The time-out chair, the bed-without-dinner, the cellphone revoke — all are classic parental punishments, but how well do they work? Getting your kids to listen and really learn lessons when they’ve done something wrong can feel impossible, so some parents have looked into their disciplinary bag of tricks and amped up the stakes.
One Ohio father tried the long talks and emotional exchanges with his daughter. They just didn’t take. So when her school notified him she’d repeated a negative behavior, he went old school and came up with a punishment that required some legwork neither of them would ever forget.
When Matt Cox’s daughter came home from school on a Friday afternoon, she handed him a note from the administrators. Along with her note, she guiltily explained she needed a ride on Monday morning.
See, Kirsten was suspended from riding the bus for several days. Administrators doled out the punishment because 10-year-old Kirsten continued acting out on the daily bus route. Her crime was a heinous one.
According to administrators, Kirsten was bullying her classmates during their commute to school. Unable to curb her aggression, the school just outright banned her from the bus for a few days.
Reading the suspension papers, Matt was disappointed in Kristen’s behavior, though unfortunately, he wasn’t entirely surprised. This marked the second time his daughter had faced the same punishment for the same infraction. She was developing a pattern of bullying.
Poplar Bluffs Schools
In his words, bullying was unacceptable. The reality that his child was the source of the problem made him angry, yet determined to nip it in the bud. Matt had to come up with a powerful way to teach Kirsten a lesson.
This punishment needed to leave a lasting impression, so he reasoned it should match the gravity of her mistake. “This is my small way of trying to stop it in my household,” he said.
So Matt devised a plan and launched it into action. Monday morning arrived and, keeping to their normal routine, Kirsten got ready for school, ate her breakfast, and put on her backpack. They walked out to the car, and that’s when Matt broke the news.
Instead of the typical parental lecture met with pouty facial exchanges in the rear view mirror, Matt climbed into the car and told Kirsten to start walking. That December morning, she would make the journey to school solely on her own two feet.
For the next three days, Kirsten walked 5 miles to school. Matt wanted his daughter to think about the consequences of her actions. Every step would be a reminder of how her words had made other people feel, and Matt hoped, she’d gain an appreciation for riding the bus.
Matt Cox / Facebook
Feeling good about his hands-on parenting technique, Matt uploaded a video of Kirsten’s punishment walk to his Facebook account. The video caused a lot of stir fairly quickly, with many of Matt’s friends commenting and sharing it. Soon, it had gone viral, to very mixed reactions.
Tons of parents praised Matt’s techniques, cheering on his punishment as effective tough love. They agreed Matt had properly held Kirsten accountable, and ensured her safety by trailing in the car behind her. Others were less impressed.
A large number of online spectators criticized Matt’s chosen method of discipline. They pointed to the fact that it was only 36 degrees on the day of the big walk, saying the punishment was overkill, bordering on cruel.
Others pointed out the act of filming Kirsten’s walk and posting it online qualified as public humiliation, ironically a form of bullying in itself. This vein of shaming kids has caught on in the current age of viral stories, leaving parents to wonder about the lasting emotional effects.
Borrowing from past practices like the stocks, judges across the country have participated in this recent uptick in public humiliation by including it in their sentencing orders. Usually it involves the guilty party wearing a sign that describes their misdeeds.
Some parents like Matt have integrated the tactic into their discipline arsenal. He absolutely disagreed with those dragging his strategy online. In his opinion, many parents don’t take matters of bullying as seriously as they should.
Determined to rip the bullying problem out by the root, he vowed that his children would face consequences for their actions. He wouldn’t lump their bad behaviors into a “kids will be kids” mentality.
Given the surge in anti-bullying initiatives in schools across the U.S., Matt felt this issue qualified for memorable disciplinary action. Kirsten is on the cusp of transitioning into middle school, the age group most reported to struggle with bullying.
Studies show that 1 in 3 children in the U.S. experience bullying in their schools, with 70% of students overall witnessing incidents of bullying. In Matt’s mind, he was doing his duty as a parent, to combat what’s been labeled as an epidemic.
In response to the negativity, Matt posted an update on Kirsten. “Still has all her extremities intact, is happy and healthy, and seems to have a new outlook on bullying as well as a new appreciation for some of the simple things in life she used to take for granted.”
Matt Cox / Facebook
Kirsten admitted she regrets her actions, and that her punishment did make her think things through, noting how it makes her feel when people aren’t nice to her. So far, she hasn’t expressed any anger or embarrassment about her father’s sharing her walk to school on social media.
In fact, the 10-year-old admitted she too has felt the negative effects of being bullied in school. Matt read comments on his video that detailed the experiences of others who’d been bullied to all three of his children. They agreed to commit to leading with kindness in the future.
Matt Cox / Facebook
When Matt’s words failed to make a change, he went for the grand spectacle instead. He could’ve taken notes from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, where administrators curbed their bullying problem with a non-conventional method of their own design.
Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore was struggling. Students were disruptive, violence dominated the community, and the teachers didn’t know how to handle it. But that’s when two brothers had an idea…
Ali and Atman Smith had grown up nearby and knew all too well how a negative environment could disrupt an education. “There’s all these things just getting dumped on these kids,” said Ali, “and they need a way to kind of deal with it.”
One of the problems getting “dumped on kids,” the brothers realized, was discipline. Punishing kids for mistakes didn’t help correct behavioral issues much, and in fact, research showed just how detrimental these methods were.
According to English Scholar Dr. Ruth Payne’s research, punishments like detentions are actually less effective because they damage the relationship between the teacher and the student.
That’s why it’s also advised that teachers avoid calling out a student’s bad behavior in class. Embarrassing a kid in front of his friends only serves to make the teacher their enemy. Other methods, like rewarding good behavior, fell short, too.
According to some researchers, by just rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior, teachers aren’t treating their students like people, they’re treating them like pets. Ali and Atman took notice of the research.
That’s why the brothers started a program that provided schools with an alternative to traditional punishments in order to give students a more holistic experience. Their proposed solution was, at first, shocking to those that heard it.
University of Maryland
Under their scheme, instead of unruly students getting a one-way ticket to the principal’s office, they’re sent to the mystical Mindful Moment room. There, they don’t find a punishment.
In the Mindful Moment room, students can take a moment to de-stress and calm down after a fight or over-stimulation. The staff there teach the kids to redirect their negative energy into something positive. It’s, in a sense, meditation — but could it work?
In 2013, Robert D. Colbert conducted a study at a high school to see how effective meditation really was. The entire senior class was split into two groups: one meditated regularly throughout the year and the other did not. The results surprised them…
Liz Scheltens / Vox
When the year finished, the researchers looked at the graduation rates of the two groups to see if there was a difference. The imbalance was astounding: the graduation rate went up 15% among students who meditated — and even more for those with a low GPA!
These findings are critical for one reason: on average, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds. That’s about 1.2 million students every year. If schools had access to holistic programs like this, that could all change — and Ali and Atman surmised this, too.
With the brother’s strategy, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School hoped to be the spark that ignited the change all over the country. Even the students there came around to the idea of meditation.
“I did some deep breathing, had a little snack, and I got myself together, then apologized to my class,” said one student who had been sent to the Mindful Moment room. But the program doesn’t just provide students with a room to avoid detention.
Washington Post photo by Linda Davidson
Many students at Coleman Elementary are under the poverty line and over 80 percent receive assistance for school lunches. The Mindful Moment room is a safe space in more ways than one. “We’re trying really hard here to make this a place where children feel safe and where their needs are met,” said the principal.
And the room isn’t just a place for students to get away from in-school stress. It can also help them reflect on issues at home that are impacting their studies, helping them to center their focus. Still, skeptics wondered what the long-term impact could be.
Well, before they implemented the program, several students were getting suspensions every year and many more were sent to the principal for disciplinary action. But after one year with the new approach? Not a single student was suspended. The kids noticed.
“When they leave the room,” said one student, “they’re peaceful and quiet and ready to do their work.” But even if the kids are feeling the positive impact, doubters remain unsure about the approach.
In fact, a handful of researchers believe that the effects of “mindfulness” exercises are random and aren’t long-lasting. According to them, you can achieve the same results from other simple things like diet and exercise. Of course, with mindfulness, you still get to eat that second slice of cake.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the holistic approach seems to make an impact when implemented in the right way with the right students. “These techniques kind of make you focus on the present,” said Ali, “which that’s all there really is.”
Innovation and creative new ideas can breathe life into under-served schools. Ali and Atman knew it, and so did Akbar Cook, the vice principal of West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. When he walked on to campus after he landed the job, he knew he had to fight for a change.
Akbar Cook / Facebook
To Cook, the hallways “looked like a mall;” students leaned against lockers tagged with gang signs and lingered outside empty classrooms, disinterested in their education. Cook had his work cut out for him, but he wouldn’t be deterred: he was there to make a difference.
“I had to go back to my teachings from my grandmother,” he told On Point. “The gangsters don’t come to school. They already told their families that they weren’t going to do it. So if a kid is in school, they’re either afraid or loved — from their mama, nana, their uncle or somebody.”
But as steadfast in his mission as he was, Cook alone couldn’t stop tragedy from striking. Gang violence took three of his students over the next year, and many feared things would never improve for students. That’s when Cook decided he’d no longer be a bystander.
Drawing on his experience as a kid in the Boys and Girls Club, Cook opened the school from 6 pm to 11 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays during the summer to provide students with a safe haven from crime. The results were unexpected.
“We opened it up, and I want to say by the first week or so we had about 30 folks there, and it was a weird demographic because I had 40-year-old parents with their kids, 25-year-old [gangsters], and 8-year-olds,” said Cook. “Nevertheless, they needed us, so we just loved on them and provided all these resources.”
Word of the program – dubbed “Lights On!” – spread throughout the community, and for the rest of the summer, Cook regularly saw around 150 students attending his events. Sadly, however, this success wouldn’t be enough to stop the violence completely.
Newark Public Schools
Just a few hours after attending an end-of-summer event at West Side, one of Cook’s students was shot and killed by a stray bullet. The vice principal knew he couldn’t wait until next summer to continue his program — he’d have to open it year round.
Only In Your State
And so he did! From then on, Lights On! began running every Friday, providing all manner of fun, safe, and educational activities for boys and girls alike. With an average of 350 students per event, Cook’s hard work was paying off.
Newark Public Schools
“Since we did that…I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence,” Cook beamed. “We’ve been saving lives, and we’ve been showing the nation and other principals that this can work, and you need this in your city, as well.”
Newark Public Schools
But even with the success of Light On!, West Side High School still had another problem on its hands: bullying. Cook couldn’t understand it. With all the fun and camaraderie built over the years, why were the students picking on one another?
Evidently, it all came down to clothes. Many of the students in the community came from poor families and therefore couldn’t afford to wash their uniforms. Those that came to school wearing dirty clothes were being mercilessly bullied for it.
In fact, the bullying had gotten so bad that some students had actually stopped coming to school. Cook even recalled one incident where a student was arrested because she was too embarrassed to open a bag filled with dirty clothes when a security guard asked her to.
Eventually, Cook learned that a staggering 85 percent of his students had missed at least one day of school over this dirty-clothes bullying. So, as he’d done with his Lights On! program, the vice principal drew up a solution.
After petitioning the Public Service Energy Group (PSEG), Cook received a $20,000 grant in the form of five washers and five dryers for West Side. He then began collecting detergent and other donations from the local community, who were more than happy to lend a hand.
When all was said and done, Cook had converted West Side’s football locker room into a fully stocked laundry room. Now, students could wash their clothes free of charge and end the bullying once and for all.
Catresa McGhee / Facebook
Not only that, but Cook also created a room adjacent to the laundry called the Makerspace. Here, teachers would be stationed both before and after school to engage students in STEM activities as they waited for their clothes to finish in the wash.
News of the vice principal’s heroics soon went viral, and he actually appeared on Ellen twice to share his inspiring story and enlighten others about the struggles that many impoverished schools face.
Cook’s programs have since inspired dozens like them across the country as schools in low-income areas seek to solve the issues of crime, bullying, and poor attendance.
The Newark principal’s story is certainly a unique one, though school faculty aren’t the only ones known for lending a helping hand to struggling students. For hunter Hunter Cmelo, a 6-year-old boy from a small town in Oregon, he’d soon learn that heroes can come in all shapes and sizes.
Like most American kids, Hunter expected to ride the school bus in the mornings and afternoons, but the family lived too close to the school to qualify. Still, Hunter couldn’t walk since the roads were too busy and far too dangerous.
For most people, giving their child a quick ride to school wouldn’t be a big issue, but Hunter’s family drove an old car that was less than reliable. They couldn’t afford a new one, and unfortunately, this led to trouble in the mornings.
On top of that, Hunter’s mom suffers from osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones and makes it difficult to move around. “It causes a lot of pain,” she said, “and in the mornings, it’s especially hard for me to get going.”
One day, when the car acted up once again, Hunter grew incredibly anxious about being late. So much so that his mother wondered what was going on. A 6 year old should not be this scared of a little tardiness, right?
Despite the car issues, Hunter was dropped off less than 5 minutes late, but he would still be punished for it. Knowing what was coming, he pleaded with his teacher — but rules were rules.
Because he was late, little Hunter had to eat lunch at an empty table in the cafeteria, with a cardboard screen shielding him off from the rest of the school. Next to him was a big cup with a D written on it — D for detention.
Eventually, his mother was informed about the punishment, and she rushed to the school, shocked to see her son treated this way. “They are shaming him for something that’s not in his control. It is our fault that he is late,” Hunter’s father said.
Hunter’s grandmother, in particular, was furious about the situation and logged on to Facebook to share the story along with pictures taken by her daughter. “They made a mockery of him in front of the other students!” she wrote.
She continued: “The principal is responsible for this. His mom found him there, crying, and took him home for the day. Anyone want to help me flood this lady principal with calls telling her how inappropriate this is?”
People were quick to answer his grandmother’s call to action, defending the young boy who’d been given such a hard time by his school. Of course, they didn’t just send a few polite messages.
In fact, Lincoln Elementary School began receiving dozens of threatening phone calls, emails, and even letters. The school was left with only one option: they had to meet with Hunter’s parents and handle the situation.
“We are pleased to report the meeting was productive,” the principal stated. “Ultimately, the issues were resolved to the satisfaction of both parents and the school. We all believe that an appropriate resolution has been reached.”
While the school still gives the kids some alone time during lunch to catch up on any work they might’ve missed, those in charge agreed to stop using the screen and the detention cup so the kids don’t feel so humiliated.
It was only a matter of time before a local news station covered the story. Journalists explained that Hunter’s mom’s car and osteoporosis were the main reasons why he was often late — and the message reached a certain someone.
As it happened, a nearby car mechanic saw the news segment and thought he could help. While he couldn’t cure osteoporosis, he was skilled at fixing up broken cars…
However, the mechanic didn’t offer to repair the old Dodge Durango – instead, he organized a fundraiser to buy the family a whole new car! Soon, they were the proud owners of a Chrysler minivan.
“When I handed Hunter’s dad the key to the minivan, he was speechless and extremely grateful,” the mechanic said. Hunter and his parents couldn’t believe how far the kindness of strangers could go!
In the end, everyone was happy. The school changed its tardiness policy and Hunter no longer needed to worry about his parents’ car making him late again. But the fight for kids’ school rights wasn’t over.
Unfortunately, this was not the only occasion when a school administration created questionable policies for its students. Kids of all ages face harsh punishments, an overload of work, and, in one school’s case, migraines.
Although Beth Paulette was a stay-at-home mom, she still led a busy life thanks to her four kids. In the mornings, she would make sure they were all bathed and dressed before sending them off to the school bus.
Her two oldest sons would ride the bus to Virginia’s King & Queen Central High School where, in theory, the boys were well cared for before getting back on the bus and coming home. However, this, Beth found, was not the case.
Strangely, her son began coming home every single day complaining of bad headaches. Beth didn’t know what to do besides give him some aspirin and hope that this was only temporary.
But then her other teenage son began showing the very same symptoms. Because there was only so much aspirin in the world — and because she cared about her boys — the mother of four started getting concerned.
It couldn’t be a coincidence that every day, the migraines started right around the time the boys came home from school. She mulled over what could be causing this. Were the boys just trying to get out of doing homework? Were they properly hydrated?
Naturally, like any worried mother, Beth began watching her sons like a hawk. She triple checked they were asleep at night, reminded them to drink water, and made sure they weren’t faking the headaches. But it was becoming clear that these headaches were real.
So, figuring her sons might be overly stressed, she began to text them throughout the day, asking them for updates and how they were feeling, honing in on anything that could’ve been the trigger.
On an ordinary day, weeks after the migraines surfaced, Beth and her sons were texting back and forth during their lunch period. “How is lunch?” she asked them. They sent her a picture in response.
And Beth was absolutely horrified by the photos, seen below. There was pizza that looked like cardboard, spare ribs that had been burnt to a crisp, and several items she didn’t even recognize because the meal was in such bad shape.
The migraines suddenly made perfect sense — the boys had low blood sugar because they, like many others, found the food to be completely inedible! With food like this, who could blame them?
In fact, being that the food wasn’t really nutritious — it was carbohydrate heavy and didn’t offer a single vegetable — even those who did eat them could’ve been experiencing headaches and migraines, too.
While her sons worried they would get in trouble for skipping meals, they were relieved to learn Beth took their side. Furious with the state of the school lunch program she told her boys she would rectify the situation.
At first, Beth rallied fellow parents to change the conditions of the lunch program, but none of them wanted to make waves. So instead she turned to a “higher power” that could certainly help her make a ruckus about the mess.
With her rallying cries ignored by other parents, Beth forwarded the pictures of her sons’ lunches to WTVR CBS 6 in the hope producers and journalists would be just as appalled as she was as what schools were dishing out.
The people at CBS 6, to Beth’s relief, agreed this food was bad. Someone, the station determined, was going to answer for the unhealthy sludge being fed to the children at King & Queen High.
Investigators started flipping stones, and it turned out Beth’s kids weren’t the only ones skipping meals. One student, Precious Jackson, commented, “It looked so unappetizing, I could not bring myself to eat it at all.”
Which, of course, isn’t ideal. Aside from migraines and general hunger, skipping meals could also lead to problems with concentrating in class, as well as basic functioning. Kids don’t need any help spacing out.
With a better understanding of the food situation, it was time for investigative journalists to talk to the school superintendent, Dr. Stanley Jones, whose responsibility it was to ensure proper nutrition for the pupils!
Apparently, journalists found, Dr. Jones was already aware of several problems regarding the school’s cafeteria; the head of the school cafeteria had already been suspended after a series of complaints were filed.
However, the cafeteria head, Suzanne Gilbertson, told the news crew a different story. She said that she was not in charge at the time of her suspension. What’s more, she made it her business to tell staff previously not to serve anything they wouldn’t want to eat themselves.
It seemed the school did not only have a food problem but a miscommunication problem. Nobody wanted to take the blame. With external pressure applied and cameras rolling, though, the school would have to do something.
In the end, Dr. Jones did promise improvement. The cafeteria would no longer be serving up gruel, which would benefit not only Beth’s sons but every other student at King & Queen High School as well!