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The Art of Discipline

When most people think of discipline, they may often think immediately of punishment, where someone has done something bad and deserving of punishment; others may recall a negative instance where they misbehaved or were out of line, requiring parental discipline. Whether you find yourself cringing at the thought of the word, or embracing it through your totalitarian regimes, you may be mistaken regarding your perception of discipline, especially as it relates to parents and children.

The exact definition of discipline is “training expected to produce a specific type or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.” As you may have concluded, this has little to do with punishment. Discipline as it is known is representative of individuals desiring to achieve a higher level in their training, people who want to get to that next level; ultimately, self-betterment. The definition of punishment or penalization doesn’t appear until its seventh meaning. In fact, the very root of the word is derived from disciple, as one who follows laws or precepts intently as given by a leader (yes, you may think of Christ, Gandhi, and Buddha). This concept can be applicable to many areas of life, even child-rearing, and should give you some understanding of the concept of discipline, its derivatives, and its actual meaning (as well as misinterpretation).

Just how does the basic concept of discipline tie in with parents? As mentioned before, many people associate the term discipline with punishment or chastisement. However, if you talk to many individuals in the United States Marine Corps, you may find that the type of discipline incorporated, although rigorous and difficult, was necessary and, in the end, beneficial. What would happen if the United States Military and all of its subsidiaries (i.e., Generals, Lieutenants, Drill Sergeants) simply decided one day to toss out the concept of discipline for the incoming recruits? America would end up looking like another Yugoslavia. You may not find anyone as well-trained and as disciplined as a Marine. The reason such discipline is utilized is to maintain order, starting from within – the hope is that such training will provide for moral and mental improvement. The same concept should be granted to parental discipline.

As a worker in the mental health profession, I have seen many instances where bad behavior is a direct effect of bad parenting. On a daily basis I visit Middle and High Schools where I am faced with the challenge of talking to adolescents about many issues, ranging from their attitude to drug abuse problems to petty squabbles with friends. While not all of the issues at hand are necessarily indicative of impending danger for the future, I can assure you that, for the most part, the biggest reason these young people struggle so much with their problems is that there has been an incredible lack of parenting in their lives. Consequently, discipline has also been left out of the picture. If parents are not there to discipline their children, how will these young people of the future know anything about propriety, socially acceptable behavior, or overall respectability? The sad fact of the matter is that they will not.

The very last concept I want anyone to take from all of this is that it is right to spank your child, or any child for that matter. I am not an anti-spanking activist; I myself was lent the belt many a time for my misbehavior and bad attitude. What I am a proponent for is discipline. If this means that a child receives a swat on the bottom, possibly even a slap on the face, so be it, as it is relatively needed. If Jimmy is getting a spanking everyday for three months straight when his father gets home for pulling a girl’s hair, then perhaps it’s time for mom and dad to reevaluate their method of discipline. Not all children respond to swats or spankings; they may just be too obstinate. Maybe some children require one spanking to realize that they have been bad; they may need a little healthy fear. What it comes down to is being able to administer proper and healthy discipline in a form that works best for that particular child.

Unfortunately, some parents take the notion of Proverbs’ famous “spare the rod, spoil the child” concept entirely too far. These are often the parents who have no idea what they are doing, and if these regular spankings do appear to be working to the parent, the child may have an unhealthy fear, not to mention a deep-rooted anger or envy for the parents’ capacity as parent. More prisoners on death row will tell you that their childhood was one of extremely strict discipline, tightly regimented regimes that harsh parents (often fathers) placed on their already struggling children. These are the parents who need to adjust their motive for disciplinary action according to what the child needs as well as what the child responds to. No two children are exactly the same, not even twins. A young person’s societal and familial upbringing will greatly influence who they are to become, more so than what they are naturally born as (nature versus nurture).

On the other side of the argument, many people take a completely disbelieving side toward the spanking, swatting, or slapping of a child in any way, shape or form. They are absolutely firm that there is no necessary reason for any type of physical contact when it comes to the upbringing of a child. If you find yourself asking whether or not these people are even raising their child in an acceptable manner, ask no more: yes they are. The individuals of this influence tend to be those who discipline (keep in mind the meaning) in every way but the physical: restrictions, extra portions of chores, K.P. duty, not television, time out, etc. They employ every method of parental discipline that anyone else does; they simply decide to leave out the physical aspect.

No one perspective on parental discipline is better than another; what needs to be kept in mind is that different children respond to different types of discipline. Just like a snowflake, every child is different – no two were created exactly the same. However, the biggest concept needing to be maintained is that children do need discipline, and now more than ever. The steady decline in acceptable behavior on the part of growing youth has been leading to a steady incline in many problems, including arrests, even unemployment, and sadly, broken homes/divorce. This is real evidence of a lack of responsibility on the child’s part, which in turn is evidence of a lack of applicable discipline by the parents; most often, there is only one parent around.

So whether or not you decide to incorporate any physical discipline in your child-rearing or not (please use sparingly), make sure you have a means of discipline: that is, training expected to produce a specific type or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement. Society depends on it!

-David E. Martin, B.S. in General Psychology, Outreach Counselor


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