On punishment and consequence

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2008

I work with "at risk" youth and when I read the article "Juneau parents upset about student hazing," I decided to respond. The word punishment was used a few times in the article when referring to what I would call discipline or consequence.

Please allow me to explain the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment usually doesn't fit the crime, or match the behavior that a teen exhibits. According to "Parenting Teenagers," (a very thorough and helpful book for working with teens) punishment involves things such as threats, yelling, put downs, taking things away, grounding and hitting. They go on to say, "punishment teaches teens to resent and fear us. It can hurt the relationship we want to have. Punishment often stimulates revenge."

Discipline encompasses choices and consequences, within limits. There are a two different types of consequences that work: natural and logical. Natural consequences just happen. When a teen doesn't pack a lunch for school, and doesn't have money to buy one, the natural consequence for not preparing is to go hungry or have to borrow for lunch. Nobody needs to provide a consequence for this situation.

A logical consequence is provided for the teen by a parent or teacher, the consequence "fits" the behavior. Danny doesn't clean the kitchen, his chore for the evening as agreed upon, and he wants to go the game. Dad says, "You can't go to the game until the kitchen is clean." Logical consequences also need to match the severity of the behavior: small behavior, small consequence, big to big. I encourage parents, coaches, and teachers to be creative and bold when providing consequences to teens whose behavior warrants them. Remember that giving a teen a choice of two different consequences will help them to feel some power in the situation.

Nicholas Jay Foster

Wilderness therapy worker


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