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Discipline and punishment are not the same
By CECILIA TUCKER
Published April 4, 2005
I have been doing a lot of thinking about the words punishment and discipline and how they seem to be used interchangeably, especially in my household without anyone recognizing it. In one of my so-called discipline times, I explored these two words in depth. It would certainly benefit all my friends if parents would decide, first, that these two words are not the same; and second, which of the two they intend on imposing.
It seems everything in my house ultimately is deemed for my best interest, but let me tell you it does not appear that way to me. Discipline is regulation, order, control, restraint, to create obedience and have authority. I must admit I do not like all the words used in its definition.
To me discipline has elements of all the above but it is not done for reasons of proving the point of authority "that I can because I am the PARENT."
Discipline is all about learning and teaching for the sake of changing a not so desirable behavior, habit or characteristic to something that will benefit the person in the long run. When I think like this about being disciplined, I know it is in my best interest and I have to swallow my pride and accept what I need to do to improve myself. I can think of several examples that might more clearly prove my point. When I get poor grades and I have to take my valuable time to be tutored and that causes me to miss some sports activity, then I see that as a natural consequence of my poor study habits.
I would even take that to the next level. Even if I don't need tutoring and I just need to study more, and if my grades are bad enough the school declares me ineligible to participate, I would then need a study time imposed on me as a natural consequence. That seems like discipline, not punishment. If I speed and I have to pay a fine, go to driving class and lose points in the process, these are disciplines, not punishment.
So I guess what I am saying is discipline is about moving me from point A to point B for the sole purpose of teaching me I need to do something differently to succeed in life.
Punishment on the other hand is about chastisement and correction. When I think of this word it seems it is more about who is in charge and who has the power than teaching and learning. Going to jail and being banished from society because someone has broken a societal law is punishment. Sometimes the punishment fits the crime and other times it doesn't. Punishment is the attempt to stop, not change, a behavior.
When I am grounded for what seems like an eternity for anything, I feel imprisoned and for what reason? Punishment is being hit, secluded and isolated, locked in, given "work duty" for things that have nothing to do with what started this mess in the beginning.
Punishment almost never fits the offense in families. Punishment seems to be about being hard enough on someone to force change and that does not work. Taking my friends, electronics, free time and my life away for not making you happy about something just makes me more defiant. You win. I am a loser and I will never succeed unless I do whatever you want me to do.
You see, discipline occurs from natural consequences and I have always known that. But punishment frustrates all of us, probably you parents the most, because it doesn't get the desired outcome you were looking for in the end. I hope this helps parents figure out why they are frustrated when they punish. I already knew.
- IT! Private thoughts of the Indomitable Teen is written by Cecilia Tucker under the editorial guidance of a panel of teenagers (in exchange for pizza and volunteer hours). Tucker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Counseling Center for New Direction in Seminole. Comments are welcome. You may write c/o: IT!, Xpress, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail Floridian@sptimes.com If you are interested in being on the teen editorial panel, please contact Cecilia Tucker at email@example.com