punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

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Revenge and Punishment

I was trying to describe to someone the other day what I did for parenting. I can't claim to be an expert, because I have one cool child, a supportive wife, and half of the time I am stumbling down a blind path, but there are some things I try to maintain. One of them is knowing the difference between punishment and revenge. I think this is a problem with some aspects of society in general, not just parenting.

But the idea is the same: make the punishment fit the crime.

That's not always possible. Hammurabi had his famous "Eye for an eye" rule, which sort of makes sense in a general way, but is poor in practice. And some people don't just take an eye, they'll take off the whole head.

Some parents use physical punishment, some use words, but both can hurt just as bad. It's a hard call and a fine line between justice and vengeance, but I think the main difference is about self control. When you show an example to children, you should show self control. Any "punishment" done out of anger slides into revenge, and while that might make you feel better in the short term, the long term damage is hard to fathom. When I look back, I can remember a lot of punishments, but only a few reasons behind them. Conversely, I remember several terrible things I did (like play with matches) but don't remember the punishment. My parents' punishments seemed random and ineffective. But when I speak to many of my friends, they have tales where they had a stupid thing they did and the punishment they got afterwards. I tried to listen to these when I was raising CR.

It's easier to explain the concept through example:

Deed: Dropped dinner plate on the floor, breaking it.
Punishment: Make child clean up the mess. Try and explain why the accident happened. Maybe make them pay for it, if your finances are short. Then never bring it up again, the punishment is over.
Revenge: Scream at child. Ask child leading questions that force the conclusion of shame, like "Why did you DO that?" You clean up the mess, forcing guilt in deeper. Maybe beat the child with the dustpan. Remind the child for days, weeks, or longer of what they did. Use sarcasm.

Deed: Child gets bad grades.
Punishment: Revocation of privileges like TV, Internet, phone use or a restricted of hours of said privileges. Assistance with homework, monitoring. When grades improve, give positive praise. Recognize effort.
Revenge: Use of severe guilt complex, accusations of intent and stupidity. Possibly beating, like "for every letter below an A, I will break a finger!"

I guarantee, from someone who did get beatings, you rarely remember why. You could remember the most minute details of a beating, but the fear becomes so disconnected from the actual act, all you remember is fearing for your life. And then to those who have parents who use guilt and your own self doubt against you, you may not remember each punishment, but they blur together into a wash of futility and self-hatred, but you can't remember why. Scars that don't often show. And they really don't do anything to correct behavior, but are more for the parents' short term sense of vengeance. "Ha ha, break my plate, will you? Loser! LOSER! Ha ha!"

Now, I'd be a complete liar if I didn't admit I have not exactly followed this advice 100% of the time. Maybe not even 80%. But I try. Whenever punishment goes wrong, I try to apologize. I try and not repeat mistakes, try not to let anger rule what I do. Some of you that have kids know what I mean. You had a bad day at work, you get a traffic ticket, come home, and you have to cook dinner, and then when all you want to do is relax and wind down, your youngest acts all spastic, your eldest got bad grades, and your spouse is nowhere to be found. Oh, and you forgot to do bills, and now some credit card statements are late. You feel stupid, so when your eldest comes to you with a D in math, you blow up and make all kinds of statements like, "How do you think you'll live when you become an adult? Huh? Can't even add 1+1??? Yeah, you'll be ripped off and homeless in NO TIME!" Sarcasm, anger, and exaggeration. Is that worth a D?

Another side of punishment that is often messed up is parents that don't follow through. If you say, "When we get home, I am going to send you to your room, lights out, and you go to bed early!" Then, when you get home... you forget. After a while, threats become empty, or worse, random. How can a child learn when the punishment is random? They break a plate one day, they get told they are a loser, they break a plate another day, you say nothing.

So punish children who do something wrong, don't get revenge, and don't forget what's real important: they are a legacy of your parenting. If they are all screwed up in life, you have nothing to blame but yourself.
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