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Unfair Punishment by Teacher

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 12-year-old, a sixth grader, was "involved" in an incident at school that was very upsetting. He was standing ,trying to memorize lines from a play book ,when a classmate grabbed his kneecap. My son yelled and fell. It was a surprise and it hurt! The teacher pulled both students out and was giving them some kind of punishment when my son said, "I didn't do anything!" which got him additional punishment for "talking back". Is he supposed to shut up and take truly unfair punishment? This just doesn't seem right to me.

I realize they have a lot of kids to handle and it's hard to listen to everyone's story, but I think he was treated unfairly and I don't like the idea that "life is just unfair and he should just accept it". Should I get involved?

A: Although this incident sounds like it was handled with the all-too-typical punitive response to a child pleading his innocence, I would suggest you do not get involved. First, who is more upset by this, you or your son? If he is truly upset by this incident, he should be allowed to plead his case to a guidance counselor, principal, etc. I think the lesson learned here for your son is not that "life is just unfair and he should just accept it" but rather that this is a minor example of someone who did not want to take the time to listen to him. This is a life lesson that I'm sure he has picked up on by now if he is 12. I'm sure he has been in other situations where adults and/or kids made assumptions about something, assumptions which were wrong; this time these human errors ended up in his being wrongly "punished".

There are many more worthy "battles" than this one to expend your or your son's energy on; if this situation repeats itself, I think your son should have a plan in place, knowing whom to appeal to and how to appeal so he will have the best chance of being heard. Additionally, a 12-year-old boy risks far worse problems from peers if his "mommy fights his battles" than if he rolls with the punches.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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