It’s always refreshing to hear about parents, teachers, counselors or administrators who are willing to think outside the box in finding creative new ways of dealing with children who have gotten themselves into situations requiring disciplinary action. The one thing that all children must learn if they are to develop into responsible, civic minded young adults is that there are consequences for their actions and we as parents and school officials have the responsibility of teaching them. But just how far out of the box are we allowed to go before disciplinary measures regardless of how well they are working, may be considered humiliating, degrading or even abusive? When does it cross the line?
As an educator and parent I know that there are disciplinary methods that border on being abusive or degrading and that sometimes these methods get results. Remember that 4th grade California teacher last year who kept her problem student in a large cardboard box in the back of her classroom where he spent a considerable amount of time each day. Hey but it restored order to the classroom. Forget about the finger pointing, whispers and laughter from the other children, the box worked. Of course the parents were completely unaware that this was going on. Then there was the teacher who dealt with a dress code violation by using a Sharpie marker to cover the areas of a students body that were not covered appropriately. Did these two teachers cross the line? You betcha!
There are plenty of psychologists who say that any discipline that draws unfair attention to the student has no place in our schools. Okay, with that in mind a case could be made for many commonly practiced and accepted forms of discipline including referrals, detentions, suspensions, being sent to the office, scolding or having a parent shadow their student from class to class, as being humiliating and abusive to students. Any of these consequences bring unwarranted attention to the guilty student. We wouldn’t want to fracture their fragile, still developing, eggshell minds and God forbid, injure their self-esteem would we? Please!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the healthy development of a child’s self-esteem, I think it is extremely important, but I also believe that a child needs to know that he is responsible for his actions and learn that there are consequences. I’m not saying we should bring back the wearing of dunce caps or corporal punishment as a deterrent to misbehavior, but hey, it might not be a bad idea, they worked. Believe me I know how important classroom management is to the learning process. Each year the art of disciplining students becomes more difficult as Districts continue to give students more rights and tie the hands of teachers. As an example Los Angeles Unified School District just passed a measure banning the class suspension of willfully defiant students. Go figure, must be an ADA thing.
Parents too, are finding it more difficult to discipline their children. As kids behavior continues to get more out of line the way parents are allowed to deal with the problem has weakened severely. You can’t spank or use any form of physical punishment, you shouldn’t scold or shout and you should never threaten or God forbid humiliate your kids. Where were these rules when I was growing up? Today Kids keep Child Protective Services and the local police busy with their charges of abuse. My dad used the belt frequently yet I can’t imagine calling the police on my parents for disciplining me, can you? Oh what a different world it has become.
The big story this week is the Utah step mom who punished her 4th grade daughter for bullying another student about the way she dressed. For weeks this girl bullied the other student until the teacher emailed mom and informed her. Step mom was furious. Instead of grounding the girl or taking anything away, she decided to give her a taste of her own medicine. She took her shopping at a local thrift store and bought her a couple of outfits that the girl absolutely hated. She then made her wear them to school. Needless to say the girl learned her lesson and even apologized to the other student. Just goes to show, a little humiliation can go a long way. It was a life lesson well learned. Or was it?
So I ask you did this woman cross the line in dealing with her daughter or did she simply find a creative and effective way to deal with the problem? There are those who say this woman crossed the line and that shaming the young 4th grader as a form of punishment was wrong. Some have gone so far as to say that mom is herself a bully, dysfunctional and was simply being spiteful. Most people’s reactions however have been supportive and give her kudos for her inventive idea. Personally I don’t find a thing wrong with her approach to the problem. It was a novel approach and definitely got the job done. Creative parenting like this restores my faith in my fellow man and the sanctity of parenthood.