Why We Should Discipline and not Punish

Does it seem today that schools, and we at home as well, are much more likely to immediately jump to capital punishment. Many private schools have adopted a “one and done” policy, meaning if you violate a school rule, you are immediately suspended. Others are a little more gracious, adopting a “three strikes and you’re out” policy. In this case, students get three chances to get their behavior right, and then they are tossed out.

I know my children are still far to young to really be needing much “discipline” or “punishment,” but this principle applies with my children still. Consider the scenario and then the two reactions to it:

My son, who is two and a half, takes his toy hammer and he wacks my daughter, who just turned one, on the head. Now in response to this I can:

  1. Take his hammer from him, sit him down, and explain to him what he did wrong and make him go apologize to his sister and give her a hug. Explaining to him why he cannot hit his sister like that.
  2. I can spank him and go sit him on his bed for an extended amount of time.

Now the first situation is discipline where he does get in trouble, but he learns from what he did and is taught how to react in the future. The second situation is discipline where he pays for what he has done, but does not learn what to do differently in the future.

The benefits of this type of leadership are obvious:

  1. It forces students/children consider consequences.
  2. It is designed to teach and motivate them to make better choices.
  3. It prevents the culture from declining into a negative environment.

Did you know that teens brains are still developing until their mid 20’s? They are still growing and learning and do not always understand the how or why. This is where we step in with the opportunity to teach, guide, and prepare them for the future.

An Experiment That’s Working¹

Believe it or not, a youth detention facility in Ventura, CA has turned punishment on its ear. Juvenile inmates, incarcerated for armed robbery and manslaughter, are beating the “streets to prison” cycle that their parents passed along to them. How? By learning to code, while still in prison.

What?  Are they serious?

Yes, they are. Very serious. For the past few months, these teen prisoners have been learning to write code for computers through a first-of-its-kind program called, “Last Mile.” These young inmates, mostly minorities who are black or Hispanic, are being mentored via Skype by adult inmates who’ve turned their lives around by learning to code at the San Quentin State Prison.

Is it working?  You tell me.

  • So far, 393 students have graduated from the “Last Mile” coding program.
  • There is a zero (0) recidivism rate, compared to almost half of their peers who return to prison after serving their sentence.

Discipline Not Punishment

When we punish kids for crimes and wrongdoings, we look backward at what they’ve done,  wanting to bring justice to the situation. When we discipline kids, we look forward to the future and equip them to change their thinking and actions. Punishment can be passive or active and aims at humiliating a child for their mistakes. Discipline is a correction which aims to teach and improve for future situations. It is the biblical principle of teaching and imprinting on your children. We deserve punishment (hell) for our sins, but as children of grace we receive discipline from God when we fall short.

Both require leadership, but discipline generally leads to better outcomes. Changed lives. Bright futures. In fact, the results of this kind of discipline are:

  • Rehabilitation – It improves their lifestyle.
  • Restitution – It returns payment for their mistake.
  • Restoration – It restores everyone to a better version of themselves.

If we’re going to do this well, we may have to change our mindset:

  1. While both are important, we must prioritize “restoration” over “justice.” Remember, God restores us in Christ though we do not deserve it.
  2. While both are important, we must peer into the future more than the past. Consider the passage in Hebrews where the author tells us to leave behind our past, and look to what is ahead – Jesus who has gone before. “Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:1-2, NRSV). 
  3. While both are important, we must value preparation over punishment. This is why we are to teach and raise our children in the paths to follow.

I often use the words discipline and punishment interchangeably, but the truth is there is a difference no matter how subtle it seems. Let us join in discipline for the generations upcoming. This does not mean we let them get away with everything, but when mistakes are made we use it as opportunities to better prepare them for the next time.



1. Story copied from USA Today article

2 thoughts on “Why We Should Discipline and not Punish

    1. It would definitely benefit the future of society, but it takes more work than most people want to do. It’s far easier to spank a child and send them to their room than sit them down to explain and figure out a way to correct it.


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