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Barbaric or Better? 10 Ways Kids Were Disciplined in the 70′s

September 30, 2011

Sometimes I stop and reflect on my childhood which is mostly full of very fond memories of growing up in the 70′s and 80′s.  We had an amazing family which spent a ton of time together playing outside, going on picnics, and all kinds of other fun activities.  Of course, being a kid I would frequently make bad decisions that would result in me actually deserving to be punished (even though I completely disagreed back in the day).  I was particularly fond of competing, fighting, and generally pestering my brother.  Well needless to say my parents had to step in and correct both of us on multiple occasions and sometimes they did it using techniques that no doubt would be considered barbaric by today’s standards.  However, as I go through this list I think it’s worth at least considering whether in some cases these truly are barbaric or possibly better and more effective ways to discipline children.

  1. Spanking – A common form of discipline that has been all but eliminated today is spanking. Now known as corporal punishment, hitting a child in any way has been outlawed in 24 countries worldwide. My parents never spared the rod to spoil the child and our biggest fear was to get the paddle instead of the hand. I have to say it was effective without leaving any visible/permanent scars. My parents actually had a favorite paddle that they hung above the doorway leading to our bedrooms.  My brother and I frequently used our dart guns to knock the paddle down so we could hide it (especially if we knew we had done something wrong).
  2. No supper – Another typical punishment that is rarely practiced today is getting sent to your room without any supper. Hunger is a powerful motivator so this was also a pretty effective form of discipline. Not only were you denied nourishment, you also were secluded from the rest of the family as they enjoyed their evening meal, TV shows, and general fun (which always seemed to be 10X better than when you were out there with them).
  3. Washing your mouth out with soap – Back in the 70’s the penalty for lying, swearing or saying a dirty word was to get your mouth washed out with soap. This form of discipline would probably be considered barbaric today (we probably would need a few more studies on the ingestion of chemicals to be sure). I must admit, this was also very effective, because you didn’t hear children cursing or telling fibs nearly as often as you do today. The taste of soap can linger in your mouth for a very long time (trust me I know).
  4. Slap hands – It used to be pretty easy for a parent to let a child know what not to touch with a quick slap to the back of their hand. Now this would also be considered corporal punishment and is frowned upon. I remember a fourth grade teacher who would use a ruler to the back of your hand for discipline and she was greatly feared by all the students. However, there were no shenanigans going on in HER classroom.
  5. Stand in the corner – A standard discipline for a misbehaving child back in the 70’s was to be sent to a corner to stand there facing the wall for a set amount of time. This has been replaced with what is now called a “time out”. I really don’t see what the difference is other than the added humiliation of facing the wall and the physical demands of standing still for a long period of time.  With that said, just try it sometime and see how long it is before you want to cop a squat.
  6. Holding a match – Parents that caught their children playing with fire or matches had a rather barbaric method of teaching them a valuable lesson. To instill in their kids the dangers of fire, they were forced to hold a lighted match until it burned their fingers. This would really smart without causing a serious burn, but parents who tried this form of punishment today would probably be arrested (I’m quite certain this is a bad idea… but it is something you will never forget).
  7. Grounded for a month – As kids get older and too big to spank, the next most effective threat of punishment was to be grounded for a whole month. Modern parents don’t usually go to that extreme any more. A day or two (a week at most) seems to be the extent of time kids get grounded these days.
  8. Nasty chores – Parents of the 70’s could find very inventive ways to instill discipline in their children by making them do really nasty chores as punishment. Scrubbing floors with a toothbrush or cleaning the toilets were common retribution for any variety of misdeeds. Of course, farm kids had much more nasty, filthy jobs forced on them than city kids.  My least favorite had to be the toothbrush to the toilet (okay, ANYTHING involving the toilets).
  9. Embarrass them – A form of psychological torture parents would inflict on their misbehaving children was to embarrass them in front of their friends. Nothing could be worse than having all your friends know that you wet your bed or were caught with girly mags. How many kids were scarred for life by this inhumane treatment?
  10. Smoking – Parents who caught their kids smoking had an interesting way of teaching them a lesson by making them smoke cigarettes until they got sick. So you think you want to smoke? Try smoking the whole pack one after the other while your parents watch you turn green. It may have been cruel, but effective, at least for a while.  Of course, it could backfire on you as well…

I’m not sure why this popped into my head but it has been an interesting trip down memory lane for me.  Several of these techniques clearly belong in the past but I’m not so sure that a few of these techniques didn’t make me a better and stronger person in the end.  There does seem to be a general lack of discipline with a lot of kids nowadays and I’m sure there are multiple reasons why that is happening.  One of which could be that we have abandoned the harsher forms of discipline, but that’s the question of the day; were they barbaric or better?


8 Responses to Barbaric or Better? 10 Ways Kids Were Disciplined in the 70′s

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Jesse K. says:

I was spanked growing up and I managed to turn into a well-adjusted adult, despite what they say about “corporal punishment”. I think the problem these days is that we’re too concerned with what other people think, so we end up censoring what we do to the extremes. A quick pop on the behind never hurt anyone.

Elizabeth says:

That just encourages and teaches kids that violence is OK! Corporal punishment should be illegal – that’s outrageous to think it’s an acceptable form of punishment!

Ray says:

Getting your mouth washed out with soap was par for the course in my house. I can tell you one thing – it may have tasted unpleasant but my brothers and I learned pretty quickly to be respectful around our parents, women/girls and other adults. What we did when it was just the guys was another story though!

Jonathon T. says:

My dad made me smoke an entire pack of cigarettes after catching me with them once. I can tell you I never touched another cigarette again, I was so sick afterwards. Barbaric? Maybe. But it served its purpose.

millie says:

just the thought of smoking an entire pack of cigarettes makes my lungs hurt!!

Edith says:

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I was forced to sit at the table throughout the night because I didn’t want to eat my vegetables and I wasn’t allowed to get up from the table until my plate was cleared. For the record – cold vegetables are way worse than hot ones, I should’ve just eaten them right away!

gemma says:

we got spanked all the time as kids, and we learned our lessons quick. i don’t know if spanking is exactly the right answer, but i do know that we’re too soft on our kids these days and that’s probably why so many of them are so disrespectful.

Dan A. says:

I feel the same way! We can’t complain about kids being so disrespectful these days if we aren’t willing to lay down the law!