It’s not personal, Folks, but I think I have to separate myself, I think I have to stop hoping that people might ever find me by searching for “parenting.” You’ll find a lot of people, and a lot of blogs, books, advice, bloggers with thousands, even hundreds of thousands of followers, but from a random sampling of the content, it’s all “parenting,” and in the overwhelming number of cases it’s all synonymous with “control.” I hope I’m not hurting feelings here, but be forewarned: if that’s what you’re talking about I’m not going to follow you. More yet, if I’ve been following you, that’s likely to end soon. Again, not personal, but if I had a brand, you’d be hurting it. I can’t be associated with you.

I’m pretty old, the other side of fifty, and so I’m not the most savvy fellow on the interwebs; much of social networking is counterintuitive to me, and I may have lost my way. I thought I would be followed more if I followed more people, and who knows? Maybe it worked a little. Maybe half of my thirty-some twitter followers and half of my hundred or so WordPress followers are the reciprocal kind, and if those numbers were larger by a few orders of magnitude, I suppose I would accept the arrangement. But really – who compromises for those sorts of numbers? For those numbers I’m going to allow myself to be confused with the likes of Barbara Coloroso?

Not personal, Ms. Coloroso. You’re normal, and as such, you’re a fine specimen of your type – but I am in the business of telling people what they don’t want to hear. I’d love a bestseller, of course I would, but this is not my day job. No-one needs me to make any money at this. Folks, when I tell you you’re all bad parents and you’re destroying the world with your efforts for control, this message comes only from the goodness of my heart. These insults are free for anybody. You’re welcome.

“Parenting” has a lot of positive connotations. We protect our kids, we feed and house them, do all we can when they’re sick and we hope for best for them, of course we do. I have no objection to the things we wish for our children. If that was the entire list of what we do – well, that actually should be the whole list, that’s the point. It is the other side of parenting, the side we don’t like to see, the dark side that I’m taking issue with: punishment has no place in that positive list of parenting activities. It certainly deserves no credit in any positive outcomes our children may have. I tell you here, when a firm hand doing the hard thing appears to save a child from serious trouble, we can be certain it was also what led them to trouble in the first place.

I have to say here, that much of the modern parenting advice never says “hit your kids,” or even “hit your kids if nothing else works.” It’s just that they don’t say not to, at least they don’t say it strongly enough. They’re trying to get read, trying to sell some books or gain a large group of followers; they can’t tell everyone, most of whom have already hit their kids, that they’ve caused irreparable damage. Who wants to hear that?

Let me pose this question, though: who, in the history of the universe ever solved a big problem by hearing only what they wanted to hear? Who, in the history of the universe ever changed people’s minds by only telling them what they already thought?

So the best of the “normals,” as we call the punishers of the world in my house – the degreed ones, the educators, the psychologists – are writing parenting advice, trying to nudge people toward a slightly more gentle sort of parenting, hoping to lessen the damage parents cause through the betrayal and abuse of punishments, but they can’t take a stand on the principle of the matter, not when they’re hoping to be read. There are a few voices in the wilderness. You can find a few people, try searching on “No Punishment,” or variations of that, there are a few of us, as the least of which I count myself.

Again, with no boss to worry about, I’ll say it.

Trying alternative methods first isn’t good enough to stop the damage; ending “corporal” punishment isn’t good enough to avoid the betrayal, the resentment and the world-crippling harm. It is punishment, all punishment, that needs to be purged from anything we should be proud to call parenting. If punishment is a part of the good important work of parenting – I’m anti-that.

The Irony of Deterrents, Part #3

‘Law and Order’ types – Republicans, Conservatives – and punishing parents, these folks who advocate for deterrents and punishments, they like to say how they’re fixing things, how they’re “modifying behaviour” and setting children and criminals right. Well, they’ve been at it for all of recorded history and maybe longer, and of course kids are always new, solving some doesn’t change anything for the next batch, but if their attitude did anything to lessen crime – well, there would be less crime. If there had been any progressive lessening of crime by these methods, these last eighty centuries (three hundred generations?) should have given us some sense it was working. Instead, we have pretty much all reached the conclusion that these things are as they have always been, and always will be, that crime is simply part of the human condition. This despite that our nearest cousins, the chimpanzees and bonobos, seem to live with a peace-to-crime ratio similar to ours.

You know, I offend a lot of people, I basically spend all of my online time telling everyone that they are bad parents, but there’s more. I think that, despite the offense of my message, people are put off by something else. I suspect they all know I’m not being completely honest with them; I think it must show that I’m holding something back. So here it is. No fear.

You ‘Law and Order’ types, you authoritarians, you punishers of children and criminals, know this: you’re not just failing. You’re not just not having the desired effect, oh no. You are destroying the world. You are making the world the Hell that it is for so many people. Your punishments – often intended as deterrents, you hope not to have to follow through, I’ll give you that – have the same effect, cause the same suite of damages that abuse does, to wit, psychological problems, cognitive difficulties, and crime. You are causing all the social problems you say you’re trying to fix.

That, plus you want to talk about how it’s natural and inevitable, and you refuse to do the troubleshooting, you refuse to take your negative stimuli out of the equation. You want to say it’s inherent, the crime, the greed, the violence – but you will defend to your last breath the very active, hands-on stimuli that has been shown by study after reputable study to cause exactly these things, and you will stubbornly never let up long enough to prove it one way or another.

That is the situation.

Now I’ll start talking nice again – well soon.

You didn’t create this situation. But having been told, having had it pointed out to you – the next time you mete out a punishment you will be doing just that. So cut it out. Stop destroying the world.


Here’s Part #2, might be critical to this part:



The Fight against Corporal Punishment will Fail

I’ve said it many times, so the waiver here will be brief: of course I’m against corporal punishment. The science is in, it is indistinguishable from abuse psychologically, except where there is a difference in the degree of it, and except that the legal status of it brings its own problems and complications.

Having said that –

The acceptance of non-corporal punishment, of supposed non-physical forms of “discipline” gives oxygen to corporal punishment and abuse. As long as we keep fooling ourselves that there is some form of “discipline” that isn’t harmful to the little people receiving it, there will always be physical punishment and outright abuse. I’m sorry, folks. I know you mean well.

You just don’t understand it.

Let’s take a bird’s eye view, a high level look at it.

One of the most basic tenets of a worldview that includes psychology is that negative stimulus brings negative effects, in a word, damage. We all agree, apparently so long as the negative stimulus is negative in a legal sense; I think we mostly see that the negative outcomes associated with illegal outright abuse prove the basic idea. As corporal punishment approaches illegal status we can begin to see that its negative stimulus brings negative outcomes . . . but we’re missing something. We’re failing to take the single next logical step.

That next logical piece is this: the theory of punishment, in its most basic form, means applying a negative stimulus in order to discourage unwanted behaviour.

This is the core concept of punishment, “core” meaning that it is the central concept, not something that only applies to extreme forms, or some forms of punishment, but that this is what punishing is, what all punishing (by any name, “discipline,” “consequences,” or not getting a “reward”) is. Forms of punishment we use on children that are not violent, such as the “timeout,” “grounding,” removal of a desired toy, restriction of screen-time, with-holding of love or attention – all of these are negative stimuli. So if our worldview is partly informed by psychology, we should expect that these negative stimuli also bring negative outcomes.

This should tell us that if we wish to lessen the negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, that it’s a little schizoid to exclude the negative stimuli of all the other sorts of punishment from the conversation. Let alone that so many folks are actually promoting these other forms of negative stimuli! Again, all that sort of talk is well intentioned, but based in a dismal failure of reasoning. To view it arithmetically, we should see that this way:

To criticize a particular form of a thing – the corporal form of punishment – while supporting the basic form, the general form, the logical “pure” idea of the thing – punishment in general – is more support than it is critique. By a long shot. By, in fact, an order of magnitude. It’s fundamental support and only peripheral critique – put simply, it does more harm than good in the long term – and this battle is multigenerational. It’s the long game we need to be playing.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this conversation, but I’ve said it elsewhere and will continue to talk about it, always. For now, I don’t want to say anything that will distract us from this point, one that should be clear to us, but apparently isn’t.

Abuse with an Excuse – Doctrine in short form . . . Part #2

B. The Cognitive Damage

1. Punishments/penalties are all artificial consequences, contrived ones. It is not really a simple ‘cause and effect’ phenomenon when some active agent chooses the effect for a cause. In this way, our contrived consequences are substituted for the real world, natural consequences a child may experience when he explores or misbehaves, and therefore any real world learning experience is circumvented. This is the function that is in play when we note, through many good studies that corporal punishment hampers cognitive development.

When standardized punishments are substituted for the nearly infinite number of random real world consequences of childhood exploration as well as misdeeds, the vast and varied learning that may have happened is severely lessened, and the only learning that does happen is artificial and contrived. This is definitive of serious arrested cognitive development. It follows that the resulting impairment of thought will vary, of course with many factors, but certainly with the degree to which a child is controlled. A child who has more real world learning experience will be better able to process information regarding the real world than one whose learning years held few real world mistakes and learning opportunities.

2. Of course, parents need to protect their children from extreme danger. Life and limb certainly take priority over individual missed opportunities for real world learning. These safety hazards are not the most common situations parents and children face, however, and this is not a valid argument for the use of punishment generally.

Some may say that children need to be punished to learn to obey in every situation, so that their obedience will be guaranteed when there does arise a hazard, a real threat to life and limb, that a child needs to be conditioned to obey so that he may be ordered away from a street or a river and will comply immediately. This, I would say is a valid argument only if this sort of conditioning didn’t have a serious down-side. I believe that the damages that result from punishing, and certainly from the all-encompassing environment of punishment that this argument implies, brings a terrible cost also, up to and including a considerable cost of life and limb, in the form of violence, crime and suicide, along with the many social costs that are not as visible, that result from the cognitive hobbling that is produced by these methods.