The fluctuating degrees and decrees of discipline

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani bemoans the endless cycle of shoveling snow.

Joe Pisani /

If I misbehaved when I was a kid, my mother screamed bloody murder and got out the wooden spoon. If the offense was grievous enough, my father took off his belt and sparks started to fly, and my behind felt the Wrath of Dad.

Times change. Corporal punishment fell into disfavor with the advent of modern behavioral psychology and new and improved parenting techniques.

Since my wife and I never used a belt or wooden spoon, our options were limited. She was forced to scream twice as much and twice as loud as my mother in order to make up for what we lacked in fire power. Even though she screamed twice as much, it was only half as effective. Heck, it wasn’t effective at all, and our daughters walked away to be disrespectful another day.

Consequently, parenting experts came up with new tactics, such as “time-out,” which is about as effective as the National Hockey League putting a player in the penalty box. I tried time-out, but it didn’t work, probably because my kids were doing time-out with cell phones glued to their ears. Nowadays, a lot of parents take away their toddlers’ cell phones to punish them, but some psychologists believe that causes emotional trauma that can last a lifetime.

Child discipline has been a problem for humanity ever since Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, and the fourth was “Honor thy father and mother.”

My daughters pride themselves on their progressive parenting philosophies. They’ve watched a lot of instructional videos, including one about a potty training strategy that was developed in France. I’m not sure how it works, but I think you’re supposed to strap a potty to the youngster’s keister and reward him with some foie gras if he hits the mark.

One of my mother’s disciplinary tactics, which was popular in the olden days, went something like this: If I started acting up in public and there was a law-enforcement officer nearby, she’d grab me by the arm and say, “If you don’t stop, that policeman is going to take you away!”

If I continued to misbehave, she’d approach the policeman and say, “Officer, my son is acting up and needs to be disciplined.”

Instead of responding, “Lady, that’s your husband’s problem,” the policeman — hoping to prevent a young boy from turning to a life of crime — would rattle his handcuffs and ask ominously, “Do you want to come down to the station and do time-out in a jail cell?” On the other hand, he might say, “Lady, the FBI has jurisdiction over offenses like this.”

I tried that on my daughters when they were teenagers, but they just snickered and said, “Sure, Dad, whatever you say!” No respect for the law.

So I was somewhat bewildered when one of my grandsons misbehaved and my daughter surreptitiously knocked on the door without the boy noticing and asked him, “Mason, do you know who that is?” The boy snapped to attention as if he were on the drill team at Virginia Military Institute for 3-year-olds.

He knew who was at the door. It was the “listening police,” who are imaginary constables sworn to uphold the Fourth Commandment. I’m not sure if the “listening police” are for little boys who don’t listen to their mommies, or if they’re police who are listening to make sure little boys behave. Whoever they are, the stunt worked when he heard that knock, but I don’t think it will work when he becomes a teenager. As my other grandson informed me, “The listening police are good people ... they want to help.” Desperate times require desperate measures.

This is what happens when parents get too progressive or too regressive. Someday when Mommy acts up, little Mason will probably knock on the door and ask, “‘Who’s that, Mommy?’ It’s the parenting police and they’re coming to take you away! Ha-ha! Ho-ho!”

At first, I thought this was another parenting technique from France, but now I’m convinced it came from Russia.

Joe Pisani can be reached at