A Parent's Concern: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

09/13/2011 06:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 13, 2011

One evening a few years ago, I received a frantic phone call from a friend. She was sitting in her driveway guarding her son's video gaming systems. They were on the front curb next to the family's trash cans.

"Please come get them!" she begged me. It seemed her husband was so upset with her son's grades that he put all of the kid's consoles and games out with the trash. "This is too much money to throw away," my friend cried. "There's over $2,000 in stuff here. I'd rather your kids have them."

I told her I would come and store them for her until her husband calmed down or her son left home -- whichever came first. I had no intention of giving them to my kids; they probably already had much of the same gear. Besides, it would have been more stuff I would have to take away as punishment for my own children.

Early on, my husband and I figured out that taking away computer access and gaming equipment was a much more effective punishment than anything else we could come up with. What were we going to do? Tell them... "You can't go outside after-school for a week!" This would not be a big deal for the kids of their generation, however when I was growing up this would have been a real punishment, along with the occasional 'whippings' we got. (It was a different time, and while I don't remember getting spanked, I know my brother sure did.)

My husband and I don't spank our kids, and keeping them from going outside would not be a punishment, so we were glad they had an attachment to all things technical. They joked that the only reason we gave them video games was to have something to take away. This is true. When my son was younger, his Nintendo 64 spent more time underneath our bed than in his room.

With my daughter, I always feel like I am on punishment with her. You see, we enjoy watching and discussing certain TV shows that I wouldn't admit to my friends that I watch! I hate it when we've enjoyed a reality show together for many weeks and the finale is coming up and she's on punishment. Why do kids always act up at the wrong time?

I know my parents didn't worry too much about when or where they punished us and what it meant for family plans. They just did what they had to do to teach the lesson. This isn't always easy for me.

During his sophomore year in high school, my brilliant son started slacking off. My husband and I sat him down in his room to have a talk with him. I remember our son saying, "Sure, I could get straight As if I wanted to... but I've got to have a life!" This didn't sit well with my husband who told him, "We can take care of that." I scrambled to come up with an appropriate punishment because I know dad's can go nuclear; like putting all the gaming equipment out with the trash. I saw the look on my husband's face, which told me he was rethinking our policy against using physical violence on the boy.

It seems our son was staying up until the wee hours of the morning (right before it was time to get ready for school) playing those multi-player PC games and chatting online with friends. He caught up with his sleep during class time.

As my husband stood up and got ready to 'take him out,' I quickly came up with a solution. "Let's throw him out of here!" I suggested. "Throw him out of the house?" his dad responded with a smile on his face. "No, of course not!" I said (thank goodness for moms). "We're throwing him out of his room."

At this point, the kid simply had too much technical equipment for us to disassemble and put under our bed. So we moved him to the guest room. No computer, TV, iPod, or video games. We even confiscated his cell phone when he got home from school. He was not allowed in his room period. We brought his clothes to his new digs, and homework was done on the dining room table.

This lasted a couple of months and, I admit, I felt sorry for him. It seemed to me he slept a lot during that period. I know he read a lot also.

The other day, my son, who's now a senior in college majoring in Computer Science (what else?) spoke to a group of students at his former middle school. He said he was honest with them about the perils of slacking off in high school.

"Tell me," I said, "how did you feel when we took your room away?" I expected him to say, "Mom, that was a complete waste of time. It accomplished nothing and it was a terrible thing to do to a kid."

Instead he said, "Mom, if you guys hadn't of done that I probably would've failed all of my classes that semester."

Wow! So many times parenthood seems like a crap shoot and the goal is to not mess up our kids too much. Still, there is something to be said for tough love. (Again... I think my parents knew this.)

All I'm saying is -- his little sister... who gets away with far too much... is in trouble now!