Parenting is difficult, and guilt provoking for self- aware parents at the best of times. However, for the punitive parent, I often wonder if guilt about their controlling behaviour even comes into play.
For the non-punitive parent who accidentally snapped at their son or daughter – the guilt drives them to apologise, make amends, accept responsibility, and to talk to the child about the incident.
Communication is open between parent and child. Children feel as though they can ask their parents questions, even in times of stress or difficulty.
The non-punitive parent will foster a communicative relationship with their children, where talking in order to resolve problems, instead of dishing out punishments loosely, becomes the way of the family unit.
However, from my experience as the silent witness to many a punitive parent – guilt doesn’t come into it for these people, awareness is no where to be seen, and apologies are rare.
It is difficult for non-punitive parents to understand how parents of a more controlling nature cannot see the obvious damage they are doing to their child’s mental health, emotional growth, and inner spirit. To punish and criticise a little person so harshly is incomprehensible.
Isn’t it everybody’s dream to have an everlasting relationship with their adult child? It is unlikely that an adult child with a full blown anxiety disorder, emotional issues, and low confidence is going to turn around and be grateful for punitive parents. Punitive parenting sets children up for a life time of insecurity and emotional struggle.
So, what is punitive parenting?
Punitive parenting is an un – empathetic, less emotionally supportive form of parenting. Through harsh comments, constant criticism, love withdrawal, harsh punishments and psychological control, the parent, without realising it, openly shows a lack of empathy, affection and support towards the child. The aim of punitive parenting is to induce shame, with the hope of gaining control over the child’s actions.
Parents following this method of parenting reward good behaviour, and shame negative behaviour. The tone is harsh, and children are often isolated with timeouts that are too long in time limit. The children of these parents are not reminded that child – hood is a journey that everybody goes on in order to learn, and to make mistakes along the way.
These children are expected to have an adult understanding of how to exhibit correct behaviour at a very young age.
The idea behind punitive parenting is ‘if I criticise you enough about your grades, and inform you about how much you are letting me down, you will make sure you go above and beyond to meet my needs as your parent.’
Punitive punishments are harsh, do not fit the crime, and aim to control the child, rather than meet the mental health needs of the child.
An example of a punitive punishment would be to confiscate the ipad for an entire week for back-chatting – when one afternoon of time out from the ipad would have gotten the message across.
Dishes for two weeks, cancelling camp, or refusing to allow a child to go on the adventure he or she has waited all year to arrive, are all examples of punitive punishment.
The consequences of punitive parenting:
The research paper ‘Parenting Behaviours, Adolescent Depressive Symptoms, and Problem Behaviour. The Role of Self-esteem and School Adjustment Difficulties Among Chinese Adolescents,’ (published in the Journal of family issues) by Cixin Wang and co-authors, discussed possible consequences of punitive parenting.
Cixin Wang and her co-authors ( Yan xia, Wenzhen Li, Stephen M.Wilson, Kevin Bush and Gary Peterson) surveyed 589 middle and high-school students in Hangzhou, China. The survey asked these children about how they perceived the behaviour of their parents, as well as their own adjustment to school, symptoms of depression and problematic behaviours.
Previous research has shown that Chinese parents do show less support through affection, and more support through governing and controlling their offspring.
The results from the current study show that the findings from this sample of Chinese parents surveyed, is consistent with those findings from studies involving western students. Previous research on cultures of the west has found that when parents exert strong psychological control over their children, it leads to low self -esteem and low grades amongst children.
Overall, the study implied that punitive parenting is not working amongst this particular group of Chinese students, which may of course give punitive parents from other cultures, as well as parents from the Chinese culture something to think about.