I admit that I read the "Dear Abby" column in the SF Chronicle each day. It's my warm up to the Sudoku puzzle that is always placed next to it on the page. (Okay, so it's a weak link, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it :) I often wonder about the letters people write--can they be real? Are they serious? Too many times, it's just scary to think that people can think or act a certain way. One of today's letters was in that category.
"Young Mom in Oklahoma" writes:
DEAR ABBY: I have a 4-year-old who tends to act up from time to time. I have tried "time-outs" and even soft spanking and have taken his privileges away. Nothing seems to work. However, I have found that smashing one of his small toys with a hammer works well. Do you see any danger in this form of punishment?This is hard to take on so many levels. First of all, we're talking about 4-year-old acting up "from time to time." Not "this happens everyday, multiple times a day." Not "this is a constant occurrence and I'm at my wits end." A 4-year-old who acts up occasionally. Sounds like all the 4-year-olds that I know--and I happen to know quite a few.
The mom thinks her disciplinary actions are not working. I'd say they are--again, he's only acting up "from time to time." But since she feels otherwise, she ratchets up the level of her punishment by smashing a toy with a hammer. This gives her the results she's looking for; I guess he stops acting up even less frequently. To me, this signals a bigger problem. Her son watches one of his toys smashed to bits in front of him--something I would expect to send a kid into a bigger frenzy--and he turns inward. What a horrible lesson and a disturbing sign.
At least the mom seems to have some inkling that there could be a problem. She is writing to ask if there could be some danger in her actions. Dear Abby sets her straight:
DEAR YOUNG MOM: I certainly do. Smashing a child's toy with a hammer carries the same message that an abusive husband delivers when he smashes his fist through a wall. It implies, "You're next!" If you continue punishing your child in this way, he could begin modeling his behavior after yours and destroy other people's property -- including yours -- when he's angry.Take the toy away if that's the only way to get through to your son. Tell him that it will be given to a child who has no toys to play with. But do not destroy the toy in front of your child.It's hard for me to imagine that someone needs to be told that smashing a child's toy in front of him is wrong. It's also hard not to make the association with the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech or the massacre at Columbine. What children perceive early in their lives often manifests itself as they grow into adulthood. Now, I'm not blaming the parents for everything their children do--while I have no children, I am aware of the enormous job and responsibility it is to be a parent. Often there are factors totally out of the control of the most caring families. If you have any doubt of this, read "And I Don't Want to Live This Life", the story of Nancy Spungen, the punk scene, wild child, heroin addict who was murdered by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Written by her mother, it chronicles the tale of a family trying to exist with an out of control, mentally ill, misdiagnosed child, and having to cope with the adult she becomes.
There is never any guarantee of how our children will act and think as adults. But we need to give them a strong foundation of love, spirit, and ethics. We need to teach them to treat others with respect, and to have humility concerning their place in the world. With those basics at their center, we have a better chance to see them grow into loving, caring adults.