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Tween Punishment Survivor Style

How to Punish Your Tween, Survivor Style

By Chris Jordan

Tuesday I got a call from my son’s middle school. He had apparently thrown a pencil in the classroom and it hit another child in the face. It caused the other child to bleed. The teacher was, understandably, upset when she called me. To the point where her voice was shaking and it seemed as if she might cry.

Three thoughts ran through my mind simultaneously:

1) I am so glad I am not a middle school teacher.

2) She obviously does not have a house full of boys like I do because nothing like that really shocks or upsets me anymore.

3) I am so completely embarrassed I wish there was a hole in which I could bury myself.

I also had a fourth thought, one which I am loathe to admit, which was don’t laugh, whatever you do don’t laugh.

I was stunned into silence. The teacher wanted my reassurance that I would talk to him about how unacceptable this behavior is. Of course I said I would speak with him. I have never explicitly said that throwing pencils at your classmates is bad. I sort of assumed that was a given. But you know what they say about assuming.

I usually feel like natural consequences are the best form of punishment. But in this case, I didn’t really see any sort of natural consequences for his behavior. I have friends who allow their children to come up with their own punishment, on the belief that they are much harder on themselves than their parents ever will be. I decided to try this out.

When my son came home from school I asked him to think about what his punishment should be. Oh he was excited about this. His first suggestion was that he be “forced to skip football practice” that night. His second suggestion, when I vetoed the first one, was that he have to mow the lawn “for only FIVE dollars in payment.” Considering he usually has to do that for free, I am unclear what part exactly was the punishment.

At that point I decided that it would go to the tribal council, a.k.a. the siblings. They would decide his fate.

“Vote him off the island!”
“Punch him as hard as you can in the stomach!”
“Give him forty lashes!”

Who are these violent children? Children who have never even been spanked. I was disturbed, but also suddenly the whole Jackass movie phenomenon became crystal clear. It is something in the Y chromosome.

“Let’s paint a target on his face and shoot pencils at him!”

That one got the most murmurs of approval. Then I reminded everyone that the next time they needed a punishment their fate was going to be decided in the same way.

At that point his 14 yr old brother decided that no punishment was necessary. He leaned across the table and gave him a fist bump and a knowing look. Uh-oh, our first alliance.

Other suggestions included: no TV for a week, no playing outside with friends for a week, not being able to play in the next football game, and making him live outside in a tent (which was met with so much enthusiasm there was no way it could be deemed punitive).

So far, while it provided great insight into the tween/teen boy mind, this was not any easier than coming up with a punishment myself. I excused myself from the dinner table and told them they had to vote on it. As long as it wasn’t harmful or illegal and fit the crime I would agree to it.

A little while later they all ran through the kitchen out to the weight room in the garage. The punishment they all voted on, the same one the highschool football coach uses for every imaginable offense, squat jumps while holding a weight on your back. He has to do thirty, while holding a 25lb weight on his back, every night for a week. He agreed to it. I saw no reason not to agree.

This morning he told me that his legs are going to be so strong by the time the week is over that he is thinking of just doing it every night from now on. For fun.

Today I got another phone call from one of teachers, for something equally as stupid on his part.  Forty lashes?  Not sounding bad after all.

Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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  • Tiffiny Felix

    October 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    O.M.G. This totally made me laugh out loud!! Thanks for the giggle! 🙂

  • Jaymee

    October 7, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    I am dying right now!! This is SOOO FUUNY!! Great post, and thanks so much for the laughs!!!

  • Betsy

    October 7, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    My husband does something similar with my 15 year old son. He go the idea from the Jr. ROTC teacher at our local high school. Whenever my son acts out, he has to do 200 situps. He can do them slow or fast, continuously or in set of 15 or 20, but they all have to be done in one sitting. While not totally effective in all situations, it has worked well when it has been used.

  • Maggie

    October 7, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    All I can say is that your boys (meaning any tween through teen boys) will give you plenty of subject matter for this site, and I will enjoy reading it and reminiscing.

  • Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom)

    October 7, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    Yeah, the Y chromosome…totally to blame! This was pretty funny and I kind of like the idea of everyone getting a say on the punishment. Survivor meets Modern Family…indeed:)

  • Bessu

    October 8, 2010 at 11:55 am

    OMG hilarious! Kind of makes me look forward to the next time I have to punish my kids! My 7 yo was grounded this weekend and in a fit of crying and feeling sorry for himself he sobbed “if I knew this would happen I wouldn’t have done it!” lool I thought Exaaaaactly. Since he has never been grounded before it has been quite a shock! But I guess they are still young enough for straight forward punishments to be effective.

  • Bessu

    October 8, 2010 at 11:58 am

    OMG had me on the floor laughing! kinda makes me look forward to the next time I have to punish my kids hehe. 

  • Nadia

    October 8, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I know I’m going to sound awful and this is not the point of the article but your son’s behaviour was fairly typical of a boy in middle school, that poor teacher may want to toughen up a bit if it got her that upset! I taught middle school for ten years and had very good classroom control and a pencil being tossed across the room would not have been a phone call home, I would have called the parents of the student who got hit because he was hit and bleeding but I would have probably just asked your child to stay in for recess and spoken to him, asked him to apologize and figured out what sent the pencil flying. Boredom? Lack of activity for too long? Being a big goof that day? Your children’s responses, priceless, maybe I could borrow them next time I have to decide what to do with my grade 12 students who cheat on exams.

  • Courtenay

    October 11, 2010 at 10:05 am

    not that cute one w/ the blonde hair?!?

  • JennyB

    October 11, 2010 at 10:11 am

    I agree with Nadia. Your son needs some logical consequences from school. That is where the crime happened. She should deal with it there. Give you a phone call telling you what she is going to do about it. And I totally agree with Nadia about that teacher tightening things up in her classroom.

  • Obi-Mom Kenobi

    October 11, 2010 at 10:37 am

    I have a friend that makes his kids run laps (25, 50, 75, 100 depending on the offense) around their house – regardless of the weather. His theory is even if they don’t end up well-behaved, they’ll at least they’ll be fit.

  • Wendy

    October 11, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Well, when my son who is now 26 was 6 and in 1st grade, he had a pencil in his hand and another little girl came up and grabbed it out of his hand and when she jerked it back, it went into another little girls eye, and that girl had to have a cornea transplant, Subsequently, we, the other girl;s family who jerked it out of my sons hand, the school, and the teacher were all sued, and our insurances had to pay out for her injury, It was sure not an intentional act on anyones part, but things do happen, so I guess, since then, I am so careful of things happening that can be harmful to others. But, stilll, kids will be kids all over the world!

  • Leigh Carlson

    October 11, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    Chris, you are hilarious! I love the survivor style punishment. It makes me wish I had more kids so I could do this. Your kids are going to have the BEST stories about what growing up with you as their mom was like.

  • Nancy R

    October 11, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I go for what’s going to make them squirm and leave an impression…I think I would have driven him to the injured person’s home (away from peers and siblings who might make it easier to laugh it off like a big joke) and made him apologize face to face with the injured’s parents present.

  • JJ

    October 11, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Aaaaaaack Wendy!

    Your story is exactly the reason why the teacher sounded like she did on the phone. Every single time something happens in my room (kid pokes self with pencil, say) I fear how it will sound in the headlines.

    Sort of like my fears when a students asks to go get a drink during the lesson (no) and then 1 minute later announces that s/he desperately needs to use the bathroom (uh, no, illogical sequence of events!). I know that s/he just wants a drink, but I still fear the call from the angry parent about why the child had to wait ten minutes til work time to use the bathroom…Second week of teaching I got called into the principal’s office for just such a situation with an irate parent. Wheee. (Besides there is always in effect the “don’t have an accident in middle school” rule that states if it’s really an emergency, get out of the room and make up the time to me later)

    I’m going to go lie down now, just thinking about the horror of that pencil leads to cornea transplant and lawsuit situation!

  • Ms. Bee

    October 11, 2010 at 9:00 pm

    What are you doing asking the other children to figure out the punishment?  YOU are the parent.  Have a private conversation with the kid in question.  Talk to him about how sometimes seemingly innocent horseplay can really hurt someone.  Emphasize your confidence in him to make better choices now that he has thought about this.  The punishment:  a private apology to the person he injured, and an apology to the teacher who was caused upset by his behavior.  The teacher does not have to toughen up; she is there to teach, not referee.

    Chris says: Thank you for telling me what I should do! All of the other things happened as well, obviously. There were apologies all around, both verbal and written, as well as a written assignment the teacher had my son do. He knew it was wrong to fling his pencil. He has no explanation for why he did it. He just got carried away with his own silliness. Kids sometimes do stupid things. He won’t do it again, of that I am certain. I am just thankful that there was no serious injury. This post was about what occurred after all of that.

  • Annie

    October 12, 2010 at 7:23 am

    I have to know if this is the same kid who can’t remember to bring a pencil to class?! Love the tribal council idea. Stealing it.

    Chris says: yes, it is!

  • Lindy

    October 12, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Ha! Well, at least he remembered to bring his pencil to class.

  • Lindy

    October 12, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Well, at least he had his pencil!!

  • Mary W

    October 12, 2010 at 11:42 am

    As the mother of boys  and reading that this was just horseplay that got a little out of hand,  I have to worry about the teacher near tears.  Seriously, it was an accident, it’s not like your child went over and stabbed the other kid on purpose.   I would be more concerned about the teacher’s ability to control her class room.  Middle school kids are prone to  acting without thinking.  

    A similar situation happened to my son last year – he and another boy were horsing around and my kid got whacked in the head with a yoyo.  He got a nice bruise.  The school wanted to send the other kid to ISS (he was in tears –  almost hysterical)  They were shocked when I told them that both boys needed to spend the rest of the day in ISS.  Both boys were horsing around my kid was just the one who didn’t react fast enough and duck.  The other  child’s parents were beside themselves as well.  It was an accident not malicious –  just two kids playing around  – not being careful and thinking.  
    When my kid got home  I made him write a letter to the teacher (one we’d had before so she knew us) and apologize for disturbing the class with horseplay.  

    I think sometimes school over react and punish kids for stupid things like skulls on their shirts  and  rips in their jeans  – and don’t spend enough timw on things like bullying and  teaching our kids..  

  • beccalecca

    October 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I’m thinking I’m glad I have only girls right now. And that one is pre-verbal and the other is not in school. 

  • Keyona

    October 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    I can’t wait to use this! Too bad my daughter only has a baby brother….

  • Carol

    October 13, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Middle school was the bane of my existence for a full 8 years as all 3 of my kids (2 boys &1 girl) passed through it. I realize they are trying to keep order and all, but really the majority of things I was called about were ridiculous……and some, I have to admit, were just damn funny. Not to dismiss the need to learn to follow rules, be responsible….blah,blah,blah, but most things were just kids (boys mostly) being, well, kids. Go figure. I often found myself having to suppress laughter. Couple the micromanagement of middle school behavior with a kid with ADHD and his inability to recognize a rhetorical question and his conversation with the teachers/asst. principal, while never disrespectful , were often hilarious. Thank God they have all moved on to high school or college! 🙂

  • sonja

    October 13, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I just got a call that my kinder let the classtoom door slam behind him and that this is dangerous to children coming in behind him…he was sent to the office the second time this happened and will have to do after school detention if it happens again…

  • Ree

    October 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    My three kids – even the 2 year old girl – do push ups (the number depends on the offense). Like the previous commenter, the worst than can happen is they are stronger for it.

  • Haley

    October 13, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    My husband has yet to live down a similar incident during his own middle school days. The girl behind him was bouncing on his seat, knowing it was driving him absolutely insane. He decided to take matters into his own hands and poked her with his pencil. Only in his fit of anger, his “poke” drew blood and left a bruise. Adolescents are impulsive, but you gotta love them!

  • anne

    October 15, 2010 at 9:16 am

    As a kid we lived in a circular development and when we misbehaved my mother would make us do laps around the the neighborhood. At night. With her driving behind us, headlights illuminating us for all our friends to see. I remember it clearly 40 years later but I don’t remember it being much of a deterrent.

  • kristy

    October 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    I use to dread hearing the words, “hello, this is your son’s teacher….” when he was in middle school.  He always seemed to be doing something without thinking.  But he grew up and is actually a functioning adult!  So hang in there 🙂