Living with Children: School principal asks about discipline


QUESTION: I am a principal at a private church-affiliated school. Contrary to my graduate school training and most of my peers’ practice, I believe disciplinary actions should “fit the crime.” As such, I do not generally issue the namby-pamby sort of consequences other principals deliver. Fear of being sent to my office goes a long way toward explaining why my school has a reputation for impeccable classroom behavior. One of our students recently spoke ill of a fellow student on social media. What, in your estimation, would be a consequence that would “fit the crime”?

ANSWER: Have I got the perfect consequence for you!

But first, let me affirm your approach to discipline. “Fitting” a consequence to a “crime” is the best means of deterring repetitions of the crime in question. It is indeed unfortunate that most schools respond to disciplinary infractions with consequences that are essentially nothing more than inconveniences to the perpetrators in question. You termed them “namby-pamby,” which captures their essence inimitably.

Unfortunately, a milquetoast (another appropriate term) approach to discipline has become virtually standardized in American schools because unlike the parents of my parents’ generation, today’s are prone to (a) denying that their children are capable of dark and devious deeds and (b) rising up in protest if their supposedly immaculate progeny are threatened with punishment.

That explains why a good number of principals over the years have told me that their job descriptions include the implied clause, “Keep the lawyers at bay.”

A sidebar to parents who are reading this column: The idea that YOUR child is incapable of lying, stealing, bullying and other crimes considered felonies when committed by adults is absurd. There is nothing about YOU that guarantees that YOUR precious will not submit to a certain temptation when and if it presents itself.

Sterling parents raise children who do not-so-sterling and even downright despicable things, which is all the verification needed for the reality of free will. Another way of saying the same thing: Parenting is not deterministic. It is an influence competing with other influences that grow in number and potency as a child ages.

To the matter of social media, if someone can provide me with a persuasive justification for giving children access to a medium that allows and even encourages libelous gossip, please feel free to help me out here.

As for not wanting your child to be the “only child in his group not allowed on social media,” learning to do without what “all” your peers have, and early on, is nothing but beneficial to proper character development.

As for your question, since the offending remarks were public, having the offending child apologize to the offended child in front of the entire school body is the consequence that best “fits” the crime. And yes, that will lower the offender’s esteem for himself, which is obviously in need of major lowering.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond:, Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]