Bart Simpson, Addicted to Punishments

It happens to so many kids

I watched a recent episode of The Simpsons (Postcards from the Wedge, Season 21 episode 14 — spoilers follow) where Marge and Homer decide to let Bart do whatever he wants because otherwise he’s going to drive them crazy with stress. Bart then gets frustrated with his new freedom and talks about it with the bully, Nelson, who tells him that he’s got to up the ante, to do something really awful to get their attention. Bart takes this advice, then writes a note, pretending to be Lisa, telling on himself so that he would get in trouble.

The specific things Bart did to get in trouble were definitely outlandish, but the core idea behind the episode I believe is quite real and relevant. Kids can very easily become addicted to punishments and discipline. They don’t necessarily enjoy it (though many do), but they can come to a point where they feel more at home while being punished than they do anywhere else. They can become addicted to the lifestyle, which is something I think many parents overlook because they believe that only pleasurable things can become addictive. In these situations, parents and teachers often simply try to increase the dosage of punishments, which can halt the young person’s behavior temporarily, but ultimately drives them further into the lifestyle of punishment addiction.

We can see this in adults as well with the phenomenon of “stupid” criminals, the guys who go out and commit crimes without a plan and without seeming to care whether or not they get busted. It could be that many of these criminals became addicted to punishments when they were children. They’re not actually “stupid” for letting themselves get caught, they are merely addicted to the lifestyle of being repeatedly caught and punished.

Perhaps this has to do with an avoidance of guilt, or the satisfying of guilt. Without that punishment, they must feel guilty for the things they’ve done, and they get on a psychological pattern early in life that allows them to believe that everything’s even again as long as they’ve endured their allotted punishment. This is why I feel that over-use of discipline and punishments is one of the most dangerous things you can do to your children.

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