Problems with Imposed Punishments

There have been many news stories lately about parents using shame and humiliation as discipline measures for their children. From forcing their child to stand on a busy street corner holding a sign that details their offenses to posting embarrassing photos and videos of the youth online, these parents believe this sort of public humiliation is a viable way to discipline children.

Humiliation and shame are never good ways to discipline. Not only do they negatively influence a child’s self-esteem, but they are also just new forms of imposed punishments. And as outlined in Parenting Without Stress and Discipline Without Stress, the effect of any imposed punishment is only temporary. Fear and force produce only short-run changes.

Once an imposed punishment ends, the youngster has “served his time” and feels “free and clear” from further responsibility. A coercive approach that works in the short run is rarely effective in the long run. So while threatening a youngster with punishment may force compliance (but only as long as the threat is present), it does nothing to encourage responsible behavior or decision-making once the coercion is gone. The threat of punishment or humiliation may pressure a child to act appropriately at home but has no effect on the way the child interacts with others outside the home—with a grandparent, daycare giver, or other children.

For example, a 10-year-old is placed in a situation where he is tempted to shoplift. All of his friends have been doing it and no one in the store is watching. The child whose parent uses imposed punishments has an easier time of it. If the youngster believes he won’t get caught, why not go ahead? In contrast, the young person whose parents have encouraged the development of self-discipline will have a more difficult time. For that young person, getting caught—getting punished—is not the issue. Using good judgment is.

Remember, what a child will do when adults are not around—when there seems that there will be no consequences—is the true measure of parental effectiveness.