I overheard my 12-year old son exclaim to a friend that he “just wished everyone in school would disappear!” My initial response as the parent of a mild-tempered pre-teen boy was a chuckle of general understanding. However, my post analysis was that of a researcher of youth and discipline. My mind raced through the piles of claims made by many parents of mild-tempered youth and children who, they too, could never have imagined being disconnected from a school or familial institution, or worse, homicidal.
The wave of school violence in the U.S. has devastated the nation, causing extensive dialogue between parents, schools and youth in the 20th and 21st centuries. All parties have sought to define discipline collectively and establish effective disciplinary methods.
A challenge in the quest to establish effective disciplinary methods is due to the widespread misconception of discipline for children and youth. Too much punitive discipline yields harsh responses to unpleasant behavior. Discipline is most accurately defined as training expected to produce a specific moral or mental character or pattern of behavior. But, are schools and parents progressing in discovering disciplinary methods that will coincide with this definition of discipline? As a result of years of dialogue, numerous policies (such as the Safe and Drug Free Schools Act and Zero Tolerance), along with the historically overused consequences of suspensions and expulsions, have remained preferred disciplinary methods. Some parents have chosen to mimic these methods of discipline in the home, presuming that schools have an authoritative command of effective discipline. Parents must become informed of the weaknesses and problems associated with “push away” forms of discipline.
The Problem Lies at the End
The principle problem with the concepts of suspension and expulsion (or “sent away” from a home environment) is that these are means of further disconnecting youth who have already accepted a marginal status in society. These specific children and youth have become committed to rebelling against and ridding themselves of the institutions that they feel have failed them. While striving to rid themselves of familial and school organizations, they are not affected by being “pushed away” at this point. Rejection interventions are employed reactively to poor training as opposed to proactively training for a specific undesirable behavior.
Hence, aligned with the definition of discipline, the preferred disciplinary methods should be those that ensure productive moral and psychological training before the disconnection between youth and family and school institutions emerges. The concept of training before disconnection implies that disciplinary problems evolve in an escalating process. Children do not abruptly choose to hate those who care for them. If discipline enlists training throughout the process, constructive discipline will occur.
In our next issue, Dr. Johnson will discuss the solution process.