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Lack of discipline

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 12:05 am

Several days ago I celebrated my daughter’s 13th birthday and to my surprise that milestone was more difficult for me than the others. When did I become old enough to have a teenager? I have vivid memories of being 13: the hideous clothes I wore (parachute pants were the rave), the electric blue eye shadow with matching eyeliner, and the press-N-curl hairstyles that consisted of a little too much grease. And as you begin to compose yourself from all of the laughter at my expense, don’t pretend that you were spared from looking ridiculous back in the day!

However, what I would safely guess what you don’t remember was having the audacity to curse at your parents. And if you did curse at your parents, when you awakened from your coma, you realized that instant moment of insanity probably caused your IQ to drop 10 points. Now most of us probably had a few choice words in our heads that we “wished” we could share with our parents but never would we risk our lives in such a flagrant manner.  

So that was then. This is now. I decided to take my daughter and her entire class to the City Museum for her birthday. When the festivities were over, one of the parents was in somewhat of a rush and told her son to hurry up so they could leave. Apparently, he had asked her if he could stay longer and she obviously must have said no. He then proceeded to say “D*** it! I never get to have any fun!” Now at this point I proceeded to step back a few steps because where I was from this kid was about to get knocked into tomorrow. However, that was then. This is now. This child’s mom just pretended that he said nothing out of the ordinary.

Starting from birth, children go through many developmental stages of behavior.  s babies, children mostly behave instinctively: when hungry, sleepy, or wet, they cry.  Once the first stages of communication begins, cooing or babbling, infants then learn how to better express themselves.  After the words “mama,” “by-by,” and “dada” were learned, I am sure each of you remember that the next definitive word spoken was “no.” It seemed to be a downhill slope at that point because most toddlers replied no to every situation and would often have breakdowns at the grocery store in the middle of the aisles. We have all seen those little performers who fall back on the floor, kicking and screaming “no” at the top of their lungs. Many of us can recall those draining experiences ourselves.

Now these next stages are where it gets interesting. As children begin to learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, parents have to then learn what behavior modifications to utilize when punishment is needed. During the 1960’s, “time-out” became popular as a disciplining technique. This technique involves removing the child from the area of the offense and having them sit quietly until they calm down. However, there are some psychologists who believe that even “time-outs” are unacceptable forms of discipline because it causes the child to feel abandoned.  

Culturally, this method of discipline was slow to be incorporated into African American communities because corporal (spanking) was most often used. The official stance of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is that spanking should not be used as punishment. Some researchers believe that spanking simply causes the child to be more violent. How many of you are violent because you were spanked as a child? I’m not and I had plenty of spankings with switches that I personally picked off the tree. I once heard a historian say that black parents were probably harder on their children during those times so that they could, for example, correct a behavior that would potentially save the child’s life. Think of the countless black mothers during the Jim Crow era who taught their sons not to look at white women when walking on the sidewalk for fear of their son being lynched by an angry mob.

Other forms of discipline include reinforcing positive behavior and removing privileges like internet access, cell phones, or television. However, after witnessing a variety of inappropriate conduct from children regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds, I have difficulty determining if any discipline is occurring at all. The amount of disrespect that children/teens display to adults today was unheard of when I was growing up.  

The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics was designed to protect children from abuse but what it has done is cause our society to shift to this new uncharted territory of unruliness which seems to have no boundaries. Undisciplined children make undisciplined adults who are unfit for employment because they were never taught to obey authority and respect their elders. I believe the pendulum needs to shift back to a more balanced approach to discipline so that our children can grow into mature, productive citizens and that can be accomplished without abusing anyone.


Yours in Service,

Denise Hooks-Anderson, M.D.

Assistant Professor

SLUCare Family Medicine

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