“Anyone who strikes a child even if for the purpose of discipline has committed child abuse!”
I wasn’t one for being outspoken in class and disagreeing with a professor but I just couldn’t let that remark pass.
“So you’re telling me, seeing as though much of the discipline I received as a child was whippings with a belt, that I was abused by my parents?”
“If your parents struck or hit you as a form of discipline then yes you were abused as a child.”
At this point many of the students who usually slept their way through this otherwise uneventful community college sociology course had perked up to see what was going on.
“I’m sorry but I’m going to have to disagree with you on that. I don’t think, believe or feel that I was ever abused by my parents.”
“On what basis?” the professor said as if to call my bluff.
The girl next to me glanced over at me as if to say, “Now what are your going to do?”
“Based upon the fact that I never got a beating that I didn’t know was coming. Every beating I ever got I knew I would get before my parents knew they’d give it to me.”
I recognize times have changed. Corporal punishment, whether bare handed, wooden spoon, or with a belt, is largely frowned upon even if administered in the privacy of the home. I’m not endorsing or promoting corporal punishment. I tell this story of the debate I had with a sociology professor in the middle of a lecture to illustrate what I believe are the keys to disciplining children and teenagers. As a youth pastor I’ve had to discipline students (and no I’ve never beaten or hit any of them). Being strong in the area of discipline has been vital to my success as a youth pastor otherwise I would not have the full respect and authority with the students. Nor would I have the trust and respect of their parents.
From timeouts, to naughty corners, to grounding, to losing privileges, or whatever other form of discipline is used there are a few keys to ensuring it’s effectiveness. These keys are the reason I was able to convincingly persuade my sociology professor that day that I was not physically abused by my parents when they used corporal punishment as a form of discipline. This is the reason I was able to say with conviction that I never got a beating that I didn’t know was coming beforehand even before my parents knew they would give it to me.
1. Clearly Defined Boundaries and Expectations: There was never any question in my house what my parents expected from us. We knew the rules and the expectations. Rules and expectations were not ambiguous and therefore we were without excuse. There were no accidents or mishaps, only decisions not to abide by the rules and to buck what was expected. Likewise you need to clearly communicate what the rules and expectations are so that your children are without excuse, even if it is a simple matter of forgetfulness.
2. Clearly Defined Consequences: As I explained to the sociology professor that day the consequences for disobedience and non-compliance had been communicated. Therefore I knew, before I made the decision to disobey, what the consequences would be if I got caught. There were no surprises with the discipline and punishment I received. I knew what would get me grounded, lectured, losing privileges, or corporal punishment. Likewise you need to clearly communicate what the consequences are for disobedience and not meeting expectations.
3. Follow Through: The easiest and quickest way to sabotage your authority with children and teenagers is to not follow through on what you said you would do. If your children recognize they can manipulate you in some manner into not following through with stated consequences, though they may not articulate it as such, they will recognize that they have gained a substantial amount of authority over you. Proof of this recognition is that they will continue to use it to their advantage and expect to be able to do the same to other adult authority figures.
Conclusion: The need for children and teenagers to feel safe and secure with those who are in authority over them means they will occasionally (some more than others for whatever reason) test the boundaries and expectations. Contrary to what my sociology professor thought the use of corporal punishment did not make me feel abused. If my parents had sent me to timeout or revoked privileges without me knowing why, and being totally taken off guard by it that would have been abusive. Instead, because they did it correctly it had the very affect my parents always gave as the reason why they punished or disciplined me in the first place, “We did it because we love you!” Being punished and disciplined, regardless of the form, when done correctly, make children and teenagers feel safe, secure, and loved. I never enjoyed any of the discipline I received, but I’m thankful my parents cared enough to do it.