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Jewish World Review July 30, 2001 / 10 Menacxhem-Av 5761

Dayle A. Shockley

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Consumer Reports

The surrendered parent -- I HAD joined a friend in her home for afternoon tea, when her 4-year-old son crawled onto the sofa where we sat and commenced jumping. For one full minute, the boy jumped uninterrupted. I guess his mother figured he would eventually run out of gas, but no such luck. Finally, she turned to the boy and said, in a puzzled tone, "Son?" The child paused. He stared. But he remained upright on the couch.

In a minute, we resumed our chitchat, and "Son" launched into another lively round, appearing braver as each miserable second expired.

Looking irritated, his mother cast him a long stare then said fiercely, "Son, you better stop jumping on the couch and I mean it!" But the boy wasn't disheartened. Seconds later, he embarked on his mission with renewed vigor.

Suddenly, without warning, the child let out a dreadful howl, leaped high in the air and sprawled on the floor, grabbing a table leg on his way down. My tea sloshed over the cup into its saucer.

That did it. The boy's mother yanked him up and dragged him into his room, while he kicked her shins, screaming and gagging. She then hobbled into the kitchen, snatched a bag of cookies and took them to him. "Here," she said. "Watch cartoons."

I was appalled! Why was this bratty child being rewarded instead of punished for his blatant disobedience?

When I was growing up, parents were quick to punish unacceptable behavior. A firm swat on the hand or the behind had a most remarkable calming effect on out-of-control children. Back then, disciplining a child wasn't confused with abusing a child. Today, they often are considered one and the same. And that is a crying shame. The lack of punishment in the home has had a devastating effect on our nation. Just take a look at the news.

Juvenile delinquency is rampant, and yet there remain a few child behavior "specialists" who tell us we shouldn't respond to children's negative behavior. We should only focus on rewarding their good behavior. Tantrums, we are told, are a necessary part of growing up. Children, we are told, must be free to express themselves.

I don't know about you, but I know malarkey when I hear it. (It took me a mere two weeks, albeit exhausting ones, to convince my little tantrum thrower that her days of expressing would be seriously limited if she didn't find another means of expressing.)

Not punishing a child for bad behavior is doing the youngster and society a serious injustice. That kind of disregard doesn't prepare the child for the real world in which he or she will have to exist. If a child is allowed to act inappropriately, throwing tantrums whenever and however long he desires, without being punished in a judicious manner, he gets the idea that it is OK to behave in such an offensive way. And when he turns 15, he may decide to throw a major tantrum, using guns and bombs to express his frustration.

Sadly, we aren't born with an inherent tendency to do good. That is why we don't have to teach our children how to misbehave, how to be selfish, how to throw a tantrum or how to lie; they do quite well on their own. But we do have to teach them and often remind them to mind their manners, be respectful, be truthful, share their toys and obey rules. A child's very nature demands guidance and correction. And our best efforts often are met with great opposition, another clear sign of a child's inbred inclinations.

As parents, it is easy to take the path of least resistance. But since we don't hesitate to make our children brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, take a bath, go to school or do their homework, shouldn't punishing unacceptable behavior be among those basic parental responsibilities, too?

Several years ago, while doing research for an article on parenting pitfalls, I talked with a 14-year-old boy about his relationship with his parents. What was his parents' worst fault? Surprisingly, a lack of punishment. "When I do something wrong," the boy told me, "they don't do anything about it. I wish they would punish me. It makes me think they don't care enough."

Maybe we don't.

JWR contributing columnist Dayle Allen Shockley is a Texas-based author. To comment on this column, please click here.

07/06/01: Beauty can be a disguise


© 2001, Dayle Allen Shockley