Why Punishment Fails
It makes people mad. Like other forms of control, the use of punitive consequences often enrages whoever is on the receiving end, and the experience is doubly painful because he or she is powerless to do anything about it. What history teaches us about nations echoes what psychology teaches us about individuals: Given a chance, those who feel like victims may eventually become victimizers.We tell kids all the time to use their words and talk with their peers when conflict arises. When kids retaliate in an effort to garnish revenge on someone who may have done them wrong, we discourage such vigilante justice and try to teach them that revenge only serves to make the problem worse.
So why do we turn around and do precisely what we teach kids not to do? What is it about authority that blinds us from the fundamental questions about the wisdom of this approach? Kohn asks
How likely is it that intentionally making children unhappy will prove beneficial in the long run? And: If punishment is so effective, how come I have to keep doing it to my child over and over?Don't ever let someone tell you that punishment doesn't teach kids a lesson. It most certainly does. But its not the lesson we would hope for. Instead, Kohn explains, that punishment is likely to teach them a very powerful lesson:
You can get your way with people who are weaker than you are by hurting them.Punishment is quick and easy. After all, how much time and effort does it take to dole out a punishment? You don't need to know the kid, the situation or even the context. Heck, you don't even really need to talk with the kids or even at them.
You just need to dispense the punishment. All you really need to do is make someone miserable.
However, the ease of time and effort that punishment affords us comes at an alarming cost.