When kids do something bad, something bad must be done to them.
Is it just me or is it time we rethink this archaic strategy?
To do so, I propose we revisit our long-term objectives for our children, and then establish whether punishment is likely to make our long term goals more or less likely to become reality.
In my experience as a parent and a teacher, here are some rather universal long-term goals I often hear:
If everyone in the world attained such a list of characteristics as a right of passage, I would suspect we would all live in a better world. So if this is what we want in the long run, we have to ask ourselves if our every day practices as parents and teachers is conducive to such goals. In other words, we have to make sure our long-term goals are not sacrificed for the many short-term demands that pop up from day to day.
In his book Unconditional Parenting, Alfie Kohn asks us to reflect in this manner:
If it's too daunting to imagine how your children will turn out many years from now, think about what really matters to you today. Picture yourself standing at a birthday party or in the hall of your child's school. Around the corner are two other parents who don't know you're there. You overhear them talking about... your child! Of all the things they might be saying, what would give you the most pleasure? Again, pause for a moment to think of a word or sentence that you would be especially delighted to hear. My guess - and my hope - is that it wouldn't be, "Boy that child does everything he's told and you never hear a peep out of him." The crucial question, therefore, is whether we sometimes act as though that is what we care about most.
There are a lot of conventional classroom management strategies that draw on the use of punishments; Zero-tolerance, three-strikes and you're out, suspensions, expulsions, late marks, zeros, detention and time-outs are all forms of institutionalized conditional acceptance.
The argument against the use of punishment as a means to achieving our long-term goals is as impressive as it is secretive, yet despite the logical arguments and scientific research against its use, punishment remains a prevalent tool in the teacher-parent toolbox.
So why doesn't punishment work? Over the next few days, I wish to borrow from Alfie Kohn's book Unconditional Parenting the six reasons why punishment fails us all.
- It makes people mad.
- It models the use of power.
- It eventually loses its effectiveness.
- It erodes our relationships with our kids.
- It distracts kids from the important issues.
- It makes kids more self-centered.