Dear Grandmothers: I assumed that because of your ages you would be advocates of teaching kids right from wrong the old fashioned way: punishment for breaking the rules. But instead you seem to suggest that those of us who give our kids a swat on the behind from time to time are ruining their delicate little egos. I bet the kids we see running wild these days just get “talked to,” never punished.
--a Former Reader
Dear Former Reader: Thanks for writing! Before you stop reading us altogether, please take a look below at a couple of misunderstandings we’d like to clear up.
Misunderstanding #1: We have not been suggesting, not even hinting, that you are ruining your children if you punish them. We are sure that your children know that you love them and are benefiting from your guidance. Full disclosure here: we were punished as children and in turn punished our children. Both generations grew up to be upstanding citizens, conscientious and even admirable adults, and we’re sure your children will do likewise, even if punished occasionally.
Misunderstanding #2: We are not opposed to discipline (if by discipline you mean definitions numbers one and two in our Random House College Dictionary, definitions that refer to rules and proper conduct). It is definition number 3 that we question: punishment. We are FOR discipline, when discipline means setting limits, enforcing rules, and maintaining a safe atmosphere where children feel secure and adults are in control.
So our only possible area of disagreement lies in determining the best method for parents to use in helping a child choose between right and wrong. We happen to believe that punishment may make them do the right thing, but discipline helps them learn to make the right choice for themselves. And we prefer moving in the direction of self-control rather than anxiety over getting caught.
We are absolutely in agreement with you that the children we see running amok in shopping malls, supermarkets and public playgrounds are in sad need of firmer parental control. Quite possibly their parents are among those who don’t want to punish their children but don’t know how to do anything but whine and plead. They’re afraid to say no, and feel helpless in the face of their children’s anger.