A couple of days ago, while trying to convince myself to go ahead and go running despite the cold, I flipped through television channels and happened upon an episode of The Waltons. I had never really watched that show, but remember when I was younger that my mom liked it and it was often viewed in the house. The only thing I really remembered about the show was the now famous ending where they all say "Good-night" as the lights turn out. From watching this show I realized they had electric lights, and therefore were standing in their doorways talking to each other so as to turn off the light switch and jump into bed before the forgot the exact layout of the room. At least that’s the way I go to bed.
On this particular episode, Mary Ellen is caught smoking in the shed with one of their distant relatives that has come through to stay with them. John Boy finds them at first, and tells Mary Ellen he wishes she would use her head. When John Boy runs into his mother who is heading for the shed, he tries to interfere and offers to get the potatoes for her. She insists on going herself, and gives John Boy another task to do.
Mom then goes into the shed, and is startled to find Mary Ellen and cousin smoking. It is at this point that we learn why John Boy would try to run interference for Mary Ellen. It is because of the terrible, horrible punishment she is about to receive. Even I would have protected my brother and sister had I known this punishment was coming:
Mary Ellen, you go upstairs and learn ten verses of the Bible. And if there’s any backtalk it will be fifteen!
I’m not sure how I feel about using the Bible and Church as punishment. I’ve known several parents who do use it that way. I’ve actually seen it both ways: as a punishment for those who don’t like it and as a privilege to take away from those who do. In either case, I don’t think we’re teaching the lessons we want to teach.
The biggest problem comes from the association of the punishment. For many, many years as a kid I refused to wear a belt and told myself that I would never own one when I grew up. This stemmed directly from the negative encounters I had with such a piece of clothing. In my case, I learned the value of the tool as I grew up and can calm all your fears by telling you that I do, indeed, wear a belt today.
I can’t guarantee the same transition will occur with the child who associates the negative side of punishment with the Bible and/or Church. Do kids that have to go to Bible class because they were back-talking that week develop a negative association that says, "When I grow up, I’m never going to church!"
What are your thoughts?