Appropriate Punishment or Psych Scarring?

November 18, 2005

A tip of the hat to Aaron Mc. for his finding this article for this blog.

This is from MSNBC.

Essentially the article is about a woman whose daughter was not living up to expectations in school. As a punishment, she made her stand out on a street corner with a sign telling passing motorists about her laxidasical attitude about school. The bottom of the sign told the motorists she was practicing for her future profession. I assume she means panhandling.

Read the article and then tell me what you think. As a counselor, I take issue with what the psychologists said in the article. Most of them talk about scarring this child for life. First off, a 14-year old is not psychologically a child. Anyone who can reproduce is not a child. Perhaps an inexperienced adult, but not emotionally a child. You don’t scar a teenager like you scar a child. By 14, the child is gone, the adult is emerging. There are very few formative ideas that a 14-year old has. Believe me, as far as they are concerned, they know everything. Now, up to this point, I have been speaking as a psychologist. In psych terms, she is an adult. There is no scarring that can happen. I get annoyed at those in the profession who take the opportunity to be interviewed by a newspaper as license to forget everything studied in school.

On the other hand, I think this is a ridiculous punishment. How long do you think this will motivate the child? My guess is about one semester. I agree with one person in the article who said that positive reinforcement works better than this. If she struggles with shame already, this will only serve to reinforce the lie that she is shameful. If she struggles with fear, it will reinforce the fear that she will fail in life. If she struggles with the lie of independence (ie. that she doesn’t need anyone else) it will reinforce the idea that she can achieve things without being responsible to anyone.

Triggering lies does not do anything besides reinforce them. It would be better for her to deal with time management, life management and perhaps get rid of the television. But, those are how I raised my kids. I don’t live in this woman’s neighborhood and my kids didn’t struggle with what she did. I admire this mother for trying hard to make something for her daughter. I am concerned that it sends her daughter a mixed message. “I love you, but I will shame you if you don’t perform.”

What do you think?



  1. Hi, I am a hard core LJ user so when my church tells me they have a blog, I am going to read it … faithfully. I get about 2000 hits a day on my journal…
    I have to say this astounds me. Not because it would be highly ineffective but also because God does not humiliate people. God in His nature it a devine and loving being and wins His followers by forgiveness not pointing out their stupidity. I agree that a 14 year old is for the most part aware of their views and choices, they are also children in a lot of ways…
    at 14 I still played with my barbie and I am not that old.
    humiliation has never been a tool of God. God seeks to build and revive the spirit not abuse and harass it. So… Yeah I am proably jumping in somewhere that maybe I shouldn’t but as a hard core computer geek… I can’t help myself :).

  2. I think the mom in question had a great idea! A 14 year old should be preparing for adulthood. She is only 4 years away from being called an adult. Too often society allows teenagers to behave as children rather than expecting them to take responsiblility for the realm they are currently in. The mother stood on the corner with her and taught her a needed lesson about how what you do today will affect your future. The article points out that the parents have tried several ways to motivate her. Sometime shame is a good kick in the rear. While God does not shame us, he does allow us to suffer the consequences of our actions. God doesn’t “win his followers by forgiveness”- he offers it to them in their stupidity. I think this mom stood by her daughter (as God stands by us)while giving her a glimpse of the consequences of further bad action. GO MOM!

  3. I think the future of this has to do with how the girl processes the experience–in other words, the interpretation she decides to give it.

    I have been amazed how, if a person thinks something “shouldn’t” have happened to them, they are scarred by it, but if they accept its occurrence and draw lessons and thereby strength from it, they are not scarred.

    This is definitely not the method I would use. At first glance, the mother’s actions seemed extreme, and more likely about the mother’s fear than “love.” But then, maybe so, maybe not. There is much more to know about their relationship.

    By the way, God does bring humiliation to the proud. And Proverbs says not to withold discipline; your child will not die. The truth about God’s nature and intent toward us is completely positive. The events and experiences He uses to get our attention, and His methods, are not always so. I recall more than one positive change in myself came as a result of (well deserved) humiliations of some sort.

    Twenty years hence, ask the girl what she has done with the experience. I hope she got the message and forgave her mother (as needed). I for one would rather be humiliated once at 14 than end up standing on the street corner begging many times. That really hurts when you’re 60.

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