Punishment doesn’t teach any problem resolution skills.
I see revenge everywhere in the media. In the movies, like all of the Marvel Universe movies, as an example. The protagonist is minding his own business when suddenly, the antagonist jumps out to bite the protagonist for some long forgotten, past misunderstanding. Melee ensues. A series of tit-for-tat exchanges are weaved throughout the plot until the climax of the movie.
In the climax of every action movie I’ve seen, including the Marvel Universe movies, it’s pretty much the same. The antagonist is met with overwhelming force by the protagonist and his allies. The antagonist is then dispatched through a huge battle, usually killed off, or sent to some isolated region of the country, prison, the planet, or the universe. No judge, no jury no trial.
I see revenge in TV, too. All of the cop shows are about revenge for the perp. All of the action shows feature some sort of act of revenge. It’s actually rather hard for me to name an exception. Even in comedy shows, sarcasm is the norm and that is a very subtle form of revenge.
I see revenge in social media, too. I just can’t believe the incredible bile that Hillary supporters, now Biden supporters, have for Bernie Sanders. Even in their crusade, it’s all about beating Trump in the next election. That’s revenge. Yes, Trump is doing some not very nice things in the eyes of liberals. But it is possible that Trump has a good intention somewhere under his magnificent hair. It’s possible that Trump believes he is doing the right thing.
I’ve seen huge knockdown, drag out fights with words in social media over little things, too. Under the veneer of anonymity, people can be spiteful, vengeful, hateful and vindictive. I’ve seen them lash out ferociously at anyone who questions their authority.
I believe that I’m living in a culture that is fairly obsessed with revenge. And for a long time now, I’ve been wondering where that comes from. I’m pretty sure I have the answer now: the corporal punishment we got as kids. Even recent studies show that better than 90% of American kids have been spanked at least once by their parents.
Every spanking is an act of revenge. Every blow to the body of a defenseless child is an act of revenge. And every act of revenge against a child is a sign of a lack of self-control by a parent who is telling the story of what happened to him or her, in their own childhood.
I hear and read this from time to time, “Aw, spanking isn’t so bad. The kids will be fine. Just look at me. I came out OK.” Then I found a metastudy, a study of 50 years of studies on spanking. What did they find? Zero positive support for spanking. Mostly negative results from spanking. A few were neutral. And still, better than 90% of American kids get spanked.
If you’re American and you believe in the words of the Founding Fathers, you might like to know that spanking is a violation of numerous rights. Spanking violates the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments to the Constitution.
Look at it like this: Would you spank an adult for catching them with their hand in the cookie jar? Would you spank an adult for drinking milk from the container? Would you spank your spouse for blowing a wad at Nordstrom's and maxing out the credit card? Would you spank an adult for “talking back” to you in a verbal exchange? Probably not.
“But I have a right to spank my kids when they get out of line.” So your kids are your property? Seriously? Your kids don’t have any rights? No right of redress? No right to a fair hearing? No protection against cruel and unusual punishment?
What exactly are you teaching your kids if you spank them? I’m sure there are some Baby Boomers out there, rolling their eyes on this one. “We’re teaching our kids discipline!” Is an expression of anger and overwhelming force against a small human being an example of discipline? I’ve seen more discipline in a proton than in an authoritarian adult.
When we exercise “discipline” upon our kids, we are exacting revenge against someone who may not have the skills or capacity to do what we are asking them to do. Worse, kids are great imitators, and they’re learning to do what the spanker does. Ever read any articles on elder abuse? Ever wonder why most Americans put their parents in a retirement home?
Now go one step further. If you spanked an adult (without his or her consent), you’d be charged with assault. You’d be in court trying to explain that you were “disciplining” someone else. But most fans of corporal punishment get a pass from their neighbors, their relatives and strangers looking on.
If you tell your kids, do what I ask or you’ll be spanked, that’s extortion. You know, when I think of extortion, I think of The Mob, The Mafia, organized crime. Spanking can corrupt kids by teaching them they can subvert their values in exchange for peace. Is that the American Way?
Spanking and other forms of punishment don’t teach any skills. It doesn’t teach how to get along, how to negotiate, how to collaborate. And when kids grow up after living with a giant who uses force to get some order around the house, they don’t listen until their butt is on the line. They hear the threats of violence loud and clear. But not the reasoning when we try to reason with them. When I hear a parent say, “You’re not listening to me,” that is what I hear.
I was spanked as a child. I grew up to be lonely, isolated and really antisocial. I spent the better part of my life working out those issues and still, I have much work to do. I read many books, went to many meetings, helped many other people along the way. I developed a sense of gratitude that still carries me to this day.
I found a great resource of knowledge on alternatives to corporal punishment that I use with my own kids. It’s called talking with your kids, and it’s promoted by a guy named Ross W. Greene. He’s got a great website called Lives In The Balance, and a few books like, The Explosive Child and Raising Human Beings. Dr. Greene also has some great videos on YouTube. These materials have completely changed my outlook on humanity.
So, when my kids have a meltdown, I talk with them. I assume that they lack the capacity and/or the skills to respond to the demands of their environment. And I keep talking with them to model calm and peace. I talk with them until they can find a way to soothe themselves. I’m teaching peace rather than violence, and brother, spanking is violence. There is no real peace from violence. And when kids find their own power, their experience of spanking and other forms of force sets you up for much bigger power struggles when they get older.
Look at it like this. Imagine being a small human being with a much larger human being, and the larger human being says, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.” That’s really, really stressful, isn’t it? Do you think you could stop crying? Probably not. But once you figure out the trick of stuffing your feelings, you’re good, right? What a great tool for adulthood. And that’s what we call “discipline”, but that’s like holding your belly in when an appealing potential mate comes by. You can only hold it for so long…
So talking is the first tool. The second tool is no extortion, no force. Well, I’m a personal anarchist, so I just try to work things out with my kids by choice. I want them to use their own judgment, to be internally motivated to do the right thing. Spanking says, “If you can’t control yourself, I’ll do it for you.” Talking says, “We can work it out, you and me. And I trust your judgment to do the right thing.”
Talking with my kids is a form of collaboration and God knows we need more collaboration skills right now, and pronto if we’re going to survive Global Warming. Collaboration is the foundation skill of all of humanity. Collaboration is why we have language. There is no other purpose for it.
When we collaborate with our kids, we teach them that they have power and that they can use that power constructively. When we spank our kids and/or use threats of force, we are not teaching collaboration. We are teaching them that might is right and that the way to get things done is to demonstrative overwhelming power to others to get their compliance, not cooperation.
So what would you rather do when your kid hits 13? Do you want to have fights every night? Or would you prefer to collaborate with your kids to help him or her make a better plan for their future?
What would you rather be doing with your kid when you’re 70? Do you want your kid kicking you around your apartment at the retirement home? Or do you want to enjoy a peaceful Christmas with your adult kid and their kids?
The choice is yours to make. Choose wisely.