Friday, May 16, 2008

Crime & Punishment

Michelle over to Scribbit has once again gotten my juices flowing with her "What Do You Do When Your Child Lies" post. I left one of my patented long winded comments but felt like I had but touched upon the subject. Rather than bore her and her fans with more, I figured I'd bore you here.

My comment went something like this - We need to ask ourselves first if we acted in similar ways that our children are acting now. As adults we need to be honest with ourselves before we can be honest with them. Essentially my point was honesty is the best way to deal with bad behaviour. The punishment should have been well laid long before a situation pops up to warrant it's use.

I did not touch on the penalty phase or what type of consequences should be utilized. In my opinion, adults focus entirely too much on punishment and not enough on pre-emptive measures that can often avoid the situation in the first place. Once the fear of punishment is instilled, the normal reaction of the child is to hide any action they may feel would bring about punishment. Lying is an obvious go to tactic.

My feelings about this were supported immediately with the second comment that did focus on punishment and what kind seemed to work for them. Just what is our problem? We know from our own actions as children that reactive punishment often did not change behaviour. Yet, we insist on continuing to use it once we have little tackers of our own. If it did not work on us, what makes us think it will work on our own kids? Knowing this about my own childhood experience, my wife and I set limits and tried to build as much of a before the fact foundation as we could.

My comment on Scribbit also talked about my "Drug Talks" with Lis starting when she began to bring DARE material home from school. Over the next 5 years or so, I laid bare my own experience with drugs and the life long consequences I deal with today. I hid nothing, not even my brushes with the law. It was often painful for me, but I felt I owed her the truth. Especially if I was to expect different behaviour from her. I assume it helped. As far as I know, she is drug free and will continue to be in the foreseeable future.

Michelle talked about "Human Nature" and how lying is a natural part of this. Maybe I was reading her wrong, but I felt like she was inferring that Human Nature is something we have in us that we are born with. I am of the mind that other than the need to eat, breath, sleep, fornicate, and defecate, everything else is learned behaviour. Not there naturally.

Our culture teaches our kids to behave the way they do. They grow up watching adults lie everyday. From the President to their parents, lying is woven into our society. If it is part of Human Nature, we taught ourselves to do it. I am not condemning the act of lying out of hand. It does seem to have it's place in some situations as a method to help us get along better. But it is used entirely too much to the point that people do it and don't even know or think they are doing it.

I am guilty of it. How many times have I avoided some situation with a small "white lie" just to keep my life running smoothly? Our kids see this and fall right into the same mode of behaviour. "Yes dear, I will get right on it." or "Sorry I am late, but......" Many of us or maybe most of us and maybe even all of us use lying to ease our way through this life on a regular basis.

My father never saw the difference. To him lying was lying. Honesty was the best policy. Blah, blah blah. But he was not being honest himself. He denied or failed to acknowledge some of the lies he perpetuated everyday. Mom was the same way. There is/are gray areas. The trick is to seperate the ones that matter little from the ones that do. All too often folks seem to forget there is a difference and big lies become part of their everyday interactions.

Honesty. It all comes down to this simple idea. If I can be honest with myself, it makes it so much easier to expect it in my child. Then setting limits and consequences for the screw ups often becomes a non issue. Lis would often come to us immediately after blowing it and admit it. She knew that there would be consequences, but not the histronics and hysterical over kill that often follows kids doing stupid things.


Apertome said...

I think that kind of honesty, telling your kid about past drug use and related problems, is rare. It must have been really hard to talk to her about that. Hopefully hearing about your personal experience will be more productive than the shrill, knee-jerk DARE/war on drugs class.

Dawn on MDI said...

Wow. I wish my parents had been like you. I learned early the skills of deceit and deception from them and that to get caught was to risk severe punishment. You're right. Lying is the go-to behavior. I was well into my 30s before I even began to get a handle on how to be honest, how to treat people, and how to behave like an ethical human being.

On the other hand, I do believe my parents did the best they could with what they had to work with. Neither was from a healthy family. Neither knew how to have open and honest relationships with people. Neither trusted anybody, and neither was trustworthy. They could not pass on skills and behaviors they did not have.

The insight you had into what worked for you as a child and what didn't was rare. I think most parents perpetuate poor parenting because they don't know how else to do it and they are not self-aware enough to make a real assessment.

I speak from the safe spot of the childless home, but that was a choice I made, and for reasons that are discouraging. I decided not to have kids because I knew that I lacked the skills, emotional and tactical, to raise a child who would not be a head case. I don't really want children, but I don't know if that is a genuine desire or the result of my internalizing my own justifications for not having children. Oh hell. Now my head hurts from so much introspection. Thanks a bunch.