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.

 

Jeff

 

Jan. 22, 2016

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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.

 

 

Jeff

 

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?

 

Jeff

 

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.

 

 

Conclusions

 

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.

 

Jeff

Jan. 16, 2016

#SixYearChallenge

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.

 

Jeff

 

Jan. 16, 2016

All Right you Mothers – Part #1

First of all, women are oppressed second-class citizens, no argument. I’m all about the equality. Having said that . . .

Ladies, get your shit together, and just like Pink Floyd told the teachers – Hey! Leave those kids alone.

I spend a lot of time criticizing parents, and I don’t mean to be sneaking it in under the radar: mothers are the main parents. In most of the world, most of the child-rearing, and therefore most of the child-rearing mistakes are made by mothers. I suppose in places where the men have proprietorship over their women (old world cultures, sub-cultures where the law doesn’t reach, among the very rich or the very poor), we can say that mothers have no choice, there certainly are places where a lot of misguided mothering is forced upon the mothers by a brutal regime of men – but not in my life! In middle-class suburban or city life in my corner of the former First World, the west coast of Canada, for the most part, it is mothers who have control, mothers who are the autonomous rulers of the family. Men here are still children to some degree, still living in the power-shadow of their own mother; the industrial revolution has removed men from the family structure. We’re like lions now, we will be called upon to fight if there’s a war or a threat, or when the children grow beyond the mother’s ability to control them herself. Other than that, we will defer to the mother, as we always have, from our earliest days.

On a personal level, I would have been one of those minimally involved men – I still am, half the time. Honestly, I still have the weak male core-belief that my contributions to running the household are optional. I cook and clean sometimes, but it’s still sort of voluntary, and sometimes I don’t. I’m sure I would have happily taken the suburban male’s back seat position regarding parenting too, except for this idea I had, my epiphany that children should not be punished. Un-punished children would not have happened if I had left things up to my wife. In my house, it was me, the man, who stood up against potential violence, against the betrayal and disregard that punishing brings to parenting. In my mind, it was about that, about saving my kids from a lot of unconscious brutality, but I have to admit – I wasn’t excited to be that uninvolved, un-consulted father. I was, as so many young men in this First World life are, staring down the barrel of familial irrelevance.

Having seen the effect of that in my own father, as well as in the patriarch of my in-laws’ family, and knowing my constitution wasn’t matched for the alcoholism that was their answer for it, I knew that wasn’t going to sit well with me.

This whole ‘no punishment’ thing, though, this started long before I was able to articulate that fear. I never recognized my dad’s situation that way as anything he didn’t deserve, and I only thought about it in a personal context. It was getting to know my in-laws that gave me to understand that it was a situation many men have to deal with.  Or not, I guess – and that I was facing that crisis/choice also. I think the chronology speaks to any conscious need to build a rationale I may have had – but I’m willing to grant the possible overlap of interests. Much as I’d rather look at it as a pleasant surprise, some collateral repair in my life from choosing to do the right thing, that I fought a careful and prolonged battle with my still-beloved wife to implement a form of child-rearing that very few people would understand or agree with.

I felt for many years, while the girls were young and vulnerable that I was walking a wire not to piss the wife off to the point of divorce while trying to bring her around to my idea, and to this day, I can see the pain that her lack of control over things gives her. The poor girl has done what I advise in my blog, she has lost at both ends, powerless with her own mother, and then cut off from the inheritance of power she needs so bad as an adult, never permitted to enjoy the topside of our eternal parent-child power struggle. I was trying to make the same sacrifice, but I had talked myself into it already, her parents were present in her life . . . for whatever reasons, it was me driving the change and was my wife losing her parental power simultaneously with starting to see the situation of her childhood powerlessness. It was very hard on her. She would never have it any other way now, but I think young motherhood was harder on my young wife than it is for some, thanks to me. Not to mention that I was intervening and insisting on changes because the girls were here now and needed to be spared a lot of “normal” stuff now – and a lot of the “now” was before my wife had understood or agreed with the whole ‘no punishment’ (so no force, so no bedtimes, no mealtimes, no toilet training) thing. If I ever succeeded in one of these interventions, it was often only that I had complained long and loud enough that she would just capitulate.

There wasn’t mostly a meeting of minds while the girls were little. It was a pretty stressful few years, bad for me, probably worse for her. It’s been a lot better since the younger one was maybe five or six, for all of us. Having said that –

My wife is the sweetest, most passive girl I could have found. I would say nine out of ten women I’ve met during the child-rearing years of my life would not have either allowed me to make this change, either would have whooped the kids’ asses while I wasn’t around or left me and had them all to themselves, something. I know what we did, what I made happen is what was in my dear wife’s heart, and she’s been very happy with it for many years now. We have always known we were loved, all through the teen years, always the communication and the honesty has been there.

Using your power early on takes that away from you; it’s a trade no-one in my house will ever again consider, I’m happy to say. Having said that, that, to a considerable degree, is motherhood, this power trap that my wife so painfully escaped, the stage of life where at last a young mother gets to feel her own power rather than her parents’ power, at the expense of her children’s power. I’m hopeful that we have lessened the power of that cycle for our girls and that the cycle will not simply resume with them, when they have children.

I’m hoping that my beautiful wife’s suffering won’t have helped save only our girls, but their kids, and theirs, won’t have been for a blip in history, but the start of something.

So I know how I’m framing this, and it’s horrible. It’s like male/master/rational – female/slave of unconscious needs – and I’m sorry. Any psychologist will remind me that I was getting my unconscious needs met too, of course. As I say, I powered my way into a strong parental position. Also, I acknowledge that most parents will grant that she too had a rational position to argue; I don’t agree, but if it makes me seem less authoritarian, I won’t try to convince you!

Hmmm . . . 1,300 words . . . better leave off for now . . .

Jeff

Oct. 8, 2015

Life is Hard

Life is Hard

I’ll prove it to you. I mean, logically, rhetorically; I don’t aspire to be the agent of any more pain or difficulty for you. If I have been in the past, maybe move on, this one won’t be better for that, probably.

It’s just this, that some of the things that are our options in life are very hard things indeed. Still, options they are and they do get their share of hits, which is the proof I’m offering. If some of these things are possibly as good or better than our circumstances when the choice is required, then our situation is hard all around, and it means that quality of life before these hard choices – life at home for kids and teens, life without prospects for adults, etc. –  wasn’t so different.

On a personal level, I was shocked when I saw some kids in my extended family running away from home and prostituting, and it was a part of the puzzle of my cause when I realized that homelessness and sexual slavery seemed to be a viable option to these kids over staying at home fighting with their parents and staying in school. Sure, teenagers are too stupid to be afraid, but the numbers are there. That isn’t our countries’ smallest industry by any means. List all the reasons you like, street life and prostitution is a real option in the minds of millions of North American teens. If they’re all just that stupid, then sure, teenagers are dumb –

–        But of course it’s not all of them, is it? Of course it happens to smart kids and wealthy kids too. I’m not saying all these teens are making an informed choice. I’m just saying that the hand of the free market has judged that in some percentage of teens, an attitude of ‘anything is better than this’ prevails. Teens are voting with their feet. They may be stupid and wrong, but we raised these idiots.

Oops. Preaching aside, the point is, when that is an option, life must be hard.

Other examples come to mind:

  • Battle, war, nuclear war. It’s a hard life that makes war such a regular option and where nuclear war can be seriously considered and planned for. Plus, like Churchill said, I’ll paraphrase, ‘of course there are worse things than war. Dishonour is worse than war. Slavery is worse than war.’ It’s a real option, which means peace is not, apparently, because if it were it would be no contest. Life is tough when peace is not even an option. On an individual level, soldiering is a hard, dangerous choice, and for many, it’s their last option among others that include homelessness, crime and or incarceration. For some, I imagine it’s the same as the teen choice above, it’s a way out of the nuclear home.
  • Suicide. Again, say what you want about their reasons and choices, the numbers are there. It becomes an option for far too many when their lives become intolerable, and it has a nasty way of working to become their only option. Of course, this was an easy one, every suicide has the aspect of an indictment. But still, when that is among your best options, and again, far too many . . .
  • Cheating. Lying. Stealing. Along with divorce, along with death by addictions, situations no-one wants from their youth. When you can live with a bad reputation, when being mistrusted is as good as it gets, that signifies a depressing choice at some point, the lesser of two particularly smelly evils.

I guess I’ve said it. Really, for me, of course it’s about the runaway teens, about kids, and you probably know I see it as a fractal thing, that if big life, the life of nations sucks so hard that mutually assured destruction is an actual option, then that possibility derives from individual lives sucking so hard that military service is an option. When kids run away, to the streets or the army, they’re voting with their feet, against their parents and caregivers and maybe their judgment comes from their pre-verbal times, as it seems to in teens, but still.

So I’m just trying to give that a voice, just saying, this is what ‘Life is Hard’ means to me. I don’t think it’s a rule, that life is hard, but it certainly is the present state of affairs.

Jeff

August 21, 2015

Why Ending “Corporal Punishment” Won’t Fix It

I had this idea of doing a YouTube sort of video, but for various reasons, I’m giving it up.

I spent some time writing it though, so here’s the rough script, just ’cause I can’t bear to write and not publish . . .

YouTube – Abuse with an Excuse

 

Me talking – scene? In the yard, birds and flowers?

PART ONE – INTRODUCTION:

 

Hey Folks, thanks for the click, of course.

This will be a talk about a sort of technical, psychological aspect of how we raise our children, and it’s not going to be exciting for most internet users.

If it were an 18th, Century manuscript, I guess it would be titled ‘A Critique of the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment’ –  maybe it will be, too, old-timey as it sounds, that is what it’s supposed to be.

I want to show that outlawing “corporal punishment” is not working and is not ever going to work to end spanking and violent child discipline and I plan to demonstrate that it is due to faulty assessment, that there is far more to this problem than what is happening in the very narrow definition of “corporal punishment.”

More, I hope to show that any policy built around the idea of stopping “corporal punishment” is in fact misguided, built upon a bad idea.

My belief, to avoid any surprises, is that punishment generally is a leading cause of our social problems and not a cure for them at all.

I think the world will become a better place with every act of punishment that we don’t engage in – but that is not the subject of today’s talk.

Today will be just one small part of that larger conversation.

So, Folks, if that interests you, if you’re a policy maker in the government or some Social Services agency, or a person engaged in the attempt to understand their own childhood and themselves, welcome!

Maybe you’re a teacher in an Early Childhood Education program, teaching our future daycare staffers and teachers, or simply a person who wants to delve deeply into parenting before, during, or after the experience of it, and if so, or for whatever reason this catches your eye, welcome!

I may bore you to tears or I may make you angry – parenting is very personal – the only thing I will promise is that unless you know me online or in real life already, you have probably never heard the views in here before.

If you make it through to the end, I’ll I commend your attention span, and welcome your input.

Again, on behalf of all humanity, because we all start out as children, I thank you for your interest.

OK then. I think we’re probably alone now.

Ha.

Scene change?

Hi there, welcome to Abuse with an Excuse, the movement with a poor name and an even poorer chance of success, because, well, because we can’t have nice things, can we?

Scene change? – sad things, kids, people? A headline reading ‘Canadian Majority Government falls to No Confidence vote, nation gives Same Guys Super Majority?’

After all, if we could change only one thing to make the world a vastly better place, surely that would be too easy! Plus we wouldn’t deserve it, would we, sinners that we are?

Scene change? – images of Christian self-abasement, Whitey from ‘the DaVinci Code?

 

It sure seems like that sometimes, but I guess in truth, I’ll have to say no and no.

Of course we deserve nice things.

Plus, it’s a fact is that making this one change in the world will be anything but easy.

But that’s only because it’s unthinkable.

Scene change? – Galileo in the Tower of Pisa?

 

If we can get past that, it might not be so hard – so that’s the goal.

That’s my challenge to the world. Can we think the unthinkable? Can we get outside of the box?

We’ll be going after one of the PC Brigade’s favourites, I’ll warn you now. No shame in walking away.

Scene change? – Protest scenes, placards – Simpsons? South Park . . .

 

Ha.

Don’t get too excited, I know we’d all like to think we get outside of the box sometimes – but we probably won’t like the outside of this one.

Most don’t.

We probably think that what’s outside of this particular box is something along the lines of a sharknado – no wait – Biebernado.

Scene change? – Can I do that? Sharknado scene, and the same with JB?

 

Ha.

Don’t worry; I’ll get back to that.

Ha.

Scene change? – Graphic of a box, and us flying into it, inside some image of people, humanity, then a “spanking scene,” then one of a parent administering a task-based penalty

PART TWO – INSIDE THE BOX:

Today’s box has two things in it, besides all of mankind: the first is “corporal punishment.”

The second, well, I’m looking for a better name, but generically perhaps we can call it simply “non-corporal punishment” for now.

The terms are problematic, and we’ll see why soon.

You get the idea, though, two sorts of punishment, corporal as opposed to otherwise, which means ‘pain, discomfort or endurance-based punishments’ as opposed to punishments that are intended to be non-violent?

Common examples of the latter kind are referred to as restrictions on ‘screen time’ for our modern, wealthy kids, the removal of a desired thing, a toy, the ‘timeout,’ ‘grounding’ (curfew), increased chores, etc.

Scene change? –graphic, outside of the box, someone closes box and labels it?

I’m sure I haven’t lost anyone; we all know that stuff, right?

That stuff, though, that is inside the box – and we are stepping out of it.

It is my hope that when we turn back to look at it, that we will see only the box, labelled “punishment.”

Scene change? – back to me talking – where?

So far so good? Super.

When we’re finished here, I’ll help you pack that box out to the curb. Hold on, we’d better back up.

PART THREE – “CORPORAL PUNISHMENT” – THE MYTH:

This is about childrearing, parenting.

Scene change? – somehow show a bunch of folks approving of the task-based scene and disapproving of the “spanking.”

There are a great many people living in the box for whom the contents are distinct, very different things, and this conversation is intended for the ones who identify as anti-corporal punishment, people who do not hold with hitting children and “spanking.”

Scene change? – somehow show a bunch of folks approving of the “spanking” scene

All those who are pro-corporal punishment, you’re not going to care about what I have to say here.

Stay if you’re curious, but really, this conversation is for most of the folks you are in opposition to already.

Scene change? – somehow show the ‘pro’ folks disapproving of ‘anti’ folks  and vice versa

I don’t think you are necessarily any more harmful than the non-corporal punishment people on the whole, and I don’t think you’re not worth talking to – I just think this is internal, anti-spanking movement stuff.

Scene change? – meeting of the People’s Front for Judea? Palin guaranteeing Idle’s Right to have babies and Cleese’s response?

The errors I’m pointing to here are ours, not yours.

You’re next on my list to attack, don’t worry, I’m not forgetting you.

If you’re still being like that after I straighten these namby-pamby types out, we’ll talk.

Scene change? – me talking?

Ha.

Where was I? Oh yes.

Don’t get me wrong –I’m anti-corporal punishment. Pain for pain’s sake? Kind of a no-brainer to my way of thinking.

In fact, I’m anti-punishment.

“Anti-punishment.” Let’s let that sit there for a second.

Scene change? – deer in headlights shot? Leela – “Yes. Wait – what?”

Has everybody heard that particular combination of syllables before?

Is it something we hear in the box?

Anti-punishment. Surely it’s been said, I just can’t be sure when or by whom.

The thing is, I want to be anti-corporal punishment, so I’m anti-punishment, period.

That’s how it works, sorry to tell you, but all punishment is physical, and it’s all based in violence.

It’s not all “corporal,” I’m not saying that, because “corporal” means the pain is the penalty.

What I am saying is all punishments require physical means to make them happen, enforcement.

Imagine forcing somebody to take a punishment over the phone, if you had no physical presence.

Scene change? – cartoon, Slyvester getting clobbered through the phone . . .

 

Me talking again

It’s possible, don’t get me wrong, some caregivers have that sort of power, but they got it through plain old-fashioned physical superiority, either in the past, the kid’s experience – or because of a present or future threat.

Or both, obviously.

(A word about pronouns. Sometimes when I’m talking about hypothetical kids, I’ll say, he or she, him or her, but if I lose track and I’m always talking about boys, it’s only an example, I don’t mean to leave the girls out.

I’m a man, and if the hypothetical has a correlation for me, I may say ‘he’ just through identifying with it.

I’m not intentionally just using male terms as global identifiers.

Mostly, I’m always writing this exact sort of stuff, and to type ‘he or she’ twenty times a day is tiresome to do, and tiring to read as well.)

When we can control our kids with a word, when we can impose a punishment and simply watch while the kid hands over the toy or walks himself to the naughty chair, whatever he has to do to pay for his crime, that kid knows something that we maybe don’t.

He knows that it isn’t optional, that if he says no to this penalty and opts for what comes next, that things only get worse for him.

Children that appear to take their punishments willingly know from experience what happens when they get their backs up and refuse.

This is what I’m saying about “non-corporal” punishment: it is always only the child’s first, best option.

It does in no way replace the rough kind of punishing, the physical kind is always there, because “non-corporal” punishment cannot exist without it.

Hmmm . . . wait a second . . .

Trauma doesn’t have to be consistent to be damaging, I mean your life doesn’t have to be all trauma to damage you.

Even one-timers can destroy people, worst case scenario.

That means that a child whose life includes mostly non-physical penalties is still vulnerable to trauma and damage if the discipline only turns violent occasionally – and it always does, at least occasionally.

So.

The physical kind of punishing is always there, because “non-corporal” punishment cannot exist without it, that statement needs a little support, to say the least, right?

Well, this isn’t hard science, but I have a few things.

One,

is everyone aware that much of the older child-rearing advice was proudly corporal?

Do we know that they advised smacking babies specifically because they lack language skills and therefore cannot be reasoned with?

Scene change? – baby shots, maybe an old birth scene with the ritual First Spank?

Actually, fair enough almost, they do lack speech and can’t be reasoned with, but I’m not actually feeling the need to weigh in here on corporal punishment of babies as such – I’m anti-ALL punishment, I’ll remind you.

But what the previous generations’ childrearing literature means is what I’m telling you about kids and non-physical punishments: we often learn our physical lessons before we even get our legs.

When a toddler or a child has learned to stand still and take his medicine, it’s likely because he has been trained by force, because, third time, you can’t talk babies into anything.

This I offer as proof that if we control our babies, if a great many of life’s conflicts with our babies are settled in our favour, there is only one way we can have accomplished it.

Two,

 

Scene change? – shots of Darwin, Goodall, a frowning, hairy Jemaine Clements . . .

 

when it really isn’t actual force – and I may have to know you well to believe you if you say so – maybe there’s a human nature aspect to it, that perhaps humans have retained some instincts. Maybe kids just know to toe the line when the parent is only showing warning signs.

That is something like genetic proof, if we have that instinct, because it means those of us without it flourished less, and that heeding the warnings is a survival trait– and it reminds us that a first non-violent attempt to control a child isn’t something we just invented.

If there are two varieties of punishment, they have always existed together, side by side.

Scene change? – Walmart scenes with kids? Corporal punishment in public?

 

Scene change? – back to me talking

Evidence that they can be separated is still pending; I’m not holding my breath, because the vast majority of households in Canada and America self-report still “spanking.”

That tells us this “no corporal punishment” narrative isn’t changing anything.

Three,

we have a long, long childhood and most of us never make it all the way through without calling the parents’ bluff at least once.

Somebody tell me that we never learned this when we pushed our grownups to the limit– our caregivers weren’t bluffing, were they, because what is punishment if the parent won’t back it up?

And in what way, while I’m asking questions and being rhetorical, in what way has this generation changed that fundamental fact about punishing? That you can’t bluff?

Rhetorical, of course, we haven’t. That’s the secret.

You know you have to follow through, right?

That statement right there, there’s another sort of proof.

If you have to follow through, then your non-physical punishment was always going to be physical if it had to be to work.

(That is a whole other discussion, what we mean when we say something “works.”

Perhaps that will be the next entry.)

Scene change? – scenes to show the following two scenarios . . .

Four,

and I’m sorry, it’s the same as number one, really, just another angle – how physical do you have to be sometimes to follow through?

Grounding and curfew aren’t corporal punishments – but the fight that will ensue when your teenager says ‘fuck you’ and heads for the front door is sure to trespass into the physical, isn’t it?

Same with a toddler who doesn’t want his timeout; timeouts certainly aren’t corporal punishments, but bringing him to where timeouts happen and keeping him there is something that happens in the physical world, isn’t it?

Where else?

Scene change? – me talking

So, that’s three or four points, arguments to show that “corporal” punishments aren’t the only rough kind, because all punishments have force, violence, and disregard as their basic, necessary ingredients.

I repeat: what is any punishment if we don’t follow through?

Punishing means following through.

Unfortunately, following through means just what it sounds like it means.

PART FOUR – OUTSIDE THE BOX:

“Corporal” is not the point, if the other kind is also nasty, is what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is corporal punishment VS non-corporal punishment is not really it, it’s not a meaningful distinction.

The distinction should be physical or not, violent or not, if that’s what we’re trying to say, ‘don’t hit.’

Does it really matter if we hit them because we planned to, because that’s the sort of penalty we like and really not matter if we hit them to make them stay in timeout, stay in house arrest, or complete their extra chores?

Scene change? – a scene to show this? The old one of Dad marching a kid to the neighbor’s with the broken window, ball gear . . .

If we hit them to force them to do the restorative part, pay for the broken thing, apologize to someone?

Scene change? – – a cartoon for the following?

This entire conversation, could be put another way, I could say that we don’t endorse “corporal punishment” for original crimes, the thing the child did to warrant punishing, but we do indeed recommend it if the little bugger won’t take the first offering.

Scene change? – me talking

Ha. Sort of.

I’m not asking this directly, ‘is hitting in those situations bad;’ I’m asking is it qualitatively different than simply skipping the restriction or the chore and just hitting them straight off?

What difference do we think it makes if we fail at what we hoped for and wind up using force and violence anyway?

None of course – well, not enough, I should say.

If a thing is rough, it’s rough.

We don’t get to pick and choose which violence is good, because it serves our purposes and which is bad, because it doesn’t; a bad thing is a bad thing, so let’s double check, ask again.

Is hitting children bad?

Apologies – it’s just a rhetorical reminder.

If that’s the distinction – whether we hit them right away or not, whether we hoped we wouldn’t have to or not – then I’m really sorry, but all of our punishments are on the wrong side of the line and the wrong side of history.

This violence isn’t from corporal punishment, from hurting kids as a penalty, this violence is from stubbornly following through and getting physical in an attempt to punish “non-physically.”

Ironic violence I suppose, but it counts!

Scene change? – Monty Python fish slap? Back to me talking

Corporal punishment is physical by definition and non-corporal punishment still depends on our willingness to back it up with force, so there really isn’t a sort of punishment that doesn’t.

That means everything that is wrong with “corporal punishment” – which we say as though it means “violent punishment,” as if there were another kind – is really what’s wrong with punishment, all of it.

There is no “other kind,” this is what I’m trying to show, because again, as we know, what is discipline if we don’t back it up, don’t follow through?

Oh, Hell, this is the way I write, isn’t it? Nobody talks like this.

Actually, nobody writes like this either, let’s all just be thankful for that and move on.

Ahem.

Just say it, right?

We can’t “not hit” young children and still have control. I’m not condoning “corporal punishment;” that was intended to demonize control.

Control is the problem, and deciding “not to hit” alone won’t help.

When our control of our kids is non-negotiable, they will make us hit them, which is the trap, the rookie mistake we all make.

Do we think our parents were never starry-eyed youngsters who were never going to do that to their kids?

OK, maybe not all of them, but certainly some were!

The trap got them and us along with it, and it’s going to get us again because of this . . . misunderstanding, this misconception that hitting is merely a choice, when we’re not really changing any of the other choices that our parents made.

The trap has us if we think that.

Again, if our control of our kids is non-negotiable, they will make us hit them.

Didn’t many of us do exactly that in our youth?

Call the bluff, make them hit us?

Scene change? – Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting, “Nope. Bottle.” Williams, “Why?” Damon: “”Cause fuck him, that’s why!” Back to me, talking

I know my brother did, regularly.

(My ‘back story’ is that I watched my three older siblings and the fighting that went on in the house, and watched my hyperactive brother attract all the attention, more bad than good – so I was good, scared straight.

Actually, though, I did act out and earned a spanking and a grounding once, I guess, an all-day skip out of grade four or five and shoplifting spree, and it was from that sort of need too, for sure, testing for limits.

It was my one and only formal punishment as I recall, in childhood, before the teen dropout/rebellion.

The teen thing was too late for spankings and by then there really wasn’t anyone around with the will or the attention to administrate the groundings.

It’s at about that age that for good or ill, our parenting is often already done and over.)

Thing is, until we have kids, we may not know that we are quite so committed to being in charge, many of these attitudes are, uh, unexamined.

Scene change? – family voting scene from ‘Signs?’

Back to me, talking

For many of us, the idea of some democracy in the family is a new and dangerous idea, no-one suggests it; and if no-one questions parents’ rights, then no-one has to answer for them.

You know what?

It was sort of possible taking the first three quarters of this thing at least a little ways down the road towards fun – irony is fun for adults, right? –but at some point things are serious, or we wouldn’t be here, would we?

Punishment, over-punishment and abuse are very real.

I’ll try, but I’m afraid I can’t see many jokes from here to the conclusion . . . I’ll just try to make our time on the Dark Side as brief as possible and just remind us all that the truth can be painful, but it will set you free.

I think getting outside of this particular box hurts – so to try to take the sting out of it, let’s just watch my hummingbird feeders while we push on, OK?

Humour can only take us so far.

I think maybe some peace and quiet might serve us better.

Scene change? – Hummingbird video . . .

PART FIVE – DAMAGE GETTING PAST:

We’ve all watched parenting or caregiving from the day we were born, and it’s like the air, always there, we’ve never known life without it, and we can’t imagine having to ask ourselves what it is, or how it should be approached, right?

Scene change? – early scene from ‘Look Who’s Talking?’

Hummingbird video . . .

Of course, I‘m sorry if it’s obvious, but humans have built some deep fields of knowledge on the subject of air, despite that the air has always been there, that we’ve watched it from the day we were born . . . pick anything and look closely, and there’s a world of study in it.

For me it’s this question, one better than ‘corporal punishment or not’ this one – ‘punishment or not?’

For me, this opens up a new understanding of the world, such as the bit I’m trying to share with you today, which is “corporal punishment” is too specific, that too much violence, too much damage to children and damage to family relationships is still getting past.

Which it is.

Consider the growing prison industry and the proliferation of psychiatric drugs for kids and teens.

These poor fixes show that something isn’t working, that the hurt and the damage are still happening, despite our idea that we have stopped supporting violent punishing practices, because really we haven’t; not yet.

As children, we’ve all felt unfairly punished and known that those times had the opposite of our parents’ intended effect, that they made us sad, angry, less wanting to be responsible, upstanding citizens, if that was they wanted.

Remember?

As parents, haven’t we all had some heartbreak or remorse, feeling terrible after having done the ‘tough, responsible thing,’ perhaps sensing that the effect wouldn’t be what we wanted?

Both of these multi-generational hurts happen because of this trap, because we imagine that simply choosing not to hit is going to be the answer to it, while really, that wasn’t the trap itself but only the bait.

It happens, our hearts broken at both ends of the transaction.

As kids and again as parents, we fall prey to this misconception that we can have it all our way with the kids, total control without hurting them in the process, because we think only “corporal punishment” is the bad kind, we think only “corporal punishment” will hurt and damage them.

When really, there is no other variety than the bad one.

Really, it’s all bad – if by “bad” you’ll allow that I mean forceful, callous, often violent . . .

“Corporal punishment” is the central element of a myth that allows the violence to continue that none of us wants or we wouldn’t buy into it in the first place.

Irony always in this conversation.

CONCLUSIONS:

I hope I’ve been able to get us to see this myth, this “corporal punishment” with fresh eyes and some logic, and to see how that idea misses the point and subverts our efforts to lessen the violence and callousness inherent in our childrearing.

It’s a test for truth, that when we buy into a narrative and the promised change isn’t forthcoming, that the truth is lacking.

Let’s stop wasting each other’s’ time with this one, OK?

Let’s look at it a little closer, and we’ll see: the emperor has no clothes, the myth has no truth.

Banning “corporal punishment” will not stop the violence in our childrearing, and hoping so, just as so many of our parents did, won’t change it either.

We need to kill this well-intended zombie lie, and you know how to kill a zombie.

You have to go for the head, the brain.

Now, finally, again, don’t get me wrong, end corporal punishment now, sure – but it’s not the real problem.

The real thing, of which corporal punishment is only its lure, is punishment, all punishment.

I mean, we’ll phase it out; it won’t be all at once, I know what that’s like.

We don’t punish at our house, so when we get a punished kid to look after who’s in that never-ending grudge match with the adults, and he starts looking for a fight?

We can’t deal, we dial 911.

We just can’t play that game anymore.

So I get how if we simply punished and pissed everybody off forever and then suddenly removed all constraints – I get it, not bright, kind of terrifying.

Looking at you, Bieber.

There it is! Sorry, I had that one loaded up, I kind of had to.

Scene change? – scene of JB behaving badly

Hummingbird video . . .

Ha.

Slow change is OK – but “corporal punishment’s” end is NO change, because every sort of punishment requires the ‘follow through.’

In that sense, all we’ve done is taken a stand and condemned the mirage, but no actual, real thing is going to be examined or criticized.

Worst case scenario, we’ll act like we’ve found the problem, and we’ll grow old and die wondering what went wrong – the current state of affairs – the worst case means we just never figure it out.

(sigh)

Of course, the only possible real cause to point to is punishment itself, again, if we think hitting kids is bad and we shouldn’t do it.

It might change the world if we can see that, if we can see that it’s the very core of it, the essence of punishing we’re really at issue with and not something . . . peripheral.

If it’s violence, hurt and disregard we’re trying to stop, then we’ll have to start to see that’s all punishment that is, let’s say problematic.

That’s the first step, obviously.

The thing is, we don’t even try to solve a problem if we’ve confused it with a solution. That’s part of this problem.

Scene change? – A few seconds of peace and quiet, then back to me talking

Thank you for reaching the end!

I’ll have the text of this available at abusewithanexcuse.com, my WordPress blog and elsewhere, along with two hundred mostly shorter blogs from the last few years, and I’m happy to discuss any and all of it.

Don’t We Think Our Parents Did their Best?

Don’t We Think Our Parents Did their Best?

Kids nowadays got no respect.

They’re out there right now, whining about their pasts and blaming their parents, like their parents were supposed to know better or something, telling their own kids what brutes their parents were, while condescending to these poor, just started walking upright past generations that they ‘did the best they could,’ or ‘the best they knew.’

In past generations, my ‘no-punishment’ talk might have at least found an argument. The older generations at least knew that they were punishing, and they knew it was a practice that could be attacked and/or defended. But these kids now, trying to raise their own? You can’t talk them out of something they don’t even know they’re doing. These nampy-pamby modern young parents think they can get it all their own way without corporal punishment, without getting physical on their kids – which means when these too-nice parents do get it all their way through intimidation and threats and having shown the kid who’s boss while he’s a baby and can’t tell anyone, as well as by occasional violent outbursts, that no-one’s allowed to realize it because ‘We are not a Family that uses Corporal Punishment.’ That is the difference between the honest corporal punishers of the past and a whole lot of the ‘non-spanking’ parents that were the children of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Don’t get me wrong – these are the gentler of these children with children! Many still just spank – but they still mostly think they’re nicer than the old folks were, and maybe so. Maybe so, but the first group mentioned above, they tried to make a real change in principle, at least in their minds if many perhaps failed in practice, but the others? It’s not even a philosophical split. For the ones who are staying the course with parental authority and physical methods, it is only a matter of degree, what the old folks got wrong. They just took things too far.

So here’s the insolence, the lack of respect.

What did the previous generation, the children with grandchildren fail at? Were these knuckle-dragging forefathers simply incapable of controlling themselves once they started with the whoopin’, is that the theoretical basis for the ‘took it too far’ theory? Perhaps it was something they thought instead. Maybe they simply held with stronger deterrents and stronger penalties than we do today, or they had a longer list of punishable offenses., so the difference is perhaps not that the beast remained so strong in our parents and grandparents that they were simply more impulsively violent, but that they were more institutionally violent, that it was not accidental, but a belief driving the action. If that’s closer to the mark . . .

Then what did they fail at?

Strictness level too high, penalties too harsh? So this generation has the dial in just the right spot, is that it, kids nowadays don’t have the same feelings and the same complaints as our parents did and our grandparents did, because we have dialled in just the right amount of pain or deprivation to match their crimes, and they can’t help but admit it? Or are the children of the children of these modern middle-aged children still going to make the same complaints to each other because the basic principle hasn’t changed, namely, ‘they never let me X and they think they own me and they shit on my life whenever they want?’ Find me the evaluation of any matter of degree in that, I ask you.

So were our parents, our grandparents unevolved, incapable of non-violence, or less violence? No, that wasn’t the trouble then, any more – or any less – than now. There were some gentler people living in even the far past than many people living today; civilization is not a linear progression, it’s messy. Did they simply ‘go too far?’ No, because of course we don’t go too far – and you know our kids have all the same complaints we did and our parents did. Again, I’m still getting to it: the disrespect.

They didn’t do their best and fail. They’re not animals with no self-control any more than you are, and they didn’t fail at assessing what was punishable and what was an appropriate punishment, either. They failed because there is no winning this game. Spoiler alert –you are not going to win the game of discipline in child-rearing either, and self-control won’t save you. Getting just the right amount of force and/or fear in your discipline isn’t going to win it either – because . . .

The right amount of force, violence, deprivation, unpleasantness of any sort is none, exactly none, which is a principle. These are the contrasting principles in this story: the betrayal, violence and/or deprivations of punishment – or not; yes or no, that is a difference of principle, and that is the only change in our child-rearing that would be a real, qualitative change.

The old folks, they didn’t fail, because that’s not fair to say of someone who never had a chance in the first place, and it’s disrespectful. Those folks weren’t stupid. They were exactly like us, they had better intentions, and they did the best they could within a bad system. If we think we’re going to do better, without having a better idea, without having a different idea, then we’re going to find out, and we’ll know that we were no smarter than they were. Too late to make a change, of course.

Evolution isn’t automatic. It happens because we want to live and sometimes in order to do that, we have to figure out a better way.

The Easy Route

The Easy Route

Here’s an interesting article:

https://hbr.org/2015/05/influence-people-by-leveraging-the-brains-laziness?utm_source=Socialflow&utm_medium=Tweet&utm_campaign=Socialflow

INFLUENCE

Influence People by Leveraging the Brain’s Laziness

MAY 29, 2015

Discussions of influence are almost always focused on messages and information, the assumption being that the best route to drive people’s actions is to get them to understand the course of action that is best for them and then to pursue it.

But another stream of work on influence has also noticed that the environment affects people’s actions. Over the past decade, proponents of the work described in Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have focused on small changes that can be made to the environment that have a big effect on behavior. The classic example from this work is that changing the default option from opting in to a retirement program to opting out of one can have a significant affect on how much people save.

In all of this work, though, there is still an assumption that the environment is treated as a reflection of information that should drive preferences. For instance, it’s assumed that people tend to stick with the default option because they do not know enough to change it.

This view of decision-making assumes that information is always at the core of the cognitive economy. But in fact, energy is the key currency that the cognitive system seeks to preserve. The human brain is roughly 3% of people’s body weight and yet it uses 20-25% of our daily energy supply. This energy is required to keep the brain running regardless of exactly what the brain is doing. That means that time spent thinking about a choice is highly correlated with the amount of energy consumed by the brain.

A better way to think about the role of the environment, then, is to recognize that people want to minimize the amount of time and brain energy they spend thinking about a choice and also minimize the amount of time and bodily energy they expend toward carrying out actions after the choice is made. The simplest way to do both is to simply take the actions the environment is conducive to. In other words, people are not treating the environment around them as information in most deliberative processes. Instead, they are performing the easiest actions with as little thought as possible.

So if we want to influence other people’s behavior, we must make desirable behaviors easy and undesirable behaviors hard. Take the design of your grocery store, where impulse purchases are often displayed on the endcaps or in the checkout aisle. You’re not spontaneously purchasing those items because you have more information about those non-necessary products, but based on a combination of what the environment makes easy to do, the habits people have learned from past actions, and the results of previous deliberations about a decision.

Consider a consumer preparing to buy toothpaste. As a child, her parents used Colgate, though she tried Crest and Aquafresh at friends’ houses while growing up and saw plenty of commercials over the years. In college, when she began to make her own toothpaste purchases, she would typically search for the Colgate, but if another common brand was in easy reach, she selected that instead. A promotion that placed a toothpaste she liked in a special display would lead her to grab that as she charged through the store. She was frequently frustrated by the number of times that toothpaste manufacturers changed their packaging, making it more difficult to select one of the brands she typically bought.

In this example, none of these decisions involved significant deliberation. Instead, there were small preferences for brands based on prior exposure and a number of selections based on what was easy to do. Indeed, one thing that brands often do that blocks this low-effort behavior is to change their packaging, which forces the consumer to put in effort to find the familiar brand in an unfamiliar box.

This orientation to the environment can change or reinforce all kinds of behaviors. As I discuss in Smart Change, one of the most successful public health campaigns of the last half-century is the effort in the United States to reduce the number of smokers. One of the most important factors that decreased smoking rates among adults from roughly 50% in the 1960s to about 20% now is the environment. It is no longer possible to smoke in public buildings in most places in the United States. Some businesses no longer allow smoking on their entire campuses. This change to the environment makes an undesirable behavior

difficult.

In the workplace, there are many ways to set up the environment to drive people toward desirable behaviors. For example, many companies set up databases of prior projects and their outcomes as a way of capturing organizational knowledge. However, these databases are often difficult for employees to access and have clumsy user interfaces that make it hard for people to find what they need. To make the archives more useful, they need to be accessed quickly from people’s computers, and the user interface needs to make it easier to find past reports than it is to ask a few random colleagues if they know of any related projects.

Similarly, if your aim is to get people to schedule shorter meetings, organize the office calendar program in which the default meeting length is 15 or 30 minutes rather than an hour and needs to be adjusted to be longer if necessary. Although people will still end up scheduling a number of hour-long meetings, the need to expend energy to override the standard option will shorten many of the items that end up on people’s schedules.

Anyone interested in influence should start by focusing on the environment of the individual they are trying to affect. Analyze that environment and find ways to make desirable actions easy and undesirable actions difficult. Remember that the human cognitive system aims to get the best possible outcome for the least possible energy cost.

Art Markman, PhD, is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and founding director of the program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations. He has written over 150 scholarly papers on topics including reasoning, decision making, and motivation. He is the author of several books including Smart Thinking,Smart Change, and Habits of Leadership.

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Of course that is my idiocy exactly, attempting what only I and a handful of other folks the world over consider to be rational arguments in the most emotional, contentious and consensual subject possible. Of course a nudge is exactly what the UNCRC (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child) and the anti-corporal punishment movement is hoping to provide by getting governments to pass laws criminalizing the corporal punishment of children. Once that change reaches the world’s biggest empires, then I plan to try to start the next wave of humanism – outlawing the fights parents get into with their children when they’re trying to impose their non-corporal punishments.

That because, in the end, what is the difference to me if you plan, in the most dispassionate way to punish me corporally with a spanking or a beating or whether you decree a non-corporal punishment like ‘grounding’ (curfew/confinement), and wind up beating me up in the fight that ensues when I refuse? How is one a violent crime and not the other? They certainly both are when both assailant and victim are adults. Oh, Hell.

I’m doing it again, aren’t I.

Oh well, I’m home, sick with a parasite, I can’t do all the work my home and yard and employers need, so if this is all I can do right now, I’ll do it.

The thing is, what that article gives us first is, a solid, biological reason why we don’t like to think too much, so we’re all off the hook. Turns out that maybe we’re not just mean and stupid because we’re mean and stupid, that maybe it’s not so much a choice at all. Thinking too much really has had a biological cost forever. The biological cost is energy, they said, I assume it means an advantage where food is not unlimited and more energy efficient genetic lines succeed and survive better.

The costs of not thinking are not all biological, of course, and nearly impossible to measure.

Of course, the energy cost is no excuse for some of us, many of us can afford to find the calories required for conscious thought; but it does mean there’s no shame in not thinking more. It’s our evolutionary heritage, and no-one expects the whole population to swim against the current.

Having said that, it often appears that it is just those of us swimming just that direction – overthinking, thinking about something either other folks just don’t or just in a new way – that have made our species so different from all the others. Somehow, just as there are micro-climates that gardeners need to understand, there are also micro-environments within humanity – we are 90% of our environment, society is our environment now, more so than anything to do with geography or the weather – where there are eddies and back-currents, evolutionary rewards that seem contrary to the general flow. Too, somehow, we have assimilated our own outliers, and made them part of our species’ mosaic, preserving their genes and their ideas rather than letting nature simply dead-end them like one might expect – and we are more intelligent, diversified, and resilient for it. But I digress. Where were we? Energy?

My stance, my epiphany, my cause, my obsession, E., All of the above, is that we shouldn’t punish our children, ever, for anything, that the basic premise of punishment is wrong, doing things to people because they don’t like it, although it appears to provide a motivation in a good direction, unfortunately also hurts, same as abuse, and so actually takes us in the opposite direction in the long run. Punishing is a net cause of misbehaviour and crime, not a cure (I’m happy to argue about that, and if you’ve never read me or a very few other folks who say it, I know, it’s a bombshell. But I’m talking about the stance right now, talking around it, as it were, and the first point of this particular post is not to make that declaration, but to talk about that declaration. Moving on).

My wife and I raised our two girls with no punishment whatsoever, other than a few things that I’ve written about elsewhere, an iPod that didn’t get replaced for several months after losing two of them, and some MMA action between me and our second baby in the family bed on one horrible, sleep deprived night. Other than that, we never tried to train our kids, we simply followed them around to keep them safe. There was a lot of leg work, and that was high-energy work, chasing them, talking endlessly and fruitlessly to them about why we do what we do and why we don’t do what we don’t, and then cleaning up the messes when talking didn’t work. Like I say, high energy – but only for the first five years. We didn’t know what would happen. It was a pleasant, unexpected thing: parenting just started getting easier every year.

As it turned out for us, if you don’t punish, that is if you don’t commit the counter-intuitive-to-a-kid betrayal of punishment, if you don’t start hurting your kids with the very first few exploratory mistakes they make and then just fall into the trap of doing it all the time – you will never have to punish. If you can get through the first several years and wait for them to learn the language, wait until they can talk and reason with you without you trying to hurt them, they will be on your side and life will be easier for you all. I swear to God. For the normal, European-descended Canadians around us while we raised our girls it was the opposite. For them, things just kept getting harder and more contentious all through the teen years.

So, in conclusion, thinking costs energy, and we’ve evolved not to engage in it more than necessary. However, possibly new to this calculation, punishing also costs energy, also threatening our success.