Parenting is difficult. These days, not only do parents have to deal with the actual care and discipline of their children, but thanks to social media, they also have to contend with the judgement of other people regarding every choice they make. Who in the world could possibly parent 100% perfectly in those circumstances? Full disclosure – I do not have children. So anything I have to say about parenting can and should absolutely be viewed through that lens. I fully acknowledge that though I can sympathize, I can’t fully understand everything parents go through. Even so, by virtue of being human – and, once upon a time, a child myself – I sometimes question other people’s parenting choices. One such choice that popped up in the media was a woman’s punishment to her son in a public place. She made him do pushups in a store bathroom. Was that the best way to discipline her child? Should parents use exercise as punishment?
The Facts First
The incident happened in a Texas Hobby Lobby. One woman witnessed a mom making her 10-year-old son do pushups in the store’s bathroom. The woman photographed the encounter (which is another debate for another time) and posted it to social media. She did so as a form of praise, referencing her own parenting struggles. The mom in question wasn’t upset by the posting, saying that her son was refusing to listen to her instructions to stop touching things and picking on his younger brother. The mom decided she’d had enough and took her son to the bathroom and made him do 10 pushups. Was that the right way to handle that situation?
What Else Should She Have Done?
Here’s one mitigating circumstance that might change opinions. This woman’s son has attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as well as oppositional defiance disorder. Apparently, the last disorder means that his neurology makes him purposefully disobey her. Since I’m not a psychologist, I can’t say whether using pushups as a punishment for this particular child was a good or bad idea. Maybe this is the only type of punishment that actually works with him. Maybe he should be punished in other ways because he neurologically can’t follow instructions. That is not for me, or anyone else who isn’t his mother or medical professional treating him to decide. But we can all learn from it.
What About Other Kids?
Putting aside this specific situation, I don’t think using exercise as a form of punishment for most children is a great idea. We have to consider exactly what that may teach them. That exercise is unpleasant, something one has to do when one hasn’t behaved. Some studies indicate that while it actually works, using exercise to punish people only makes them see working out as a bad thing. We already have a problem getting people of all ages to be active. No need to make that worse by instilling in children that exercise is something to be feared and hated. Furthermore, if you’re not a parent, but interact with children, say, as a teacher, it is illegal in 29 states to use exercise as punishment. You may have to find a different way to discipline kids.
I hate to see anyone think of exercise as punishment. It should be viewed as a celebration of what our bodies are capable of doing. Kids are very impressionable and it’s important to do everything we can to get them to enjoy exercise, not hate it. My parents never used it as a disciplinary tool, but I still didn’t have a great view of working out until I grew up. My feelings might have been much worse if they had done so. Parenting is tough, and making a misbehaving kid do laps around the yard may be an easy solution. But parents using exercise as a form of punishment may only hurt them in the long run.