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As kids, we learned discipline from our parents. Later in life, we apply principles of discipline to our personal and professional lives.
A common thread of sensibility and consistency runs through each of my following true stories about discipline. Practical solutions encourage the application of proven principles to solve today’s behavior problems.
At home during 1945
“If you two don’t settle down out there, I’m coming with the belt!” Dad shouted at us through the open window from his and Mom’s bedroom.
He meant it. But my little brother and I were having too much fun bouncing on the spring beds in the outdoor sleeping porch next to our house to quit.
It was a warm Sunday afternoon, and we were not in the mood to sleep. Dad just wanted a little time with Mom.
We stuffed Little Golden Books into our pants to protect us from a licking that was sure to come and continued bouncing and yelling.
We heard him coming, his belt making that slapping sound as it was drawn through the belt loops of his trousers.
The square shapes of the books were obvious in our pants. He gave them one lick and then the back of our legs another. It stung. He returned to the house where we heard him and Mom laughing about it.
We quit bouncing. Sniffling, we went to sleep. It was not our first licking with his belt and not the last.
As we grew older, they became less necessary as we learned to mind the first time he spoke and thus avoid the unpleasant consequences.
Curbstone justice in 1967
One quiet Saturday afternoon, the dispatcher assigned me to “meet the complainants” in the parking lot in front of the police station.
A man and a woman stood beside their cars with their arms crossed—a clear sign they were mad. The windshields had been hit by something like a stone that had caused star-shaped cracks.
The man said he saw two kids in the bushes along the underpass as his windshield was hit. I asked them to go inside and have a soda on me, that I would be back soon.
I circled around the nearby underpass, parked my police car and approached the bushes. As a yellow car approached, two kids’ heads popped up. The older one held an air rifle. He shot, and the sound of a BB striking the windshield came as both kids laughed.
By then, I was right behind them. I growled, “What are you doing?”
They turned to see my uniform, police helmet, dark glasses and badge. The 14-year-old dropped the rifle, and the 10-year-old wet his pants.
When we arrived at the station, the yellow car was already there. I escorted the boys into the juvenile detention room, called their parents and met the complainants at the front desk.
The parents and the complainants desired to settle the damage as a civil matter. The boys had not been in any trouble before.
I escorted the older boy to the front desk with his Red Ryder BB Gun. His dad, a cement contractor with legendary strength, reached over the counter and hauled his son across it. I handed the rifle to him.
We watched them exit as the Dad swatted him with the rifle’s stock, breaking it in two. The boy let out a yelp and got into his Dad’s work truck.
The younger boy’s mother had been crying the entire time. He began to cry too as they headed out the door. She was telling him, ”Just wait until your father gets home.”
We never heard about these boys being in any more trouble.
My daughter and son
When I caught my teenage daughter smoking, I put her on daily report. It is an effective technique my boss, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, taught me.
When one of his headquarters agents got out of line, Hoover required them to account in writing for every 15 minutes of the workday.
A month of that was enough for her.
My kids hated it. But if it was good enough for an FBI agent, it was good enough for them. A week of detailed accounting for every 30 minutes revealed a lot about them we did not know. The completed report form had to be in my hands during that evening. I verified the information. When they lied, they got additional days of punishment with a loss of privileges.
At age 15, my son was caught with a cooler full of beer as he was on the street near a big ongoing party. That was on top of getting caught by his mom with black clothes and greasepaint under his bed.
He and his buddies were sneaking around late at night after everyone had gone to bed.
The following week, we enrolled him into the Missouri Military Academy for the last two years of high school. A life of marching, uniforms, no girls, no phone, no TV and supervised study had a positive impact on his behavior. It was the best money we ever spent. It saved him and us.
After several months, he got a weekend leave. During our first dinner at home, I knew we had a winner when he remained standing to seat his mother. He sat up straight, looked us in the eye, and his table manners were impeccable. He was finally maturing. It was wonderful.
His sister entered the U.S. Air Force and he the U.S. Marine Corps.
After that, they both became deputies on the same sheriff’s department. Occasionally, they rode together. We are proud of them.
Public versus private schools
Since I was in public high school, major security issues have emerged. A policeman on campus was rare in my day. Now, armed school resource officers are required to maintain peace and order and to protect teachers and students. Ineffective discipline is the culprit.
Private schools like the Missouri Military Academy have strict behavior and dress codes.
You sense this immediately when visiting the school. Quiet classrooms, attentive polite students, professionally attired teachers, a lack of litter and gang graffiti on the lockers—all are indicators of effective discipline and workplace policies in place.
A minority of mean little snots is setting the pervasive tone of fear and crime in our public schools. That must not be allowed to continue.
Some people don’t support school uniforms and disciplinary measures. They are still busy rebelling against their own parents.
Spanking is not enough.
Misbehavior continues well into adulthood for many, even the cops.
Unwanted behavior is best modified with the presence of a worthy mentor rendering disciplinary measures. It requires far more than just paddling and walking away.
The behavior must be continually monitored with consistent oversight and corrective actions. For kids, it is Mom and Dad working in concert. For adults, it is a good spouse or worthy mentor. For the cops it is internal affairs with the chief or sheriff. God Almighty is next in line.
Our public schools cannot do it alone!
John Heidtke has served in municipal, county, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies since 1963.