do it? Or, as I say at the start of this, and per the dictionary definition, is punishment forced, which means physically – unless someone can do these things with the power of only their mind?
Now I’m not saying that there is some way to have things all our way as parents without punishing, there definitely isn’t. I’m just saying that if you, as a parent, made it to all your appointments on time, if you are never late for work, if you can have expensive things around your house and keep them intact, you have probably been punishing, and that’s not something you can do without getting physical about it. Everybody does it, there’s no shame in admitting it. It’s the system, and there is almost no other way, again, no shame in it.
It’s just that I think there may be more glory in finding another way, if at all possible. And prerequisite to that would be, we need a baseline, an honest one that says, whether we call it ‘corporal punishment’ or not, punishment is a forced thing. If we say we’re not forcing the timeouts, the groundings, etc., that only protects ourselves from the perception of it, it doesn’t change the reality, the reality being the damages associated with corporal punishment, because all punishments require physical means. Remember, if you like it, if you volunteer for it, it’s not a punishment. Punishments are unpleasant. They’re supposed to be, right? So of course we have to force them, that is obvious, that is, it is when we’re talking about them like they’re a good thing. Somehow, though, when we’re in a discussion of what is bad about punishing, that obvious truth becomes, uh, invisible. What I seem to hear is something that boils down to “of course, you have to – but I don’t do that!”
Yes, you do that. No shame in it, it’s the system, the only one, pretty much, so you do that, just admit it. You have to, and you do. Simple. Was that so difficult? Maybe it was, and would you like to know why?
It’s because of all these parenting books, the parenting gurus, all the parenting literature that has been published since Dr. Spock, maybe since B.F. Skinner, it’s all lies, that’s why. None of it says “let the kids win,” it all presupposes that the parents must win every time, and most of it is selling you a system that lets you win every time, with the added bonus that you can do it without getting physical. These are lies, horrible lies. How many of us thought that if we did what some parenting guru says, we wouldn’t have to spank, and been let down when our kid doesn’t feel like it? How many of us learned the hard way that there really is only one way to win an argument with a one, two, or three year-old? And then how many of us stopped listening to these liars? So now we do what we have to do and we just shut up about it, maybe we even think we’re alone, like we’re the only ones who failed at raising our kids by non-physical means, so we can’t even be open about it.
Be open about it. You are not alone.
Most parenting books are crap. They give you positive-sounding ideas, like ‘don’t hit them right away. Try this first, try that, distraction, rewards,’ but they go silent about what to do when it all fails. At the most cynical level, maybe some of these teachers know what we’ll end up doing, but they can’t say it any more. When nothing “works,” when nothing convinces your toddler, you’re on your own – but remember, you’re the parent, you decide what gets done. Kids need ‘structure.’ You know what to do.
And we do, and so we do the hard thing, we bring the unpleasantness, because, as we all know, it’s the only game in town. Just admit it, at least to yourself, your kids, and to me. I’m looking behind the curtain. I’m not going to believe you when you tell me you didn’t or you don’t, not 99% of you anyways. Because really, how could you not?