Punishment as Bullying

The world runs on authority, on force. The army, the police, schools, corporate hierarchies, parenting, parenting, parenting. Family structure. Punishment and discipline is a system by where we control unwanted behaviour by force, and punishment, which, punishment is defined as dishing out unpleasantness to the misbehavers in order to motivate them to change their ways.


This is pretty much a definition of bullying. The bully punishes the victim. The bully justifies this punishment by listing the victims’ misbehaviours, or the victims’ families’, or race’s, or faith’s misbehaviours.


This is punishing behaviour, this is bullies doing what adults do, doing what the police do, I mean the bully’s behavior is very close to that, closer than any of us would like to think. I’m saying the bully feels he is doing what he sees around him, that in the parlance of some schools of psychology, the bully is getting his power back, after some authority figure has taken his power from him.


So, parents and schools going to the bully kids and telling them to stop is a joke to these kids. They see it as just more ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ which it is. I, for one, would love to see someone ask the kids if I’m right about that. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the kids. Better yet, we need a mole, someone who can infiltrate the kids’ group and get a real answer. They don’t trust us.


Parents don’t think they are bullying. We have a consensus about what is acceptable punishing behavior, and we really cannot seem to draw parallels with what we see as our legitimate punishments and other similar behaviours. If we can’t, if we won’t see how bullying is an extension, an extrapolation of our punishing ways, then there is very little hope that any of our conversation about bullying, any of our attempts to combat it will get any traction, very little hope of our ever solving a problem if we refuse to understand it in the first place. Surely, someone has noticed that speeches that don’t acknowledge this difficult truth have not had any dramatic effect on the bullying phenomenon? I think any approach that doesn’t include this idea would be considered empty and hopeless, at least to any group that lives under threat or reality of punishment – like our kids.


Long and short, if we adults don’t stop ‘bullying’ kids everywhere, we will never stop their bullying, that should be obvious. I don’t know why it isn’t.


Many nations have outlawed corporal punishment, in Canada, we are in the process of outlawing it, and I can see the next step, that we will someday realize that the damage caused by punishing behaviours generally outweigh any benefit, and when we all stop anything like bullying, so will our kids. Until then, we will fight this bullying thing in vain, fighting fire with fire, and modeling it and propagating it as we do.


So now, there will be programs, task forces, plans and research, all government money spent to figure out this embarrassing problem, and if we don’t try to stop people from the use of punishment – corporal and otherwise – on our kids at home and everywhere else, we are wasting all those resources. And that is a sad, cruel joke, one that the adults don’t understand, and only our kids are laughing about. Not in a good way.




Jan. 22, 2016

Punishment and Respect

Punishment and Respect


I’m gonna change my approach a little here, start making these things short and sweet.


So this third one of those will be on this idea here: if you punish, it instills respect. Otherwise why would they respect you? So a couple of thoughts:


Punishment is a betrayal, of communication, of love, of respect; to be punished is to have our personhood rejected and denied. Punishments happen when a more powerful person or persons has given up talking to or reasoning with us and simply treats us like an object rather than any semblance of a peer, or even a person. To my mind, this is a worst case scenario in adult relationships. At its best, it’s Mandela’s incarceration, a classic walk underground and into legend (though, let’s not forget, not a good time for him still) resulting from a considered difference of political opinion. Rest assured most of the outcomes of this everyday betrayal, punishment, are not so good. One thing at a time, though. Respect.


To my mind, punishment is the end of respect. After one punishment, maybe, after some good apology, but after a regular application of it? Talk of ‘respect’ is empty chatter, mind-boggling hubris. A half-century of post-Skinner parenting crap literature never seems to acknowledge that you can’t have discipline from punishment and respect at the same time. I’ll tell you though: you’ve got a choice, and I repeat, you might not lose trust and respect the very first time – but don’t push it twice.


Have we really forgotten how it felt when we were the kids? Really? How many of us only come to respect our parents later in life, after we’ve spent a few decades dishing it out on our own kids? How many of us never do? We weren’t born disrespecting, they earned it – and we understand them after we earn it.





Jan. 20, 2016


Rare Research Opportunity

Parenting styles don’t matter, that is what all the analyses of all the twin and adoption studies came up with. They postulated three sorts of parenting – permissive, authoritative, and authoritarian, and with that in mind and all the twin and adoption data, they found that the middle road was best.

I don’t see it that way, because for them, the middle was the middle and permissive was one direction and authority the opposite direction, when really, it’s a one directional scale. Really, the spectrum goes from no application of authority, through some (permissive), through more (authoritative), to much (authoritarian) application of authority. “Application of authority” means control and the tools for it, meaning punishment, meaning force. My point being the three “parenting styles” they postulated are increasing levels of force, and the data says a little is bad and a lot is bad, but in between is not as bad. To my mind there are other ways to interpret that pattern than that the middle amount of force simply strikes the right balance, I need to know if that’s true, balance between authority and what? Original Sin? If two out of three dosages of it are bad for you, why is the third not?

My interpretation is this: children of permissive parents fear punishment less, the deterrents fail because the child is not convinced he’ll have to pay the price, so some number more of those kids develop bad habits, find trouble. Conversely, children of authoritative parents can be any combination of damaged or bitter and angry from abuse they’ve suffered, and the rougher their parents are, the rougher some of the kids learn to be, and so perhaps more of those kids find trouble too. A multitude of abuse and corporal punishment studies will support that. But then, why the middle road? The other things don’t apply, the punishments are consistent, so the deterrents work, the child has a higher expectation of having to pay the price, and the child has a better chance of avoiding real abuse and damage, along with other things as well, probably. I think that small win for the authoritative parents represents more children trapped in impossible binds, more kids who aren’t hurting enough to really speak out, more kids we’ve fooled into taking it like a man. But the point is this.

The permissive parents’ kids still know they can and will be punished for some things, they know the adults reserve the right to do it, same as with the rougher parents, so they’re carrying the bitterness too, them, the middle-road parents’ kids, they all know that. To my mind, the force is the trouble – and the science also says individual parents don’t leave a trace, that children are raised as a group function, by other kids, with the adult rules and structures in place – the force itself is an issue, but maybe just that all kids know generally that the adults will use the authority, the force, on them is more to the point. That knowledge offends all children, irrespective of how strict or wishy washy their own caregivers are. (That will be a sticking point, of course, I imagine a lot of parents don’t acknowledge that sense of offense, and I would respectfully suggest that not understanding that feeling means there is a large blind spot in our empathy.)

Again, they say individual parents don’t leave a trace on their kids, so that must mean individual parents’ styles don’t matter either – again, by their data, and their analyses, because of the simplistic categorization of “parenting styles.” Life certainly, but their science particularly needs a control set of zero authority parents, because that is the fundamental difference, authority, punishments and force, yes or no, and then perhaps we can make sense of the floating scale of less, more and most too. They saw very little difference, again, the middle road was only a little better, their main point is none of it makes any difference at all, so really, what that means to me, because I postulate force and punishments as the operative force in these matters, is when force is present, the amount of it makes little difference. Perhaps it’s a binary condition, like the presence of some poison the smallest amount of which is enough and more makes little difference. What we need to see is if there is a difference if we remove it altogether. Now it just so happens, I know a family like that we could interview, put through some tests.

Of course, they’d have to be compensated for their time, and these people are rare, which may drive up the price . . . really, though, for a “science” that is a hundred and twenty-five years old, a chance to establish a null control, for perhaps the first time?

What price could be too high?




Jan. 16, 2016

Mom’s Such a Martyr – Parental Sacrifice and the Six Year Challenge


One of my many differences with people in the parenting groups and with the prevailing climate in the gentle parenting movement is around sacrifice, around parents looking after themselves as well as their kids, because it’s important to model self-love and care, and because we figure happy, less stressed-out parents will have more success with their efforts to make the gentle change in their parenting. All this and more, and it’s obvious, impossible to deny in theory . . .

LOL. Of course I’m kidding!

My contrariness is not easily intimidated. I don’t know if you, the postulated reader realize it, but I’m kind of living on the edge here, when I start these sorts of rants, often the subject of my critique is something apparently unassailable like this. This is a high wire act in my mind, unconventional thinking, and it’s not easy. But with every new aspect of my study here, I’m gaining confidence and I don’t think I’m going mad. Fooling myself that I’m winning any points in these arguments doesn’t seem overly difficult or complex, which tells me I’m not so far diverged from the reality of things. Of course, for a curmudgeon, this is where the fun is. So to it, then.

This generation’s allergy to parental notions of sacrifice has some strange roots. The image of the sacrificing Mom is that of the Nineteen-fifties middle America, thing, Dad off at work and Mom at home, a slave to the house, the laundry, the kids, and of course Dad, and Mom lives out her life never doing a thing for herself, a martyr for the family. That, yes, a horrible standard for Mom, working twenty-four seven and the most hardworking of Dads not working those hours at all, home time being largely off-time for Dad. This is a situation at which to rebel, and when I was young, it was Women’s’ Lib, the women’s’ liberation movement, or more generally known then as today, feminism, that broke the spell and let us all know that this sacrifice was neither ‘its own reward’ or the model anyone should set their daughters up for.

All right and proper, not strange, I know, but here it is: was that also not the time and culture that beat the crap out of their kids, out of our parents, us and our friends? (I’m fifty-five as of this writing.) I know, right, parenting blogs and feminist blogs and never the twain shall meet, but, folks, it’s all one world out there. Our martyrs passed on their second-class citizen status and associated abuse to us, right? I know, many acted as protectors, shielding us from our more violent fathers, but really, in that demographic, who raised the kids? All I’m saying is, I get it, that culture of “sacrifice” was bad, that model needs to go, for both feminist and – childist – reasons, no argument for that larger thing: that whole culture needs to change, absolutely.

But (and here come the comments), was the sacrifice really the problem in it?

If it seems to be, I think it’s only because of its close ties to abuse, that Mom’s sacrifice means she allowed herself and therefore us to be abused. Does the feminist movement want to say that Mom was complicit in her own and her children’s’ abuse, that is, is Mom’s shared guilt what they want to shine a light on, or should we not just keep the parenting talk focussed on abuse? Abuse is the real scourge here, focussing on sacrifice is oddly misogynist when we’re talking about abuse or parenting, it’s a form of victim blaming – as though there are impersonal, automatic cycles of abuse with lives of their own, but these martyr women, they’re making a choice in it, like they’re the only ones who are. It just smells off to me. Mom may have done it as an adult, but abuse is still abuse, even if we seem to volunteer for it. It’s the driving force in the dark side of our parents’ and grandparents’ parenting and Stockholm Syndrome in itself is a reaction, not a cause. All I’m saying is, Ladies, mothers, feminists and those who are both especially, yes, no-one should model that, that was some misguided sacrifice indeed.

To give the devil and the dark side it’s due, though, some bullshit in the name of a virtue is not a new thing in the world, and many a callous abuser has beaten his chest and cried about his “sacrifice.”  As Dark Side as I can ever be: is the flip side of ‘happy parents are gentle parents’ an ultimatum: ‘Call me out on my bullshit and I will beat the tar out of this kid?’ Misreads and abuse exist for everything, including sacrifice; it doesn’t mean things can’t ever be the good, proper versions sometimes. Sacrifice was our mothers’ and grandmothers’ immediate personal problem, their battle, and maybe still many ladies’ battle today, and solving it saves women, absolutely. Suggesting that fighting this battle somehow saves children, and that the two groups, women and children (read adults and children) can never be in conflict, that one’s gains can never negatively impact the other, however, isn’t right and it’s not helpful. Your fight for freedom was and is against the men, the adults. It’s still OK to sacrifice a little for your kids.

How sacrifice hurts us as children is only one of the many, many ways abuse hurts us. Let’s keep our eye on the prize.

So. ‘One of my many differences.’

I don’t mind some sacrifice. Yes, I’m a cultural Christian, and while that doesn’t mean I agree with the sacrifice of human beings in the literal sense, nailed to trees, I do think sacrifice is, at least in it’s better forms, a good thing, a moral act. In fact, it’s a big part of my planned cure for abuse and punishment in the world. In it’s most practical, generational terms, what I’m advising is that some punished and also possibly abused generation swallow that pain and find a way not to repeat, in fact to sacrifice what they see as a “normal, happy life,” live with the pain and troubles their childhoods left them with and keep their fucking hands off of their own kids, even if they think “raising their kids right” will make themselves feel better. That is gonna feel like some sacrifice, I won’t lie to you.

I felt it, believe me.

I can’t imagine how many times I’ve told the half-joke that I sometimes wish I had beat my second daughter up at least once, just so that during all the frustrating times with her afterward, I could have just closed my eyes for a second and treasured the memory. Man, it would be nice, once in a man’s life to bark an order and see it swiftly carried out. That is an immediate gratification I have rarely enjoyed, believe me. I have fantasies of personal power, my worldview tells me we all do, and I have happily (usually happily) sacrificed getting the payoff those fantasies promise.

In practical terms in a slightly shorter time frame, I would say the sacrifice of our inheritance of parental power needed to last until my younger daughter was old enough to talk and reason with, old enough to understand things, and as I remember it, she was five or six. She was born a full three and one-third years after our older one, so the difficult years, where we manually did everything we might want to train our kids to control themselves for, were then over before ten years had elapsed from the first one’s birth. I mean, ten years into our life as parents, we never had another cause to consider punishing. This when the teen years were still before us, and they aren’t anymore. We sacrificed, and it paid, sorry if that sounds ironically old fashioned.

We sacrificed a lot, all the other things, besides the sense of parental power I will save for another post, but there was a lot of work, and we had opted out of much of normal life around normal families, we sacrificed the support normal parents get from each other. Not kidding, it was a lot, but again: for six years after the birth of your last child, then it’s payoff time. Not kidding about that either.





That old model of family life, yes, that was bad, let’s do away with that, but let’s also make sure we’re fighting the real devil here, not some victim proxy. Mom’s sacrifice didn’t help, but abuse and force, these are the issues that shape us, negative things like these. Sacrifice is still a moral tool, with a legitimate existence. Do we imagine that in harsh, unforgiving nature, sacrifice on the part of parents is not a survival adaptation for the young and so for the species?

Having said that, part of what was wrong with the model of Mom’s martyrdom is that it never ends, the payout is never made. They thought the payout was our success and our happiness – but again: they whooped our asses while they said that to themselves, so that payout maybe never came either, right? Sacrifice for nothing really isn’t, in hindsight. What I’m offering you here is old-time, tried and true sacrifice, hard work for actual results.

Face that Mom and Dad were and all your friends and colleagues are wrong about the benefits of any sort of punishing, and hold back your punitive urges until your kids are six years old. Make that sacrifice and see what happens. And don’t get me wrong, be nice to yourselves, that part is true, it will be easier if you’re getting breaks. If, however, when it gets hard, and you can’t help but feel you’re somehow repeating Mom’s errors, over-sacrificing, I promise you, six years. Six years of feeling like something of a fool, six years of letting your kids get away with stuff you never would have gotten away with, six years of feeling like your inner child has lost a fucking lottery, and after that the hard part is behind you – a decade or two earlier than it was when our parents parented us, if you recall. For my wife and I, it meant it was that long before it ever got any easier for many of the parents around us, and neither the strictest ones nor the least so were immune, which, BTW, fits the social science study data.

Some sacrifice is a good thing, sometimes.



Jan. 16, 2016


Negative Proofs

It’s a hard row to hoe, convincing people that all punishment is harmful, Sisyphean, in fact, but the opposite, that was pretty easy: a complete lack of punishment, no dispensing of negative consequences whatsoever – has no ill effects. Punishment is not necessary for life.

You may not be ready to allow that it’s harmful – but for the lack of it to be harmful, me and my family would have to show some harm, some of the sorts of harm we all agree might result from a lack of discipline, wildness, inconsiderateness, poor boundaries, violence, opposition, poor morals – and that is just not the case.

You can’t prove a negative, but you can prove whether removing an organ kills the patient. Punishment is like our appendix, a legacy condition that can only cause trouble. It’s not a requirement for life. I’ve proved that much, and that is no small thing.

You’re welcome.




Jan. 16, 2016

Brave and Crazy

. . . brown trouser time, only I guess I never knew it.


(sorry, I don’t know how to insert a video . . . it’s only a short joke, no biggie)


When I made my decision, when I determined that it was punishment in any and all of its forms that was the problem with the world (because I’m the sort of person who feels duh, there’s a problem with the world), when I decided I would never punish my kids, ever, I must have been out of my mother-loving mind. A more educated person never could have made this mistake.

I mean, I was living the Blank Slate and the Nurture Assumption fallacies, for starters. I really believed that no part of the human character was written in the blood. I really believed that it’s how we’re treated that makes us who we are – well maybe I wouldn’t have bet my life on those things, but I always assumed they were true enough, that if how we’re treated matters at all, then we should treat each other well. Wait, that sounds like Idle at the end of ‘the Meaning of Life’ – “So that’s why I became a waiter!” I mean, adults should treat children well, and punishments aren’t good treatment. At least that’s what I decided I must have been thinking at some point afterwards, because I hadn’t really looked into any nature vs nurture stuff back then, not yet.

But I’ll admit it:

I really had no idea what I was doing. Looking back, it was an emotional thing, I just thought ‘nice’ was good and ‘mean’ was bad. I didn’t think I needed to know what to do, what parent really does, at first? I knew what not to do, and that seemed like more knowledge than anyone else had claim to . . . wow. Does that sound a little uppity, coming as it does from a man with only a pair of High School Equivalency certificates that got him into trade school? Sometimes maybe not so brave as just plain nuts. Such conviction, and I’ve since been given to understand that the basis of my philosophy has been debunked, it was all Blank Slate nonsense that drove it, stuff like the only thing that matters is how we are treated. I should hang my head and not open my ignorant gob regarding child-rearing or development ever again, right?

(I talk to people now who seem to base their gentle parenting ideas on the same basis that I had, and I cringe a little. But I also had my little epiphany, that punishment is identical to abuse except in the rationale, and that’s the difference. They are Blank Slaters still, Nurture Assumers still for the most part unless they’re professionals, who would punish (be it timeouts and such), while I would not punish and I’m presently accepting the Nurture Assumption Challenge, that is, questioning my previous assumptions. While my insight seemed oddly both revolutionary and self-evident to me, no-one else seems to get it and so I now view that too as naïve and unsupported, to some degree. I no longer expect anyone to see that one my way. I’m amazed, and I can’t believe it, but I have memorized it: this idea, punishment as abuse with an excuse, doesn’t fly.)

Having said that, sometimes a bad thesis produces the most interesting results!

I’d be humble, mortified and silent forever, if my more than two-decade philosophical faux pas here came out, showed itself to the world, how wrong I was, how on the wrong side of history I’d been, such a denier of human nature, but, apparently . . . apparently all that wrong-headed leftist science isn’t so completely wrong that anywhere it leads will mess up your kids. It led me away from power and authority, from punishment – something maybe even the worst of those commies weren’t trying for. And a good thing. Not just a one-dimensional value judgment, I hope: a good thing scientifically, like the discovery of penicillin from a sample gone bad and mouldy. I’m not sure that’s what happened there, but you know what I mean, like I’m the rock-tossing goatherd who discovered the Dead Sea scrolls. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of him and what happened there either, but . . . well, there it is. Ha.

I had my little epiphany, my idea, and we went with it, brave and crazy. No punishment was to be the rule, and like dominoes, everything went with it: bedtimes, mealtimes, clean house, organized life, and any sort of support in our child-rearing efforts. (The hugs and kisses tribute due to the family matriarch was not forced either – imagine the potential for hurt feelings.) If you’re not willing to force it – and that was exactly our choice, for better or worse we weren’t going to force anything – then none of the things that you want to happen but your young children don’t are going to happen. I mean they might, sometimes, but not in a dependable way. So I saw that as my choice, control or gentleness, and I can’t explain why control seemed negotiable to me when it doesn’t seem to be for most parents, but I gave it up, we gave it up. Brave and crazy, sure.

I didn’t word it this way until very recently, but here’s the bad thesis: hurt hurts and harm harms. Abuse hurts because hurt hurts, and it harms because harm harms, simple like that, and that also accounts for a lot of ‘normal’ hurt and harm because punishment is ‘normal’ hurt and harm. Simple, as opposed to the newspeak of punishment, strength from hurt and good from harm. That might be a plausible theory if we merely dispense with Ockham’s razor and not consider the obvious, simple truth of my proposition, but really, not as plausible as hurt means hurt, as the fact that words are always synonyms for themselves. Hurt hurts and harm harms, that really is about lower case abuse, meaning negative experience, like the abuse your shoes take; it’s not about ‘parenting styles’ and I would agree: it’s not about the process of child development. All that is as it should be, abuse is a different conversation, indeed. It’s just that it happens in the same places at the same times and at the hands of the same people. Apparently if you do it wrong, it’s not “parenting,” it’s abuse, and by this definition, parenting can never be a bad thing! By this definition, parenting has never been shown to affect children in a meaningful way.

So hurt hurts and harm harms, simple and true. Is that so crazy?

Hint: it’s not; we are.

It worked out great. I mean it was tough, mitigating the damage toddlers cause without dis-incentivizing it, without forcing the child to learn to control herself to adult standards, the first several years were constant legwork, exhausting. It started getting better when the girls were five or six, old enough to talk and reason, and it never got difficult again. As it turns out, if you can manage not to punish your babies and toddlers, your children will trust you and the communication will remain open and productive throughout your family life together. That was a hoped for but unexpected result for us, really amazing, better than we could have imagined. We really were making a change, though. We weren’t raised this way, it was uncharted territory, no kidding, brave, crazy and . . . lucky, I guess. Against all odds.

Again, no argument, I admit it. It was naïve, and it was irresponsible. It just wasn’t supposed to happen (ask my mother-in-law) . . .

. . . and


Eureka! Whatever that is. It’s another accidental scientific miracle, human beings, living together in relative harmony right through the teen years and into adulthood with their parents. Is that so crazy?

Happens all the time, doesn’t it?

Of course I mean the accidental huge scientific discovery, not the harmony, LOL.



Jan. 10, 2016

A Guilty Pleasure . . .

Bit of an interesting situation with my younger daughter, she’s just coming to the end of her second last term in high school. She’s turning in amazing grades, but she’s feeling the pressure, not really sure what to study in post-secondary, but she’s got plenty of work to do and she’s dropping a class, Comparative Civilizations, CompCiv, she says it’s just too much work with too little payoff, not sure what she plans to do, but probably not history or archaeology. So she’s told the teacher and her counsellor and the counsellor called me this morning.

She was baffled, first of all – my kid’s getting like, 98% in the class, and that’s not usually when kids drop things, but on closer view, that’s part of it, she’s not trying to get out of the work it takes for a C., she can’t help but go all in, and it’s not worth the stress for this elective. She’s concentrating on sciences like bio and chem. Here’s the pleasure: this counsellor wanted to hear where we stood, how we felt about it, and she was like, “So I can say that your parents feel like . . .” and I was like, “No, not really.”

It’s maybe the last time I’m gonna get to do that, maybe the last time I get to tell a teacher or someone, “She already knows how we feel, and she can do what she wants.”

Gawd, how I have loved doing that! And how I’m going to miss it! Every time I tell a teacher that it’s a little like telling some adult bully from my own childhood where to get off. I mean, I was nice about it, of course, but still, I love that feeling. Of course, I don’t trust adults. She was nice, a peaceful hippie type from her voice, but just in case she didn’t get the message, I made sure to report the entire conversation to my kid, make sure she knows that I already told the counsellor that she can do as she likes, and she can tell her that she knows I did.

All in all, pretty fun. I’m gonna miss that.




Jan. 6, 2016