This is the last (for a while, anyway) of three columns in which I take on the absurd notion that punishing children for bad behavior is bad parenting. (The previous are on my website at johnrosemond.com.) There is commonsense and there is nonsense and the absurd notion in question belongs squarely in the latter category.
Paradoxically, the average person would place the idea that punishment per se warps a child’s psyche somewhere between stupid and crazy, yet the mainstream of my profession, supposedly qualified to treat people who express crazy ideas, has spent fifty years trying to prove this crazy idea. What does that tell you?
It should tell you what is often true: mental health professionals believe the capital letters after their names entitle them to make things up. They then fashion studies to “prove” that what they have made up is true. It should shock no one that said professionals almost always succeed at “proving” that what they are convinced is true is, in fact, true.
Especially concerning child-rearing matters, said professionals must ignore historical fact because historical fact always (I can think of zero exceptions to the following) contradicts what they claim as truth.
Taking the present issue, for example, punishing children for misbehavior has been the norm since the dawn of human history. The first story of a parent punishing children was written more than three thousand years ago. It was not until the late 1960s that American mental health professionals pulled out of thin air the notion that punishment was bad. that it was psychologically warping of a child and that said child would probably never recover unless he goes to see a psychologist. Huh?
Unfortunately, professional parenting pundits succeeded at convincing a significant number of parents of this fiction and child mental health has been on the decline ever since.
Punishment causes a child to think before he acts. The person who thinks before he acts is going to enjoy life to the fullest – for the most part, at least. The person who thinks before he acts is going to accept full responsibility for everything he does and the things that happen to him.
The person who doesn’t think before he acts can’t figure out why he does bad things and bad things happen to him. He maintains, therefore, that his bad behavior was an accident, he didn’t mean it, and usually blames whatever it is on someone else. Blaming and complaining are his specialties. He’s a victim, and by definition, victims are not happy people. By the way, victimhood is always a choice. The reason one is a victim is not to be found either in his body or out there in the world. Victimhood is in one’s head. Always.
Above all else, parents do not want their kids to ever become victims. Being a victim is perhaps the worst state of mind that mankind has ever invented.
Not to complicate the issue, but there will be times when a child misbehaves and parental punishment would be unnecessarily redundant. If a child does something wrong, and the natural consequence of whatever he did is sufficiently punishing, for example, then parents can usually end the matter by simply discussing it with the child: reviewing what happened, making sure the child understands why it happened, and ensuring he has “learned his lesson” and knows he is still cherished.
It’s important, regardless, that parents not buffer natural consequences unless they threaten a child’s physical or emotional health. Fifty-plus years ago, that’s what parents referred to when they said, “You made this bed, kiddo, so you’re going to have to lie in it.”
That relatively few children today hear what every child once heard is a marker of where childrearing has gone over the past couple of generations. All too often in these topsy-turvy times, parents lie in the beds their kids make.
That looks like good parenting only to the nearsighted.
[Family psychologist John Rosemond: johnrosemond.com, parentguru.com.]