Student NameBrett Dufford
Punishment Versus Discipline
Parenting styles have been examined recently, and some states have even begun to outlaw physical punishment in the home. Physical punishment can be traumatic when used excessively, but it is still some parents’ instinctive response to dealing with their misbehaving child. If they cannot physically punish their children, how else should they discipline them? In his article titled “Punishment Versus Discipline,” Bruno Bettelheim explains his method of parenting through nonviolent means. Unfortunately, he also dramatizes many situations to prove his point. Although his article features many exaggerations and contradictory statements that hurt his argument, Bettleheim’s message of instilling discipline by setting the example is valid.
Within the first few paragraphs, Bettelheim begins his argument by exaggerating his examples beyond reason. He brings up the classic “soap in the mouth” punishment for children who have used bad words. While he may be right that this punishment may not be necessary, he begins to take it too far when he claims that it makes the child feel impure or dirty. Children lack the ability to think critically on that level, and simply focus on the disgusting taste of soap in their mouth. Bettelheim also believes that children will learn to curse quietly to themselves as a result of this punishment, which is possible. However, his claim that this will make the child angry and unable to form good relationships is preposterous. If anything, silent cursing releases stress and anger.
His arguments against punishment only continue to become less credible as the article continues and he begins contradicting himself. For example, he claims that punishing children only serves to release the parent’s anger. This statement is ridiculous, and apparently Bettelheim agrees because he continues on to contradict himself in the next sentence by saying that punishments can help repair relationships between parents and their children. Is he trying to argue that punishments are just a parent’s way of venting frustration, or is he trying to say that they can help maintain healthy family relationships? It is impossible here for the reader to decipher what Bettelheim is trying to say. Contradictory statements weaken his argument to the point where it can no longer be taken seriously.
Later, while explaining how to deal with children who steal, Bettelheim again provides evidence to weaken his own argument. He initially claims that children only steal because they do not have a firm concept of what is their own and what is shared by the family. He then goes on to say that a good way to fix this issue is by allowing them to take small valuables and money. How is allowing them free access to what belongs to another family member going to teach children the difference between what they can have and what they cannot? Using this approach, a child will only have more difficulty with thieving. He will be unable to keep himself from taking what belongs to others, whether it be in the home, at school, or in public. Here, his arguments are illogical and contradict themselves again, and this takes away from the overall message of the article.
On top of contradicting himself, Bettelheim uses evidence that is easily disproven using simple logic. He claims, for instance, that punishment does no good for children because immediately following their punishment, children do not admit it does any good. Punishment is not meant to be enjoyable. Spritzing a cat with water to make it stop jumping on the couch is not enjoyable for the cat, but that is why it works. Electric fences for dogs are not enjoyable when dogs run into them, but soon the dog learns to avoid them. Similarly, a child may not enjoy punishment, but that does not mean it is not effective. Subconsciously that child will form a connection between their behavior and the punishment, and they will learn not to do it. This is just one of many of Bettelheim’s arguments that can be disproven with logical thinking.
However, despite how many illogical or contradictory arguments Bettelheim uses, his overall message is sound. His point is that it is more effective to love and positively reinforce children for the good things they do than punish them for the bad. This system works because children want to be accepted, just like every other human. Above all else, they want to be accepted by their parents. By showing them this affection, they will be more likely to listen and respect their parents. Bettelheim is also right when he says that telling children they have disappointed someone can be effective. Children do not want to feel guilty, and desire their parent’s affection, and Bettelheim is correct when he says that this instinctive desire can be used for effective parenting.
Although his evidence is poor and his arguments are hindered by constant contradictions, Bettelheim does have a good point. Punishment is not always necessary to discipline children, and it can often be replaced by positive reinforcement. So, as physical punishment continues to come under fire as “abusive,” parents can consider using positive reinforcement to control their children. By manipulating a child’s sense of desire, parents can control their children just as effectively as they can by using punishment.