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“Consequences”: The New Euphemism for “Punishment”

by Izzy Kalman (May 2006)In George Orwell’s classic book, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Big Brother government has a “Newspeak” department whose job it is to make up new words to replace the old. Of course, there is nothing new about this practice. Even our own educational and mental health professions do it regularly. “Bipolar” has replaced “Manic Depression”, which sounds too insulting. Various levels of “Intellectually Impaired” have replaced the various levels of “Mentally Retarded”, which in turn replaced “Idiot”, “Moron” and “Imbecile”. The examples are endless. In the educational world, it has become taboo to talk about punishment. With the social sciences vigorously campaigning against child abuse at home, schools certainly don’t want to be seen as abusing kids in school. Schools, after all, are enlightened educational institutions, not prisons. The last thing educators want to be accused of today is punishing other people’s children. At my Turning Bullies into Buddies seminar, I demonstrate how my two “Magic Responses” are incomparably better than the investigations and punishments that adults typically perform when kids complain of being bullied. These Magic Responses put the solution entirely on the shoulders of the complainer. (You can learn to use these Magic Responses for free in my Adults’ Manual on the Bullies to Buddies website). But I inevitably receive indignant responses from some educators and mental health professions like, “How can you let the bully get away without consequences?!” or “Adults must administer consequences!” The word “consequence” is non-directional. A consequence can be pleasurable just as it can be painful. But you can be sure that when these adults demand “consequences”, they are not thinking about making bullies feel good. They mean striclty punishment. They just can’t allow themselves to say the “P” word. “Consequences” has become the Newspeak term for “punishment”. “Consequences” in Childrearing To the best of my knowledge, the idea of “consequences” was popularized by Adlerian psychology, though I have discovered from recent readings that these ideas go even further back to eighteenth century philosophers and educators. The Adlerian approach to parenting (which I love) uses “natural” and “logical” consequences rather than punishments. Yes, it is possible to raise emotionally healthy, responsible children without ever punishing them. What is a “natural consequence”? It is when Mother Nature can solve a child discipline problem without the parent doing anything at all. For instance, a child doesn’t want to eat dinner. Many parents punish the child. But it is unnecessary and even counterproductive to do so. What will happen if the child doesn’t eat? He will become hungry and eat the next day. Voila! Mother Nature has taken care of the problem. Sometimes it is unfeasable to use the natural consequence. For instance, your six year old child has the tendency to run into the street when you let her out to play. The natural consequence would be to let her get run over by a car so she can learn her lesson. Of course you can’t let this happen. So you resort to a “logical consequence”. You tell the child, “Until you’re old enough to know to stay on the sidewalk when I let you out to play, you have to stay indoors.” It is not a punishment. It is the logical consequence of the child not having the self-control to stay on the sidewalk. Examples of punishment would be, “You didn’t eat dinner, so you can’t watch TV” or “You will lose your allowance this week because you ran out into the street.” The parent’s response has no relation to the child’s misbehavior, so it is strictly punishment. Even something like, “You are grounded for a week because you ran into the sidewalk” is a punishment rather than a logical consequence, though it prevents the child from playing outside. You are incarcerating the child for a week to try to get her to learn not to run into the street, and there is still no guarantee that this will make her mature enough to know to stay on the sidewalk. “Consequences” for Insults Many adults wonder why I wouldn’t “administer consequences” to a child who insults another child. They insist the “bully” is not getting any consequences. But these adults think this way because they really mean “punishment” when they say “consequence”. Every action in life has consequences, whether we are aware of them or not. And there is a natural consequence to insulting other people. That consequence is that people will dislike you and be mean back to you. You will discover if you do this too often – unless it is obvious that you are doing it in jest – you won’t have many good friends. Maybe people will be afraid of you, but they won’t like or respect you. But if I punish you for insulting someone, your focus is taken away from the consequences of your action (upsetting the person) and is redirected towards me. You become angry with me for punishing you for something that had nothing to do with me. And you become angry with the person you insulted because he got you punished by me. You are left feeling victimized by both of us, and you want revenge. You are going to look for the next opportunity to be mean again. Thus, I have not only deprived you of the opportunity to experience remorse, I have unwittingly gotten you on the course of committing another hurtful act. We want our children to grow up being honest with themselves and others. This will only occur if the adults in their lives are honest. So the next time you hear educators talking about “administering consequences,” correct them. Say, “You mean punishment, don’t you?” Consequences of punishing for insults Many adults are concerned with “administering consequences” to kids who say insults, but they don’t realize the consequences of their own actions. Yes, there are serious consequences of punishing people for using insults. The following are some of them (a couple were mentioned above): 1. They will hate you and want to get back at you. 2. They will hate the kid they insulted for getting them punished, and will try to get back at him/her. 3. They will learn that insults are a good way to upset people, especially adults. 4. They will learn that they should get upset when someone insults them. 5. They will learn that freedom of speech is a myth. 6. They will learn that people are not responsible for their own feelings. 7. Instead of trying to handle social problems on their own, they will learn to turn to adults to take care of the problems for them. 8. They will discover that the more upset they get by insults, the harder adults will punish those who insulted them, so it really pays to get upset. 9. When they grow up, they will punish their kids and/or students for saying insults. This mistake will get passed down from generation to generation. Enough consequences?

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