Does Punishment Really Work with Teens?

girl in dunce cap - student punishment stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

What is the first strategy that comes to mind when your teenager is making you crazy and does something that really wrong and pisses you off? Punish them! Take things away! Ground them for life! Take their phone! Take their car! Am I right? You are really ticked off. You want them to “get it.” You want whatever behavior it is to stop…like yesterday. You want to yell. You want to scream. There is a part of you that wants to evoke some kind of reaction from them that gives an indication that it matters to them that you even object in the first place to whatever they did.

C’mon. Be honest. We have all been guilty of it at one time or another. Well, guess what? I hate to break it to you but the American Academy of Pediatrics says that punishments don’t actually work in the long run. They may stop the immediate behavior at the moment, but really don’t have any long term positive effect. Not to mention the fact that a lot of those punitive actions actually punish you more than they punish the offending teenager. Taking the car potentially means a lot more driving for you. Taking the phone means that you cannot reach them wither when you need them. Etc. Etc. You get what I mean. I am not by any means suggesting that there should never be consequences for poor actions. I am just saying that, as tempting as it is to punish first, it is not as helpful as we think.

Well, if we are not supposed to punish them, what are we supposed to do? What recourse do we have? Do we let our teens walk all over us? The simple answer is no. We just need to consider an alternative strategy that has greater long term benefits. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests discipline strategies instead of verbal or physical punishments to discourage unwanted behaviors.

So, what is the difference between discipline and punishment? Punishments, both physical and verbal, are quick, often knee jerk actions fueled by anger that may stop bad behavior quickly, but do not work over time. Discipline, on the other hand, teaches our teens how to recognize and control their own behavior. Teaching them in this way helps them to learn how to avoid harm later. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends four healthy discipline methods for teens. They are as follows:1) Be a role model for good behavior, 2) Ignore bad behavior or redirect your child away from bad behavior, 3) Set limits and expectations, and 4) Praise good behavior.

I have to say that, while I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics’ concept and the logic behind it, I find it difficult to adhere to 100% of the time. I find that nowadays the underlying intent of the Academy has been somewhat twisted and translated into overly permissive parenting with absolutely no behavioral consequences for children. I think that truly effective parenting must involve some kind of middle ground combination of discipline and punishment, maybe a 80%/20% ratio. At least that is what I am trying at the present.

Dr. Katz

The Squeaky Wheel

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. This FANTASTIC ( Ok I am being facetious) American proverb is used often to express the concept that the problem that is the most obvious(or loudest) is the one most likely to get attention. The origins of this saying are unknown but the most current version of the saying is possibly attributed to the American humorist Josh Billings, who used it in his poem ” The Kicker” in 1870. It goes something like this.

I hate to be a kicker

I always long for peace.

But the wheel that squeaks the loudest,

Is the one that gets the grease.

The implication of this saying in our culture is that if you raise enough fuss, you will probably get noticed and have your problem addressed. It doesn’t say anything about the appropriateness of your level of fuss or the consequences to the people around you. In my mind, the use of this kind of logic has degenerated over generations to mean that stomping and screaming is the way to go to get what you want and that you don’t even need to consider others in the process. I see this every day in the world and it breaks my heart a little. It has become almost Machiavellian in terms of the ends justifying the means. I feel that people nowadays allow themselves carte blanche justification of any methods necessary to achieve their desired result. On top of that, this type of behavior gets rewarded every day, while we sit and wonder why it continues at the same time. It’s as if we can no longer hear those individuals who try to express themselves with dignity, respect, and tact. We skip right over their concerns because they are not loud enough. We are so distracted, overwhelmed and focused on the chaos of the squeaky wheels that we can no longer process quiet. Oddly enough, we do not actually recognize their behavior as acceptable, but we try whatever we can to make it go away anyway, rewarding them with what they want in the process. This tacitly sends the message to continue the bad behaviors because they are successfully getting the desired results. Why do we do it? Do we really think that the squeaky wheels will actually settle down if we give them what they want? Not gonna happen folks. Those wheels will just keep squeakin and sending us in every direction but the right one.

Have a great day everyone.

Dr. Katz