Sep 18, 2010, 18:36

by Lon Woodbury

It is so sad! The basic dictionary definition of the word "Discipline" is to train, especially training that result in moral or mental improvement. In other words, "Discipline" is basically "Education." Unfortunately, in our society, the definition of "discipline" has morphed into the concept of "punishment." I hear this all the time regarding struggling teens - that when some behavior is objected to, the statement is made that they need some "discipline" and we need to "Teach Them a Lesson." Obviously, what the speaker has in mind is some punishment that will create enough pain that the child will stop doing what is found objectionable. The thinking seems to be that a child will only stop what is objectionable to stop the pain. What a negative view of human nature - to reject the possibility that people (and adolescents) will want to do the right thing because it is the right thing.

Of course there are times when punishment is necessary, such as with teens who commit violent crimes and the public needs to be protected from their anger and lack of self-control. But, the threat of punishment is not why most people do the right thing. Most children want to do the right thing, but need training (discipline) to learn what the right thing is. For most children, a punishment kind of discipline usually backfires, creating anger, resentment, or withdrawal. At an extreme, a case could be made that many of the juvenile delinquents that commit violent crimes are that way because of being hurt (perhaps punished) in their past. That is not an excuse, (if they do the crime they need to do the time), but some ability to understand the difference between "punishment" and "discipline" on our part could eliminate a lot of future revenge based anger on the part of some adolescents. This is the danger of extreme behavioral modification systems like Juvenile Boot Camps - they are perceived by the adolescents as punishment and sometimes the wrong lessons are learned.

Julia Steiny, writing in the Providence Journal in July summarized it very well. "Punishment means hurting someone into compliance. Discipline means teaching them community-appropriate social skills."

A lot of negative adolescent behavior is simply that they do not know any better. They have not been properly disciplined (trained). Doing discipline correctly will get better and longer lasting results than punishment will. The good quality schools and programs, the ones that consistently rank high in our annual survey of private parent-choice residential schools and programs, know this well. They reject punishment oriented approaches and instead focus on building relationships. They realize that building relationships can heal, while punishment can further damage the child.

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