Punish. Punitively treat. Punishment.
The idea behind punishment is to negatively reinforce a behavior. This suggests, that if you can train a dog, you can train a human. It doesn’t seem this hypothesis holds, though, does it?
I have been punished. As an adolescent, I would be grounded to negatively reinforce a decision my parents perceived as being poor. Usually, a grounding would entail a sentence of about one month, of which I would actually serve about three days. My parents would tire of me driving them crazy around the house. Meanwhile, I learned where I’d gone wrong so the next time I would remember to cover that base better in my scheming.
It would bother me, a lot, to be seen as a bad kid though, especially by my parents (but also by my teachers, or even friends’ parents). The reason I would get in trouble wasn’t because I didn’t know right from wrong, it was because I didn’t want to disappoint. There was a constant intrinsic pressure not to disappoint my family, but nor did I want to disappoint my friends, and therein lied my quandary.
As a result, I would sneak around a lot. I wanted boys to like me. I wore mini-skirts and went out “cruisin'” with my too-old boyfriend in his Chevy truck. We’d meet friends in a cornfield and drink wine coolers and peppermint schnapps in the bed. I would make excuses to be one place, but go to another. There were elaborate schemes with alibis, and well-researched reports on movies never attended. Once there was even a secret post office box where I could receive private mail. These were things other kids didn’t do, certainly not the good kids. I did so much want to be one of the good kids, though. It just seemed my lot not to be. I was envious of them.
I remember one time my parents came home and reported to me that Amanda’s parents didn’t want her to hang around with me. They knew I’d drunk alcohol at some point and they didn’t want me to influence my badness on their child’s goodness. That stung. And I remember that there was no more discussion around that. Perhaps my parents thought that if I ruminated on it enough, I would come to my own realization– that the track I was on was leading to lonely places. Perhaps that time my punishment was to be left alone with my rejection.
The irony was that being the person I wanted to be, was being the same person my parents wanted for me to be. I just didn’t have the strength to maintain course. When I was with the right friends, who influenced their goodness on my badness, I felt like I was on vacation from the quandary of disappointment because there was no conflict. If only I were able to articulate that to myself then, and adjust to the more positive possibility. It seemed impossible at the time, but when I think about all the changes that could have been made if I had the pride and self-worth to be selective in that way, I would have saved myself a lot of very dark moments.
For me, I guess punishment was a more internal process of reinforced lacking in self-worth than it was my parents’ attempt at reinforcement– the making of an obvious negative spiral in hindsight. For them, discipline was motivated more by a need to avenge their embarrassment than it was a coaxing or coaching to the light. In the end, I see these things and yes, I do wish they’d been different, but they weren’t. I work to understand them now and thus myself better, and I can take over from here– to right the ship and stay on course. Adults are their own parents.