Is it OK to take my kid's money as punishment for cursing?
January 10, 2013 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Was I wrong to take my son's money as punishment for cursing?

My 11-year-old son has gotten in the habit of cursing when he's really angry. It's doesn't happen often, but every once in a while he'll let fly with a word beginning with F or S, and so on. I won't stand for this. Nothing I tried stopped it- not yelling, not punishments (no computer time that day, etc.), not rewards for not cursing. I finally decided to make him pay me every time he cursed. ($3 per curse). He has a dogwalking job and has saved a nice amount of cash, so I knew he could afford it.

He wasn't happy about the new punishment system, but it seemed to be working. He hasn't been cursing nearly as much. But then last night he got angry at his brother and used the F word. I told him to pay up, and he refused. I asked him several times for the money but he wouldn't give it to me.

So I went to his drawer where he keeps his cash, and I took $3. This was right in front of him- I wouldn't take it without his knowledge, the whole point was him feeling the loss. I don't feel all that great about going into his drawer. I'm a big believer in respecting others' belongings and privacy and I have never once gone through my kids' stuff on the sly. But I felt that this time I had no choice.

Not surprisingly, my son got very angry at me for taking his money. My husband heard the commotion, and when he heard what had happened, he also got angry at me for going into our son's drawer. This REALLY upset him to the point that after he spent several minutes insisting that I return the money, I did. I didn't want to, but the whole thing was getting out of hand and I wanted to put an end to it.

My husband told my son he was wrong for cursing and since it was late, told him to go to bed. Then he and I discussed it, and he repeated that I shouldn't have taken the money from the drawer. He's not wild about my making the kid pay his hard-earned money as punishment, but it's the fact that I took it from his drawer that really made him angry. He said if I ask anyone, they'll surely agree with him. So I'm asking here- was I wrong?
posted by shelayna to Human Relations (111 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say yes, you were wrong and you shouldn't have done this.

I think the only way you can "take money" from him is by deducting the amount from an allowance you have not yet given to him. Taking money that he earned- and not even from you but from someone else- seems a lot to me like stealing. Taking it from his drawer makes it like he has no personal space and no personal effects.

No need to make a big deal about it- apologize and tell your son that it was unreasonable, but that as his parent you have to make sure he doesn't do things like curse inappropriately, and in the future you'll be doing more appropriate (but still annoying things) like grounding him or whatever.
posted by saraindc at 11:45 AM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is it about the fact that it's money, or that you went and got it?

If, as punishment, your son had to give you his Xbox or skateboard, and refused, and you confiscated it, would your husband still be angry about the confiscating part?
posted by rtha at 11:45 AM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

When I worked in consulting, we had a policy of charging a $1 fine during meetings for profanity (or, for that matter, using the word "paradigm"). This is a perfectly reasonable house rule. Your house, your rules. He's 11.

That said, you and your husband should agree on rules beforehand. If your husband isn't cool with taking the money directly out of "his" drawer (he's 11. He doesn't have a drawer. He has a room that he sleeps in that has furniture you gave him), then you will have to work out another arrangement that your husband agrees to so that you can enforce the fine-for-cursing rule.
posted by deanc at 11:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [35 favorites]

You were absolutely within your rights. I mean, maybe you could have asked your son to go into his drawer and hand the money to you, but he clearly understood the rule, broke it, and should have paid up.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [12 favorites]

So I'm asking here- was I wrong?

No, but it doesn't really matter at this juncture - you and your husband need to recover this situation with a united front. I would mutually agree that your son owes you $3 and that he will suffer an additional suspension of a privilege until he pays you of his own volition. (For every day he doesn't pay up, you may want to add one more dollar or one more suspension.)

You and your husband can later have a discussion about the limits you agree for child privacy, with the notion that this will include teen privacy in the near future. You are unlikely to have a compelling reason to go through your 8 year old's stuff but you may one day have a compelling reason to through your 15 year old's belongings, and you and your husband need to be together on that as well.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:46 AM on January 10, 2013 [22 favorites]

You skipped a step. Taking his money and putting it in the swear jar is the punishment for refusing to put money in the swear jar when he should. It is not the punishment for swearing.
posted by kindall at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

Two issues going on here:

1) You've made a swear jar for your kid, but you're the sole beneficiary. That probably seems a little unfair to the kid. Maybe keep the collection for the entire family (and show that you occasionally slip up and pay up sometimes too) and then spend it on something you can all enjoy at the end of the year.

2) You and your husband disagreeing on your parenting styles. That's a whole 'nother ball of wax that I am unqualified to comment on, but you should really work that stuff out in concert, not on your own.
posted by Think_Long at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

A "swear jar" is a fairly common thing. However, you can't just take the money. That feels wrong to me. Usually people donate it (to the school or to some other charity). It also works much better if everybody has to pay up.

I am of split opinions about taking money from your son's drawer, as well as you implementing this without talking with your husband, and him insisting that you put the money back BEFORE discussing it.
posted by ethidda at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your husband shouldn't be undermining you, regardless of whether it's a good policy (I'm neutral on it).
posted by empath at 11:47 AM on January 10, 2013 [64 favorites]

Holy cow, this is not at all about cursing, it's about a power struggle, and how you are totally not able to let your 11 year old be 11 years old instead of 3. This phase of his life is all about testing social boundaries and finding his own role in the world as an independent being rather than a child.

I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but you need to seriously tone down the control freak aspect of your parenting. Pick a penalty that is appropriate for the violation and stick with it. Don't just keep escalating. If the kid wants to pay the penalty then so be it.

To answer the question specifically, yeah you were way out of line taking his money.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:48 AM on January 10, 2013 [23 favorites]

Well, first of all, no matter what, your husband should back you up. NEVER show dissent in front of the kids.

When you're all cool headed, you should sit down as a family and decide what an appropriate punishment is for cursing.

There is such a thing as a swear jar, and it's for EVERYONE to use. Every time someone swears, a pre-determined amount of money is put in it, and then you can donate the money to a charity.

For some reason, I think $3 is mighty steep for a swear. I honestly don't think swearing is so bad. I did it, and I enjoy swearing today. I think it's more important to learn context and boundaries, than it is to eliminate such wonderful, colorful words from one's vocabulary.

How about teaching swear words in other languages? Find some really obscure languages and learn the swears. I swear pretty well in Spanish and I know some doozies in French. So if I'm provoked to swearing, I pick one from another language. (Can backfire on you in Miami.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:48 AM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

My mother would have taken the money, no question. I doubt my mother has always exemplified best parenting practices, but this wouldn't make the list of 'strange things my mother has done'. I have no idea if it's the 'right'/'correct'/'best' thing to do, but it would never occur to me that it would be so contentious.
posted by hoyland at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

This doesn't sound like an issue we can settle. Every parenting style is different, and everybody's privacy levels are different. It sounds like this is, if anything, a problem in parental consistency and partner communication: you and your partner may need to sit down and have a long discussion about how to discipline your child when he acts out in this way, and more importantly, what the boundaries of that discipline will be for both of you-- in other words, what is and is not acceptable in terms of child's privacy, enforcement, etc.

It would be good to get this stuff straight before the situation comes up again, so that you can be sure you're reacting in a consistent way to a consistent infraction of the rules by your child. It might also be good to sit him down and say, "Remember when you did X? Your father and I disagreed about what an acceptable punishment would be, but we've sat down and talked about it and we will be doing Y from now on. Please let us know if you feel that it unduly violates your privacy or if it is unfair and we will all three talk about it together."
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nope. You were in the right here. Your son not only willfully defied your rule about no cursing, but then attempted to defy the proscribed punishment. You've got to enforce your rules or they become meaningless, and this seems like a very logical way to do it.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2013 [16 favorites]

My thoughts:

1) You were wrong for going into his drawer.
2) Your husband was wrong for not backing you up.
3) Swear jars are really, really common; charging him per cuss is a legitimate parenting tactic.

Ideally, how this would have played out is as soon as he refused to pay up, take away TV for a week (or whatever it is that he likes), because he broke a rule (the rule being: you curse, you pay).

Because he's earning this money himself, it would be nice if had a way to get it back. Like, maybe he swears a lot, but if he also proves he's a good kid otherwise, he gets the money back at the end of the month.

(I'll also note that if you're doing this, you and your husband both also pay into the swear jar. You can't hold your kid to a standard that you don't keep yourself.)

Note: not a parent, don't have kids, but watched my parents flail for years with my unruly little brother because they couldn't agree to be consistent with simple house rules and punishments.
posted by phunniemee at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

My parents gave us a small allowance. I think the only reason was so they could threaten to take the money away. They never threatened money we already had, only future earnings. So it was more an incentive to be good, rather than a disincentive to be bad.
posted by sportbucket at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to weigh in on this. He needs a way to release his anger without cursing and it doesn't seem like he's been given the tools to do that. Ideally, the first time he cursed, you would have approached him with understanding and discussed why he felt so angry, what he could have done to have removed himself from the situation or to have calmed him down, what he could have said instead of the curse, etc. If he doesn't know what to do instead of letting his anger fly, he's just going to let it fly. He's learning his place in the world, this is completely developmentally appropriate, and it's your job to help him figure out alternatives.

Now, were you wrong for taking his money? I think you were, but your husband should have supported you in that moment, regardless of how he felt about it. Your son knows you don't represent a united front and will likely keep testing the bounds of parental authority to see which of you will "side" with him. Your husband ought to tell your son that although he disagreed with you, he should never have made you rescind the punishment. AND, the two of you together then need to sit your son down and discuss a more evenhanded way of dealing with his cursing. Let the kid have buy-in! Have him come up with alternatives! Let him be a part of the discussion and he'll step up.
posted by cooker girl at 11:51 AM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think that going into his drawer, at this developmental stage, was a bridge too far (but your husband should have let it slide at the time and addressed it with you later, for sure). Teens and preteens need the expectation of privacy and autonomy; while it's technically true that it's your house, your drawer, etc., that's a pretty mercenary approach.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:51 AM on January 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

Also, I might add, that if you feel you have trouble creating/maintaining consistent rules for your kids, or if you and your husband can't work out your differences on things like discipline, that is totally something family counselors are way willing to help with!
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:51 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think you are wrong in taking it, but did you ask him why he won't give you the money?

I think it should be a communal curse fund, though, like one we would have at work. A curse word would be money into the jar. Of course, we do something fun with the money in the end.

After taking the money, though, you should not have given it back. It shows that your decision can be overturned and for an 11 year old, it is possible that your word will have no weight in the future.

Also, telling him cursing is not allowed is not enough. I am sure you have said it to him, but just to reiterate, he needs to know that cursing is disrespectful, degrading and it's ungentlemanly language. The refusal to give you the said fine is disrespectful of the agreement.

Your husband should have asked your son to give you the money if he didn't want it to end up to you taking the money from your son.
posted by Yellow at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2013

Swear jars are fine. 3$/each seems high. Swear jars that only one person pays into are not fine (it's not clear if this is the case). Taking money out of his drawer is not the best thing (I assume he gets money from you for chores or an allowance or something like), but not the worst thing either.

Also, the "your son doesn't have personal property just stuff you lend him" -- this is often a way to have a problematic relationship with your children, who deserve privacy and ownership as much as any other people. I know you didn't say it, I was just responding to it.
posted by jeather at 11:53 AM on January 10, 2013 [16 favorites]

So here's where I disagree, strongly, with something:

(he's 11. He doesn't have a drawer. He has a room that he sleeps in that has furniture you gave him)

This is exactly the point. He's 11. He has nothing at all that is his own. Except a few dollars, which he earned himself, and some tentative, early control of his own privacy, contingent upon you respecting it. In one fell swoop, with one action, you took away basically everything that he has that is his.

I can tell you that when I was 11, and especially as I became 12 and 13 and 14, there was basically nothing in the world more valuable than the tiny fragments of control over my own life that I had, which included "My parents stay out of my room and knock and don't just barge in," and "I can earn money here and there and nobody decides how I spend it except me."
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:53 AM on January 10, 2013 [83 favorites]

Just so you know, taking money out of his drawer has just taught him to hide all/most of his money from you from now on.

It's a similar, in principle, to forcing a teen to break up with an undesirable partner. All you're teaching them is to hide all future partners from you, not how to pick better partners.
posted by Shouraku at 11:56 AM on January 10, 2013 [26 favorites]

I can tell you that when I was 11, and especially as I became 12 and 13 and 14, there was basically nothing in the world more valuable than the tiny fragments of control over my own life that I had, which included "My parents stay out of my room and knock and don't just barge in," and "I can earn money here and there and nobody decides how I spend it except me."

I agree with this in principle, but "swear jars" are well within the bounds of normal and pre-teens don't get the same standards of privacy older kids do. We've all had pretty weird childhoods, and taking money out of a drawer would not even raise a blip in terms of "wrong-headed-things-my-family-did."

Actually, the best thing my parents did to prevent cursing in the house was to never, ever curse in the house themselves. Cursing was something those "other" kids did which they picked up from their foul-mouthed parents and older siblings.
posted by deanc at 11:57 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far. A few things:

1. To those who said I was a control freak and that swearing isn't such a big deal: I'm really not a control freak (honest!). But the swearing really bothers me, and I think it IS a big deal. He's only 11- I want to break him of this habit before it gets worse and he starts adding curses to every sentence. I think it sounds horrible and low class and makes him look horrible and low class.

2. Yes, my husband really shouldn't have undermined me. I didn't really want to get into that here, but it is true. He told me he was sorry he did that- usually we're more of a united front on things (e.g. the kids know that if one parent says no to something, there's not much point in going to the other parent because we'll back eachother up) but he was really, really upset that I went into my son's drawer. We are planning on working out a "swearing punishment" plan- but he still thinks that what I did was wrong.

3. I like the idea of a swear jar for the whole family. That does seem more fair than my son just giving me his money.
posted by shelayna at 11:58 AM on January 10, 2013

The parents must always present a united front. Your husband, even if upset, should have said nothing in front of the kids, and later talked to you. If you both decided later to change, then you bring up to the kid that you've reconsidered, etc. Short of stopping abuse (which this isn't), the parents must always, always present a united front. I needed to say that before actually getting to your question.

A bit more on the point of united fronts, I suspect part of this blowup is because your husband doesn't like the rule (or perhaps the amount) for swearing (I'm kind of with him there; sorry). If your son had stolen money from his teacher, and refused to give it back would your husband be OK with taking the money from your son? If your son had stolen money from a smaller, handicapable child would your husband be OK with taking the money from your son? If either of these cases are true, than I think he should be as ok with you taking the money owed for a different infraction.

Given that governments can and will seize assets or increase fines if not paid promptly, I don't feel that you were in the wrong, if nothing else as a learning exercise. Further, I think that he should have had an additional consequence for making you take it. If you're doing $3 for swearing, then it's $5 if you have to take it from him. Alternately, he gets some consequence which stays in place until he pays the $3 of his own volition. I say this as someone who disagrees with the fine for swearing.

Again, I think it's a bigger issue that you and your husband have done this in front of your kid.
posted by nobeagle at 12:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find the notion that looking in his drawer or taking $3 is somehow more of a violation than any of the other possible punishments (grounding, losing TV privileges, etc) sort of puzzling. Even at 11, I might have preferred a loss of $3 to missing my favorite TV show (or whatever).

Also, fining people is pretty well accepted in society as punishment. Why is a fine for swearing not fundamentally similar to a fine for speeding?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:03 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

he was really, really upset that I went into my son's drawer

This is something you have to work out with your husband. It doesn't matter if you're right or wrong. You and your husband seem to agree both that (a) your son shouldn't curse and (b) there should be some kind of punishment/fine enforced for doing so. You disagree regarding the drawer thing, which is clearly enough of a hangup for him that he seems to have flipped out over the issue. You can agree to disagree while coming up with an alternate enforcement mechanism that doesn't offend his lizard-brain-reactions regarding personal privacy boundaries.
posted by deanc at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2013

You're getting solid advice. I'd like to re-emphasize this point:

This is exactly the point. He's 11. He has nothing at all that is his own. Except a few dollars, which he earned himself, and some tentative, early control of his own privacy, contingent upon you respecting it. In one fell swoop, with one action, you took away basically everything that he has that is his.

I believe your kid has a legitimate gripe against what happened, and I think your husband's reaction is perfectly understandable. Even if your husband supported you in front of the kid, it's perfectly valid of him to find what happened repugnant and not let that drop after the fact. It's not the only possible reaction, but it's his, and you shouldn't discount it.

I'd like to suggest that everyone involved have a private conversation with each other about what happened and what will happen in the future: you and your husband, your husband and your kid, you and your kid.

You and your husband should go first and be absolutely on board with whatever happens next.

I think you should try to understand exactly why your kid, who is generally a good kid, behaved the way he did. Come to terms with it, empathise with it, and avoid starting a pattern of ever-escalating pissing matches now, as he heads into teendom.

Of the three of you, no one is in the right. Which is fine. But don't lose sight of that for yourself, and don't let the others pretend their shit doesn't stink.
posted by jsturgill at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Forgot to add:

4. Even though I thought I was in the right for taking the money, I felt pretty low about going into my kid's personal drawer to do it. I felt...sleazy, if that makes sense, even though I thought this was an exceptional case that warranted it. I think even young kids deserve their privacy and their personal space- my kids know that I don't snoop. I only hope my son isn't worried that I'll do this again. Even though I was already feeling this way, your replies have made it even more crystal clear, and I thank you for that. I won't make the same mistake again. (Unless we're talking drugs or weapons, God forbid.)
posted by shelayna at 12:06 PM on January 10, 2013

I think you were wrong to take his money from his drawer, yes. I think even taking money that you had given him would be wrong. You're teaching him that he can't trust you to respect his agency and his boundaries. If he has no private space and no private belongings he will feel like a non-person, which is painful and frustrating at any age.

I'm not thrilled with the punishment either as it's been unilaterally imposed without any consideration or benefit or compromise for the child and without his buy-in, and especially because it is not a withdrawal of privileges but rather a confiscation of something he has earned himself. I understand the desire to regulate this behavior, but he has a trump card -- behaving badly anyway and not giving a fuck about the consequences. Hiding his money and quitting his dogwalking job out of spite. And so on. When he gets older he will be more and more able to withdraw and live his life away from the house with his peers. If he faces a controlling and punitive rule structure at home, this will be more tempting and liberating.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:07 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

It couldn't hurt to apologize to your kid then, show you're human and all that. Next time just ground him if he's disrespecting your rules.
posted by Think_Long at 12:08 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think the idea that all three of you should decide on a punishment is ludicrous. He's a child. You are his parent. You decide the punishment.

Your husband completely overreacted and undermined you; you were 100% within your rights to go and take the money when your son refused to follow the rules, and I agree with those who say that there should have been another punishment for not giving you the penalty money.

I also think the idea of the money going to a family purchase/reward is ridiculous; that is not the point of a punishment. His punishment is that he pays $3 when he does the thing he is not supposed to do; it has no meaning if he gets it back or it ends in something fun. The point is for him to learn that [insert bad behavior] is wrong and not to do it. Especially since he's only 11. (It would be a different story if we were talking about a 17-year old.)
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

I can't tell you whether it's right or wrong, but it doesn't seem to be contributing to a feeling of trust, love and camaraderie amongst your family members.
posted by Katine at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yeah something about this just made me pretty uncomfortable and sort of turned my stomach. I think everyone deserves some level of privacy and I can understand that for an 11 year old that privacy only goes so far, but I would have punished him for disobeying you and not giving you the $3 by taking away some privilege as opposed to the very dramatic going into his room and flinging open the drawer and taking it yourself.

I think you should reserve violating his privacy for extreme situations only, such as if you suspected drugs or that he was stealing or something along those lines. Bratty disobedience really doesn't rise to that level. I can say as a kid I felt extremely unnerved and violated anytime my mother starting going through me stuff.
posted by whoaali at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you want to create a "house rule" about not opening someone else's drawer, then you can do that. But that's a "house rule" just like the "$3 fine" rule. Your husband just had a different conception of what the "house rules" were than you did.

I mean, honestly, you probably go through your son's drawer ever week after you fold his laundry to put it away. It likely never occurred to you that the drawer was some kind of inviolate boundary. But your husband probably has a different relationship with your child's bureau and thought it was inappropriate for you to open.

If you and your husband agreed with what you did, then there would be no problem. It is only because you both have a disagreement that this needs to be addressed. Because you both disagree, you and your husband (and only you and your husband) need to work out the parameters of what you consider acceptable and unacceptable when enforcing punishments. This process will flesh out a bunch of other things you thought you agreed on but actually don't.
posted by deanc at 12:14 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I think the kids 11 he knew the rules. You did the right thing, he's 11 for goodness sakes, it's not like you stole his wallet from his back pocket and took the money when he wasn't looking. Your husband should have supported you, at least in front of the children.

I repeat the kid is 11, he is not scared for life, he was simply trying to push your buttons by refusing to get the money to see what you'd do and I think you did the right thing. Now if you don't like how it worked out and how that made you feel then you need to work out another punishment that you can bring in if he refuses to pay up again. Say taking away something that is yours that he uses like a computer or phone or something that makes you feel less like you invaded his privacy, and you need to get your husband on board with that.

The swearing jar for all family members someone else suggested actually sounds like a great compromise and a good way to show the whole family is anti swearing.
posted by wwax at 12:16 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think it IS a big deal. He's only 11- I want to break him of this habit before it gets worse and he starts adding curses to every sentence. I think it sounds horrible and low class and makes him look horrible and low class.

It's not a big deal, and turning it into a power struggle will only make it one. Many people are happy adults able to function in polite society who will let out a "Fuck!" when they stub their toes. Hell, I sure do, and I'm a successful writer with a graduate degree. Low class? Not really. Human, is more like it. It's one thing if he's flinging curses at people, and that's something that can be discussed, but policing every expression of anger is going to be very unproductive for both of you.

It sounds like you really lost your temper when you went into his drawer, and I think that's where the sleazy feeling came from. I think it's a good idea to go talk to your kid about that. Because it's something you and he have in common--he's losing his temper and letting out f-bombs, you're losing your temper and violating his privacy because of the underlying power struggle. Going to him and saying, "Hey, this fight felt crappy for both of us. Let's talk about it," isn't letting him "decide the punishment"--it's acknowledging that human beings sometimes lose their shit, but that problems can still be worked through and negotiated reasonably. That's a much more valuable lesson than "don't curse."

It's hard, to be eleven, to have no agency over anything in your own life, even your expressions of anger. I don't know. My husband had a disciplinarian for a step-father who demanded similar compliance about similarly small-stakes stuff. It led to simmering resentment and unhappiness throughout his adolescent years. It didn't make him a better kid, or more compliant. Just sneakier and more resentful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2013 [42 favorites]

I think that going into his drawer was a mistake. But parents are allowed to make mistakes. And so are kids.

So now you and your husband have to figure out how you manage "refuses to hand over 'swear jar' money" and what consequences you will assign to that behavior in future.

As for using obscenity and profanity being "low class" I would question that (as a descendant of Mayflower and DAR types who swears constantly) but I think it's perfectly reasonable for you and your husband to set whatever kind of usage rules and consequences for same you feel are appropriate for your home.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2013

I see nothing wrong with what you did. I think increasing the fine or adding an additional punishment for not following the house rules would have been instructive. Your husband should have been supportive. I see no problem with going into your 11-year old's drawer. He is 11. This would not have been unusual in my youth. Besides, if there was anything I didn't want my parents to find, it would have been properly hidden, not sitting in a drawer :)
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

(And all considering, a fine for swearing is a minor punishment . . . we were always threatened with having our mouths washed out with soap. It never happened, but we never tested it, especially after my uncle demonstrated it for us by sticking a bar of soap in his own mouth and we got to see his reaction to it.)
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Teaching him the lesson of "if you earn your own money it will just be taken from you later" might not be what you want to go for right now.
posted by yohko at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Teaching him the lesson of "if you earn your own money it will just be taken from you later" might not be what you want to go for right now.

I think the lesson is "there are consequences to not following the rules on acceptable behaviour." The choice to follow or not follow those rules is what leads to the consequence, therefore the loss of the money is due to his choice in behaviour.
posted by fimbulvetr at 12:29 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

As the father of an eleven year old who is really into pushing our boundaries, I am highly sympathetic to your situation and am watching this threat with interest.

A lot of people are coming down firmly on the side of the child's privacy interest. That is important, and from your post and your responses in this thread, it appears you generally respect that. For my own part, I think that under the circumstances you were well within your bounds to go into his drawer to take the money. The real problem here is not that he cursed. It's that he defied your punishment flat-out, knowing well in advance of the rule that he broke and the punishment he should expect to receive when he broke it. After he refused to hand over the $3, I imagine you felt like you were backed into a corner at that point. When you impose a punishment and the child just says "nope," what else are you to do? If you capitulate, you teach him that your rules and boundaries are meaningless.

True, its not every hill that you have to stand and die on. Sometimes we do have to be flexible and tolerant in the fact of behavior we don't like from our children. Sometimes my son will mouth off to me and I just let it go, etc. But what you have is an ongoing situation, where you have repeatedly stated what an important priority this is, where you have announced in advance what the rule is and what the punishment is for violating it. Part of being a parent is putting up with some behaviors we may not like because we acknowledge that such behaviors are an expression of the discrete individual that is our child; part of being a tween/teen is that your parents sometimes may (hopefully under very limited circumstances) go through your stuff. So for those who would suggest that by going into his drawer you've robbed him of the most precious intangible thing he enjoys, I would disagree.

Clearly, a conversation to have with your husband needs to happen along the lines of, "Okay, what do we do when we've announced a rule, stated what the punishment will be, son breaks that rule, and then refuses to accept the punishment?" That is a vexing situation when a child does that; it leads to power struggles and escalation. You often don't anticipate the defiance, you have to make decisions on the spot when you may be angry over the defiance, and any result seems to be damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't.

However, I wouldn't beat yourself up too much over taking money from the drawer.
posted by chicxulub at 12:31 PM on January 10, 2013 [17 favorites]

+1 seanmpuckett. In what ways is your behaviour benefitting your child and your family here? What's the point of having a power struggle?

I'm really not a control freak (honest!). But the swearing really bothers me

Great, so. Don't swear, and enjoy your integrity in sticking to that. It will set a nice example for your son. I swear; I had a grandmother who did not, and I found her example very impressive and it helped me a lot in determining in which contexts I would and would not swear.

If you want to teach him to behave well, model good behaviour instead of...I don't know. Do you want him losing his cool and snatching stuff out of people's drawers? Probably not.

In re. the mild class paranoia expressed here,

"It’s the C1s, the lower middle class, who most strongly preserve the norms of good language. C1′s are the Hyacinth Buckets of the British class system and they have a reputation of being the class most concerned with social appearances." via (AFAIK that class analysis of cursing holds in N America as well)

It is the over-reaction to swearing, and engaging in power struggles (with a kid old enough to be earning money, even!), that I think most snobs would identify as 'lower class.' Authoritarian (vs authoritative) parenting is associated with parents in lower socioeonomic classes, authoritative more correlated with middle and upper. If somebody is committing a status faux pas here, it is not the kid. "Lower and working class respondents seem to value obedience more than upper and middle class respondents." (via)
posted by kmennie at 12:34 PM on January 10, 2013 [27 favorites]

I think you were totally fine, I think the fact that your son swore, then refused his punishment that he previously knew was the deal, totally warrants a (tiny) privacy violation. I mean, it's his fault you went in there, he could have went to the drawer and got the money, which is the deal.

I think your husband was super out of line, to a) get mad at you for enforcing an agreed upon rule (especially in front of the kid) and b) the make you rescind your punishment. you're a parent, you don't have to be punished for making a mistake. I'd be very surprised if that kid doesn't just refuse to pay you every time now, knowing you can't go get the money.

also, people are saying overreaction to swearing, but I disagree with that. it's your values, I would have been in WAY more trouble than $3 of trouble for swearing at home with my parents. and they were/are great parents. I think their problem with swearing was much more about respecting them than anything else, and I still agree with that. there's people you can swear with/at, and there's people you can't. I think learning where those lines fall is actually really important, nothing I hate more than introducing my new boyfriend to my parents have having him drop an f-bomb at dinner.
posted by euphoria066 at 12:37 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Growing up, the general sense in my family was that "my own money" was sort of a sacrosanct quality. Anything one bought with one's own money was off limits to anyone else. Like, my parents could take away something as punishment if they gave it to me, or what have you, but something I'd bought with money earned independent of them, they could not touch. This was never something spoken out loud, it was just there, as a principle, and we all lived by it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the families of the kids I grew up with had similar values.

I don't live inside your son's head so I don't know for certain but my guess is that he reacted the way he did because:

1. You took money from him that he did not believe was yours to take (especially because three bucks is a significant amount of money when you're eleven), and
2. Ultimately he has no choice but to let you take it.

Now, I realize that someone out there is probably getting ready to point out that actually you can take it if you want, you're totally within your rights, you're a parent, et cetera. All of this is true, but doesn't change how your kid feels. To him, this is an incredibly unfair situation.

Going into his drawer: was it wrong? Well, I mean, you're within your rights to do it, but I think it's not such a great idea, and it sends the wrong message in a lot of ways. He's eleven. Very shortly, he's going to start having Hormones, and then privacy and agency will be even more important to him. This is another good reason to rethink the swear jar: If you want to allow him boundaries and privacy and things that are just his (which you absolutely should), then it's not really enforceable since he can put his money someplace you shouldn't be looking (unless, of course, you have reason to suspect drugs or weapons or any of that).

I don't know. Consider an escalation of punishment if he doesn't pay up, or what have you. Ground him. Whatever.

Also consider that, as an eleven-year-old boy, the chances are really good that he's got a mouth like a sailor when you're not around.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:38 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

all I can contribute that hasn't already been said is that I make a point of not springing new rules out of nowhere on my kid.

Personally, a swear jar (that yeah, now applies to everyone, which is much more fair and isn't consistency what we all shoot for with our kids?) isn't out of line, and as you mentioned, you've found it's the only thing that even somewhat works.

But now he's found a new way to misbehave - by refusing to comply with the consequences that he already knew about. So now you need a consequence for THAT, so that he knows and understands that it'll apply if he ever does that again.

Despite all the responses telling you that you're wrong for caring about cussing, you're not. I don't think it's an overreaction at all. I'd let my son swear if I knew he could judge the circumstances when it was all right and when he had to control himself; he can't, so he's not allowed to swear at all. It's a perfectly valid opinion and it doesn't harm your child to hold him to the standards of behavior that you believe are acceptable.
posted by lemniskate at 12:40 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

No one can you give an objective "right or wrong" here, but I can tell you the people saying "he's 11" or you are within your "rights" are missing the point. You want to raise him effectively, not, I hope, prove that you can assert your dominance over an adolescent.

The most important factor here is that you devised a punishment without your husband on board, and then a second escalation of that punishment without your husband even knowing beforehand.

Yeah, it's important to show a united front, but where your husband is coming from makes a lot of sense. "Mom doesn't like swearing" is not half as important as developing your son's work ethic (that, of course, is a subjective judgment). And I think you should really get out of the habit of going into the drawer of a boy entering puberty.

Contrary to the statement above, the kid probably was not trying to push your buttons. Eleven year olds have fairly poor impulse control, and he's probably caught up in being too embarassed and defiant to say "I got too excited and didn't mean to swear in a situation where you could hear me" becuase it undermines his sense of being an adult and his stance that you taking his money is a "red line". It's actually him who choose to die on a hill that he's not all that certain about.
posted by spaltavian at 12:41 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Well, there's kind of a wrong-off here. The most wrong is your husband. No matter what happens, united front. He can always talk to you privately so you can fight it out and hopefully you'll go back and apologize to the kid and say you were frustrated, and wrong.

Second wrong here is you for doing it, but it seems like you know that, so we all live and learn.

Third wrong though is that the punishment wasn't super-unfair, and the kid was disrespectful by refusing to go along with it. Maybe three dollars is too much. Maybe punishment by money for a kid isn't appropriate. But still, a flat 'no' isn't acceptable.

It kind of seems like you have let your frustrations about the whole thing get the better of you. Sometimes that happens. To be honest, I think you might foist this one off on your husband and get him figure it, along with your son.

I think that's what I would do. I think that's what Mr. Llama would do. You could also do a whole family meeting 'let's figure this out together' thing but unless everyone can proceed very dispassionately it's just going to raise the stakes and drama and it seems like it would be nice to turn the dial down on that.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:41 PM on January 10, 2013

You were NOT WRONG. You are his parent. He is 11. He has no right to withhold the penalty. You and your husband need to get on the same page. If this kid does not respect your authority then who's is he going to respect.

While that being said I think an 11 year old has a right to some privacy, and maybe that is in his top dresser drawer, but he has to EARN the right, and maintain it. Cussing and confronting you about it loses him tons of points.
posted by Gungho at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

FWIW, your reaction to swearing is not the same as mine, but it's within the range of reasonable parental reactions. And, again, taking money out of an 11-year-old's drawer probably isn't what I'd do, but, again, it's within the range of reasonable parental discipline.


It seems like you yourself aren't comfortable with it. So, here's a possible approach that you might be more comfortable with it:

All money your son gets paid for dogwalking goes to YOU, not him. You hold onto it for (say) one week. If there is swearing during the week, you deduct it and put it in the swear jar.

At the end of the week, you give him the money that is left over, and from that point on, it's his. You don't take it no matter what.

Another possible wrinkle: any swearing fines you collect from him, you hold on to. When he can go (say) one month with NO swearing at all, you give him back all the money. That way, he feels the sting of missing it, but he doesn't feel like you're stealing it, and it's entirely within his control to get it back.
posted by yankeefog at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]

When I worked in consulting, we had a policy of charging a $1 fine during meetings for profanity (or, for that matter, using the word "paradigm"). This is a perfectly reasonable house rule. Your house, your rules. He's 11.

When you worked in consulting, you could walk out.

If your boss had walked into your house and taken $50 bucks out of your underwear drawer, you'd understand the situation a bit better.

If your son had stolen money from his teacher, and refused to give it back would your husband be OK with taking the money from your son? If your son had stolen money from a smaller, handicapable child would your husband be OK with taking the money from your son? If either of these cases are true, than I think he should be as ok with you taking the money owed for a different infraction.

If my uncle had tits, he'd be my aunt. The cartoon situation you've constructed is completely different from what actually happened, and you're trying to oversimplify. The kid engaged in what he thinks is a victimless crime and loses his privacy and the money he worked for.

I only hope my son isn't worried that I'll do this again.

Well, right now he knows he can't trust you. At least, when it comes to this aspect of his privacy.

He wasn't happy about the new punishment system, but it seemed to be working. He hasn't been cursing nearly as much. But then last night he got angry at his brother and used the F word.

I think you need to teach him how to handle his anger (1,2) in a mindful way. And, separate from this, address cursing.

I think it sounds horrible and low class and makes him look horrible and low class.

It might be more effective to make him think about it, emphasizing empathy and self-control: "What do other people think of you when you speak like that? And what do adults think about other adults when they speak like that?" Along with "Count to 10 before cursing."

I asked him several times for the money but he wouldn't give it to me.
So I went to his drawer where he keeps his cash, and I took $3.

You should probably figure out a cooling-off routine for yourself before you say something or do something as punishment. Like count to 20 in your head.

So for those who would suggest that by going into his drawer you've robbed him of the most precious intangible thing he enjoys, I would disagree.

Part of the response is that this sort of dynamic could go really bad when the kid's a bit older, and that most respondents are imagining loss of privacy in their teenage years.

If shelayna had said: "You've got 10 minutes to put $3 in the swear jar. If you don't, and I have take it, I'll take $4", and then gone to a meaningful quiet, the kid would have responded differently. (And he and mom would have a chance to catch their breath. ) Just getting up and raiding the drawer is different from a more measured approach.

Grounding him or similar if he curses without counting to 10 would probably work better.

You were NOT WRONG. You are his parent. He is 11.
Parents can be wrong.

I think the bad part is that she handled it really clumsily, by storming up and raiding the drawer, when she should have cooled off before speaking and doing.

Yankeefog's 1-month swearing time-out sounds good. It's a much different dynamic, but will make him think about self-control.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:50 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

I just wanted to chime in to say, as a parent, it is totally your call whether or not to decide if swearing is against the rules or not, and I think it is out of line for commenters here to question that.

Secondly, if your son is the only one who is swearing inappropriately, it seems perfectly fine to have a swear jar only for him. If the rest of your family needs to cut down their swearing, then sure it should be family-wide, but if no one else swears, it seems a bit condescending to pretend it is a "family" swear jar.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Teaching him the lesson of "if you earn your own money it will just be taken from you later" might not be what you want to go for right now.

This is what bugs me - if you take money the kid has already earned, you give the impression that nothing the kid has is secure, even if he acquired it totally by his own efforts. Why save, for example, if you might have a moment of doing something stupid and your parents take your savings away? (And I'd argue that the ability to save is ultimately way more important than the matter of swearing.)

"I got too excited and didn't mean to swear in a situation where you could hear me"

You know, one of the problems when I was growing up was that an apology was never enough. If I did something small, basically harmless but against the rules in the heat of the moment (and when you're a kid it's easy to do that) I could not say, as an adult could, "Oh, I got very angry and said something I should not have. I apologize and I will do better in the future." No, it was Consequences all the way down.

This taught me to lie - both to myself and to others. I have only recently been able to teach myself that the best solution to a social problem is not to massage the truth or obscure part of what happened but just to explain what went down and apologize or make a demand as needed. Seriously, this has been a huge deal to me.

It also taught me that everything was a Big Deal, and that all offenses are Intentional Serious Moral Matters - when really, a lot of things aren't a big deal and under many circumstances, swearing in the heat of the moment is absolutely unintentional and trivial.

And of course, adults are entitled to offer a sincere apology and move on - but not kids.

Now obviously, if your kid is playing the system and "apologizing" when he doesn't really mean it, or if he was swearing at his little brother, that's another story, but if he just got over-excited and used a curse word, why not just stop everything, ask him to apologize in polite terms and move on?
posted by Frowner at 12:54 PM on January 10, 2013 [39 favorites]

Also, if he told his little brother "f**k you" and is punished for swearing, does that mean that it would have been better if he'd said "I hate you, you ruin everything"? Honestly, virtually all of the most hurtful things my brother and I said to each other involved no cursing, since my family really doesn't curse. If you're punishing for cruelty and hateful speech, that's one thing; it seems like it's entangled with cussing here, though.
posted by Frowner at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

The person who should apologize is your husband - publicly to you and your son together for taking a stand against you in front of your son. Then he should tell your son that refusing to comply with a household rule or a direction from a parent will never be acceptable in your house, and that the two of you will talk privately and decide what the punishment will be for defying parental authority in the future. You'll also decide together what appropriate punishment should be for swearing, and you'll let him know when you've made a decision.

Then privately, I'd lobby hard to keep the $3 "ticket" for swearing in order to show that the two of you have decided to stick together, with a higher fee for refusing to comply and forcing a parent to enforce a "lien" on his money.

Then when you explain your decisions to your son, I'd relate the financial penalties to what can happen to him (and each of you) in real life. Also give him an acceptable way to "appeal" a rule he believes to be unfair. You can still turn this into a positive life lesson.
posted by summerstorm at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

I only hope my son isn't worried that I'll do this again.

Well, right now he knows he can't trust you. At least, when it comes to this aspect of his privacy.

I just want to add, even though I really don't think you should go into his drawer: don't worry too much about this. He's almost a teenager; he's not going to trust you for the next ten years. You didn't do massive damage to your relationship.
posted by spaltavian at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Did you give him the choice between getting it himself and getting yourself? Like, "Sorry, kid, but you swore and the consequence is paying $3. You can either get it yourself or I will go and get it. We can talk about the fairness of the consequence later, but this is how it is right now." Alternatively, what sebastienbailard suggested (10 minutes to put in $3, otherwise $4 and I'll get it myself). Or, on preview, a de-escalation like what Frowner suggested.

His problem seems to be impulse control under stress, since he both knew about the consequence but was unable (this time) to prevent himself.

Regarding the united-front thing, that's a tough question. Yes, it's important that your son doesn't feel like he can split you two and have you work against each other. However, it's also important that you be responsible for your emotional responses/situation yourself, acknowledge your agency in the matter (losing your temper), and allow your husband (who sounds like he was removed from the situation) be able to call you out of actions he doesn't consider 'right'.

This also depends on how the $3 fine was negotiated - if you imposed it singularly, with your husband, or all together.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:00 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

if you take money the kid has already earned, you give the impression that nothing the kid has is secure, even if he acquired it totally by his own efforts

I don't know if you've ever dealt with the traffic police, but they're in the business of taking away my earned money from me all the time when I disobey the rules. This doesn't teach me that my money can just be taken from me at any time. Rather, this teaches me that they're really not kidding about the fact that not even a portion of my car can jut into the "bus stop zone" when I'm parked on the street.
posted by deanc at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [22 favorites]

Generally, I think the whole idea of punishing children is counter-productive (except in very rare cases, like once a year, or at the most, every six months, if something really, really stupid is done). Most of the annoying things children do, they do because they don't know better. An eleven-year-old may think that swearing sounds cool (or whatever it's called now), and won't be able to see the wider consequences. So this is your opportunity to discuss those wider consequences. It might end in a fight - when my kids were younger, it sometimes did. But today, when they are 19 and 14, they will be the ones telling me about values, in a good way.
Please don't misunderstand me: I don't punish, but I certainly express my opinion and feelings. Once, when a relative praised me in front of my children for being "gentle", the kids laughed out loud and told the relative they were/are well-mannered because no one wants to get me angry, ever. I have zero-tolerance politics for a number of behaviors, but the kids see it as me expressing my personal opinion, rather than some legal scheme. A family is not a state, and maybe it is a good thing for kids to learn that some aspects of life are about interpersonal relations rather than rules.
Swearing is bad. If you swear a lot, a lot of people won't take you seriously. I spent hours talking with my kids about this, because I have experienced my parents and uncles and aunts speaking a sort of jargon which was fashionable in their day, but is totally ridiculous in a larger context. Not swearing, just stupid, and it means they are all out of work and out of money.
Speak like a grown-up, get treated like a grown-up. In my experience, this approach has worked re. swearing.

This is my personal opinion and method. I can't say I am perfect or doing the right thing. Like all other parents, for me parenting is one long experiment. Like all parents, I make grave mistakes. But I will say my kids are consistently praised for their great manners and ethics, while not at all for their academic skills or respect for authorities (sigh)...
posted by mumimor at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [19 favorites]

Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor may be helpful, positive reinforcement works better than punishments.
posted by Lanark at 1:01 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's a tough situation because you've set a rule that's entirely dependant on him being willing to comply with the rule. What if he finds a hiding place for his money? What if he quits dog walking because he'd rather do something else with his time? You can't make him give you his money if he's really hellbent on refusing you so then you're forced to either step back, which is not a smart parenting rule or invade his privacy, which also isn't a very smart parenting idea. So at the end of it, I think your current system is flawed and that you need a new way to monitoring/punishing the swearing that doesn't involve him handing over something that is his and wasn't provided to him by you. That's not the best system because it's much easier for you as a parent to withhold something than it is for you to get him to give you something that he already has.

Also, and not that I have a problem with your no swearing rule, but when I was eleven I swore at the drop of a bucket. Literally every other word out of my mouth was a swear word when my parents weren't around. I was afraid of them. But during recess, hanging out with friends, swear city. Now, fifteen years later, I don't really swear unless I've just hurt myself. Sometimes, for younger tweens and teens, swearing is exciting because they are new. I grew out of it. He could easily grow out of it too.
posted by GilvearSt at 1:03 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

If I were in your shoes I would sit down with my son and my husband and ask "How could we have done that differently? What were each of us feeling, and how could each of us have made our point in a different way?" Because each of you was frustrated about something, and each of you handled it in a way that made things worse. This would be a conversation where everyone's feelings are valid, and no one is told that they are wrong to feel the way they do about something. Give your son back his $3 and start over.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:03 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You were wrong to go into the drawer, and you're wrong to fine him money that he earns outside the house. What message does it send if his parents can take things from him? What's the point in working and saving money if your parents treat your money as their money?

My parents were very strict. I'been ve grounded in unusual - and possibly cruel - ways, had to do extra chores as penance, and gotten yelled at more than was probably healthy. But my money was off-limits. My parents wanted to teach me the value of working and earning money.

I don't know if you've ever dealt with the traffic police, but they're in the business of taking away my earned money from me all the time when I disobey the rules. This doesn't teach me that my money can just be taken from me at any time. Rather, this teaches me that they're really not kidding about the fact that not even a portion of my car can jut into the "bus stop zone" when I'm parked on the street.

I don't think parenting should reflect over-zealous traffic enforcement, but that's just me. Mom and Dad should be trusted and respected, not feared.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a former boundary-pushing child, I think yankeefog has the best idea here, if you can actually enforce that you hold the money for a week. Best of all is the incentive to REALLY be on his best behavior, in that there is a mechanism for him to get the money back (if he doesn't swear for a month, he gets accumulated money back).
posted by permiechickie at 1:05 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I grew up with a family swear jar ($1/damn, $0.25/dang, ~30 years ago). When I refused payment, my mother did essentially what you did, except she took my entire piggy bank, and grounded me on top of that. This was memorable, but not traumatic.

Actions have consequences. If there's a rule with a $3 fine, and you break the rule, you should expect to pay $3. If you don't, you should expect your day to get worse. This lesson carries forward to bank and government policies as an adult. Simply complaining that you don't want to pay has little positive effect.
posted by grudgebgon at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

Obviously you're allowed to make whatever rules you want. But if you're asking if this is an excessive punishment, my answer is that it absolutely is. And as someone who substitute teaches for 11-year-olds, let me assure you that the most you can expect to gain here is to teach him not to swear in front of you.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

As a former boundary-pushing child, I think yankeefog has the best idea here, if you can actually enforce that you hold the money for a week.

How would this even work? If you expect the son to hand over all of his money upon coming home, wouldn't that just end up right back at the current problem - he's not handing over the three dollar fine when he's broken a household rule, so why would he hand over his entire earnings without even having done anything? And if instead the parents reach out to his customers and tell them they need to pay them rather than the son ... that seems unnecessarily mortifying for the son, and I would guess it would come off as weird or controlling to his customers/neighbors, too. I wasn't at all a rebellious kid, but if my parents had tried to enforce a system like that I'd sooner have stopped babysitting and petsitting altogether.

I'm in the "it was wrong of you to take your son's money out of his drawer" camp, although I also agree with the people who are saying that it was just as wrong for your husband to undermine you in front of your kid - so in answer to your original question, I guess I really don't agree with either of you. Of all the suggestions presented here so far, I like sebastienbailard's the best - anything that gave everybody ten or so minutes to step back and hopefully cool down here sounds really wise.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:23 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think this depends on how it was implemented.

When I was visiting family after my first year of college, my cousin, who was nine at the time, dropped something heavy on his foot --- can't remember what it was exactly --- and he let the f-bomb and the d-bomb (if you believe "damn" is a curse word anyway) fly a few times.

His mother and father let the profanity slide because their view was that if they had done the same to themselves, they'd have probably said some of the same words as well. There are times and places for profanity, believe it or not, and I think kids need to be guided as to how properly to express their feelings.

So your son gets angry, he expresses his anger with profanity. You punish him by taking his money, which he earned, and which at 11 he could see as punishing him for, well, being angry. I don't think this is the lesson you want to teach. I think there are other constructive ways to teach someone how to express anger without punishing them for their current form of expression (so long as that current form isn't actually harming anyone).
posted by zizzle at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Father of two here.

You did not cross the line. If you had secretly taken the money, I would have a problem. But, you did it in plain sight in front of his face. This is how this works in real life too, by the way. Don't pay your vehicle registration? You're on borrowed time until your car's impounded. Don't pay your taxes? Some nice men will pay you a visit.

There is no choosing not to accept a punishment. You had an established rule that carried a fine. He refuses to pay the fine? If he will not pay, then you will take. There is no such thing as choosing a course of action and then choosing the consequences; when you choose to act, you have chosen the consequences. In this case, he chose to lose $3 because he chose to swear. In the face of his open defiance, I don't know what your critics would have had you do that doesn't ultimately result in you taking the $3 or imposing a harsher punishment.

At some point, he's probably going to lose his cash flow. It might be better to withhold other privileges such as use of video game systems.

I think the larger issue is your husband's undermining you, as others have remarked. Your son will now attempt to exploit this crack in the armor. As summerstorm said, your husband should acknowledge his fault in front of both of you so there will be no confusion.

A number of people have retorted that he will still swear outside of your presence. That is true and absolutely irrelevant. The rule at issue here was not to swear in your house and he broke that rule. Who cares what he says at school?

This is what bugs me - if you take money the kid has already earned, you give the impression that nothing the kid has is secure, even if he acquired it totally by his own efforts.

This is reality. When one gets a traffic ticket or is assessed a fine, there is no rule that is can only be paid from future income. When one defaults on a car payment, crying "is nothing I have secure?" will not stop the repo men as they drive away in their tow truck.
posted by Tanizaki at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2013 [15 favorites]

I don't know if it answered the question, but kmennie's post about swearing, social class, and punishment was brilliant. Maybe better to stop thinking for a minute about "was what I did right or wrong?" and look a little bit beneath the surface.
posted by DMelanogaster at 1:26 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rules are only effective if they are known, enforced, and agreed upon by all parties involved. You taking money from your son's dresser drawer by force was not an agreed upon rule -- had it been one, it would have been more effective.

As it stands, I think a few things need to happen:

1. You and your husband must present a united front when it comes to discipline, boundaries, and punishments.

2. You apologize to your son for springing an unexpected harsh punishment on him, but stand by your no-tolerance rules about defiance and swearing and revisit the rules as a family so everyone knows what the rules are and what the consequences will be for boundary pushers.

I also think you should evaluate whether or not you're really correct about swearing being low class and consider if that's really a mentality to pass on to your children. You have every right to say, "Swearing is not acceptable in my household". But your reasoning behind it is, IMO, flawed and damaging beyond what you think it to be. Everybody in every social class swears. It is not a marker of social worth. It's just a matter of manners. Don't bring your kid up to look down on other people for the way that they speak.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:27 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

You should read How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk. mumimor's comment is really good, and I agree with the comments that this comes off more as power-tripping and wanting to be obeyed than a good way to teach whatever it is you're trying to convey. I think in your shoes, having set the punishment, you either had to escalate the punishment (can't do X until you pay the fine) or take the money, and that it'd be easier if he'd have played along, but he didn't, and that's kind of the whole problem with this system, that it relies on submission or escalating enforcement rather than talking about preferences, values, others' feelings, consequences in the world, and so on. Obviously, he's outside of your enforcement zone about 8 hours a day now, and 24 hours a day beginning about 2500 days from now, so insisting something occur and enforcing it physically is not a long term solution. I'm not a parent, so I'm sure that this is probably a million times harder than it seems from where I sit, and I have respect for you asking the question and thinking this through.
posted by salvia at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

And, honestly, I don't think your husband was out of line to disagree with you in front of your son on this.

Your punishment was most definitely over the top. Your husband let his son know that he didn't appreciate how this was handled. I think that is perfectly acceptable.

United fronts are often good things, but if you are in fact wrong about something, it is so totally more than fine for your husband to say that in front of your son. And in this case, you were in fact, very wrong. Standing up for your kid is definitely something parents should do --- even when standing up for a kid is standing against the other parent.

I hadn't read your updates before posting my first comment, and I think this would have been an important part of my initial comment.
posted by zizzle at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is one of those shitty parenting moments that escalated out of everyone's control. You had an established system of punishment and when the kid refused to pay up that was unexpected and you reacted in the heat of the moment and then your husband got ridiculously heated up and made the HUGE MISTAKE of undermining you and getting upset himself and then it got even more crazy when you returned the money. I feel for you.

I think you should all sit down and be plain about what happened -- after you and your husband get on the same page. I do not think the 11-year-old should be guaranteed much beyond a modicum of privacy. And right now he thinks that he has the moral high ground due to how your husband acted. Your kid does not get the moral high ground in my opinion.

I also think $3 is super steep for an 11-year-old but maybe you all are operating on a different cash flow basis than I was. I mean, when I worked as a professional dogwalker, I think I got $12/hour. If I was 11, I can imagine doing it for $1.50 but who knows? I think you should sit down as a family, discuss in plain language just what your problem is with swearing and all agree on the principles of the swear jar. How much? What happens to it in the future? Can you earn it back? And you can note that not paying in to the swear jar is not an option -- it'll be taken out of future earnings or there will be an alternate punishment.

I think a good conversation to have with your husband and then your kid is about privacy. I think my parents had a sort of policy where they respected our privacy as long as we were behaving in a trustworthy manner. Our privacy was not sacrosanct above all else. They had no interest in going through our things or taking things away from us but that they would if they felt they needed to. You can tell your son that you felt he was being so disrespectful that you had to go in and make a point. However, you would rather not ever do that so now you all need to come to an understanding as a family.
posted by amanda at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yeah something about this just made me pretty uncomfortable and sort of turned my stomach. SNIP but I would have punished him for disobeying you and not giving you the $3 by taking away some privilege as opposed to the very dramatic going into his room and flinging open the drawer and taking it yourself.

Once again You were NOT WRONG. Your child needs to learn there are consequences to certain actions. Let's escalate this a few years and say he loses a judgement in small claims court and then he refuses to pay...How will he feel when the Constable comes and just takes his stuff to pay off the penalty? Shit happens when you don't follow the rules. Oops, I think I owe you $3.00.
posted by Gungho at 1:38 PM on January 10, 2013

Swearing was not a hill my (ex) wife and I were willing to fight for. Having been a floor trader, my vocabulary was "Fuck that shit" type. I was pretty good about stopping it at home, but I slip up too. We just felt there were worse things than cursing. However, we did differentiate between cursing in general, stubbing your tow and screaming "oh shit!" and calling someone a "shithead". With the former, we would admonish them not to curse, but that would be it. Referring to someone or cursing at someone was a punishable offense. You treat your peers, family, teachers, etc with respect.

We did not use a monetary penalty, but we did occasionally implement a denial of privileges. My kids are now teens and I would be a rich man if I took $3 from them for every curse. But, they really do not curse at each other or anyone else. More like, "That test sucked. It was a piece of shit. I can't believe she asked about neutrons when that was from last semester." Monetary penalties with my kids would not work. They are just not built that way. One of mine would probably have $6 ready and say here is $3 for the curse and another because you are treating me like a fucking baby.

As a parent you are the legislative body, the police and the judge and jury. Enforcing the collection of a valid debt under your system is within your parental norms. I would not have done it. I would have told him he owed it to me and that either there was a way he could earn it back (extra chores) or next time you had the ability to deduct it you would.

I think you were ok to take it with his knowledge, I think you and your husband need to get on the same page and I think you need to find a way for him to earn it back with proper behavior.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

Even in a house with strong respect for personal privacy, it's okay for a parent to go into a kid's personal space in an emergency - if you think he might have a weapon or that level of emergency. This situation wasn't an emergency.

But in the moment, to you, it felt like an emergency. Why? Maybe it felt like, "if he's going to defy me on this, and he gets away with it, I'll lose my ability to enforce rules with him overall"?

Escalating threats in that situation doesn't work, though. It shows the kid you are rattled and not in control. This is like chasing a misbehaving toddler around -- it's a game that the kid is in control of. (I sympathize and it's a situation that's not easy.) You and your husband need a unified game plan for this kind of general situation - kid defies a parental decree after breaking a rule, how do you respond?

(I agree with the suggestion above to talk to your kid honestly about what just happened - I lost my temper, let's talk about what we should do if we get really upset.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:00 PM on January 10, 2013

Mod note: Folks maybe let's leave the class speculations and stick to answering the questions or asking for more information? Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:08 PM on January 10, 2013

You're the parent, he's the kid, you were within your bounds to enforce a rule he knew and refused to comply with. That you did it in front of him, in my opinion, made it even more fair to go to his bank drawer. That might lead to him hiding his money elsewhere, though.

Your husband has a right to disagree, but it shouldn't be in front of the kiddo. Talk it over afterward.

So long as the rules are applied universally, there's nothing wrong with what happened. In the future, if he refuses to pay, then perhaps offer him an alternative punishment to choose from which would equate to the same impact as the $3.
posted by Atreides at 2:09 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forgive me, I didn't read all 80 replies so far, so if what I say has been said, I apologize.
I really think you have a bigger problem on your hands than this disagreement with your husband. For an 11 year old to be THAT incredibly defiant is cause for concern - especially if you have tried many other ways of disciplining him. Today it is cursing, tomorrow, who knows? I think there might be another issue here.

Aside from that,
- I agree that your husband should NOT have undermined you in front of your child. I get why he was upset, but he should not have done that. But if your husband didn't like it, HE should have stepped up with his own offerings for discipline. Apparently your son listened to your husband when your husband sent your son to bed. If your son knows he can divide and conquer - he will.
- cuss jars are great, a family one is a good idea, maybe give the money to charity?
- 11 years old is when boys start clipping pics of pretty girls and need a place for their private stuff, so yeah, I think if there was a piggy bank on the dresser and you took the money from there, he might not be as upset as you going IN to a drawer.

Remember that this family upheaval is your child's fault - not yours - he disobeyed you and then refused your request for his established punishment. If he had not cursed, he wouldn't have owed the money and if he had just paid it when he had the chance - he wouldn't have had his privacy violated. Your husband needs to see that this is ultimately your son's fault, not yours and step up on the discipline. Your son needs to see the consequences for his actions, and his defiant behavior just makes things worse. He is causing family trouble because he can't follow the rules of the household. If this is something you and your husband can't handle, then hopefully you can find someone who can - better to get help at 11 than 16.

I hope everything works out for all of you.
posted by NoraCharles at 2:17 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lets say that you institute a Swear Jar. What have you taught your son? Not to swear? Doubtful. All you've taught him is not to swear around you, and also to hide his money.

The route my father took, which was extremely effective, was to model the behaviour he wanted me to learn and show his disapproval when I or anyone else misbehaved.

To this day, he has a visible look when his girlfriend casually swears. The same look I used to get as a child. Not the mean kind, just enough to show that he is unimpressed with that kind of language, regardless of who uses it. Sort of an "eww, really? Did you really need say that? There isn't any nicer a word you could have used?" glare.

That was what taught me when not to swear, not his previous attempts at punishment which only worked when he caught me.

Do I swear today? Yes, but I do so consciously and with context; when I feel that F*ck or Sh*t is the correct word for the situation. I'm sure he wouldn’t be happy about that, but I'm a far cry from a drunken sailor.
posted by Shouraku at 2:18 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Uh- My parents did pretty much did exactly this- but with other things.

I don't really understand why "if you don't hand it over, i am going to have to take it" is such a giant faux pas in some people's eyes.

My parents also didn't allow swearing because cusing words are default words when we are too angry or too lazy to properly express ourselves- and they were right. learning where and when it is ok to let the F-bomb fly is goddamned useful skill.
posted by Blisterlips at 2:31 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd like to add a few points:

- Pay attention to the posts about social class (Frowner and kmennie). It's really important. I grew up in an authoritarian environment and it has been a huge handicap in navigating elite universities, the upper middle class, etc. I am accustomed to dealing with blunt authority, but had to learn as an adult, how to negotiate with power, state my point of view to authority, etc. MOST OF LIFE IS NOT DEALING WITH THE DMV OR THE STATE. A family is not a state. Most jobs do not involve state authority. Most relationships are not with the state. MOST RELATIONSHIPS ARE NEGOTIATED AND DO NOT INVOLVE LAWS OR PUNISHMENTS. Learning to understand why a rule exists, how to handle power, how to advocate for yourself -- as well as how to handle anger -- is much more important to a successful life than not swearing. Do you want to teach him to obey authority or to handle his anger and learn social cues?

- You mentioned that his conduct was "horrible". Really? Horrible? Mass murder is horrible. Children being tortured to death is horrible. Swearing is NOT horrible. It's a small issue that he will likely outgrow. What matters is your relationship with him.

As for what to do now... I'd say that you should have a long conversation with your son about privacy, rules, authority, swearing, and everything else involved.

At 11, he can probably start to understand the reasons you think swearing is not helpful -- how it is a sign of disrespect, a bad habit, considered rude by many people, can be a crutch not to learn more descriptive words, etc., can give people the wrong impression -- and that you are trying to teach him that.

He can also understand how you felt kind of icky about going into his drawer, but you still wanted to teach him this lesson so much that you did it anyway. That you are sorry, that you understand how it hurt his sense of autonomy.

That you and your husband have different feelings on this but that you are open to admitting if you made a mistake. That you want to have a certain kind of household, where people respect each other with language and deed, and you want his help with that.

There's a lot to say, and it will deepen your relationship to say it.

Good luck! We know that you're doing a hard job.
posted by 3491again at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2013 [24 favorites]

Shouraku nailed it. Is it worse to violate your child's boundaries as retaliation for not submitting to you than it is to power-struggle with him in the first place? Probably, but if you're going down the road of modeling compulsion and punishment rather than self-mastery, it's probably not going to make much of a difference how the punishment gets inflicted.
posted by facetious at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2013

Charge $3 per swear, and then give him back $1 for every day he doesn't swear.

Figure out a strategy with your spouse, stick to it.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:40 PM on January 10, 2013

We did the same thing, at the rate of $1 a cuss word. The dollar was paid by the cusser to the person who caught him cussing. We expanded it to insults as well. However, it worked both ways: If I caught my son cussing, he gave me a dollar. BUT if HE caught ME cussing, I GAVE HIM a dollar. Making it work both ways made it much more equitable.
posted by Doohickie at 2:41 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think your husband has muddied the waters here in a big way and owes you an apology for undermining you. It is bad for everyone (not just you) if your son thinks that he can get your husband to override you.

With regard to the drawer: I think you would feel better if you had given your kid the heads up. If you'd said "you go bring me that $3 or it's going to be $4 if I have to go get it myself" you probably wouldn't be feeling so bad now, am I right?

I also think the reason that it doesn't feel right to you to have gone into his drawer, is that you enforced the rule in a way that relied on you having physical access to his money, i.e. a situation he could have prevented by being secretive. If he'd hid it under a floorboard, you would have been powerless to grab it. This, I think, is the problem - you feel like maybe you've encouraged him to be secretive? It would have been different if you'd docked allowance, since that's a cash flow you control. But this escalated to a situation that was about ability to physically enforce the penalty rather than him respecting the penalty. Kind of like hitting a kid because you can because they're small.

What's done is done and it isn't that big a deal (except for your husband's undermining -- you guys need to get on the same page - it sounds like he may not be on it with regard to your swearing rules.) Then you can apologize to your kid for grabbing the money, explain that the point of the rule is not for you to get money, but for him to respect the rules about swearing; and move on. I don't think you should return the money though, that's a weird mixed message.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:44 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lets say that you institute a Swear Jar. What have you taught your son? Not to swear? Doubtful. All you've taught him is not to swear around you,

This is a very strange objection. People get sent home from school all the time for not abiding by the dresscode. The fact that they may not dress in accord with dresscode norms while not at school isn't remotely considered a problem.

For those that don't understand why teaching these lessons is important on the part of the parents, I have a coworker whom I find extremely difficult to deal with, socially. I'm not going to "lay down the rules" or "ding" him or punish him. Instead, I'm actually going to slowly pull away from him, not include him in conversations during meetings, and choose people other than him the next time I form a team for an upcoming project.

The point being that if you don't teach children appropriate norms of behavior now, they're not going to have them explicitly taught to them by anyone else (other than teachers, possibly). This is your big opportunity to teach the child social skills/how to appropriately deal with anger, etc. Paying $3 for cursing in the house is a LOT less severe than the punishments meted out for cursing in the classroom or failing to understand social norms in the workplace.
posted by deanc at 2:47 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I understand the importance of a parenting "united front," but remember, children have individual relationships with their parents. My dad stuck up for me when my mom was being horrible to me, and thanks to him, we have a good relationship now.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:48 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think your husband was really out of line in making that power play in front of your son and showing your son (and you) that you are powerless in making or enforcing family rules. Regardless of what solution you decide later (about the problem about the swearing and defiance) your husband needs to immediately empower you and let your son know you are boss when a situation is happening to you (ie, your son is misbehaving when your husband is not around).

So in my opinion your husband needs to immediately enforce, and communicate very clearly to your son, that the punishment of $3 a swear stands and that not immediately handing over the money means mom WILL go in the drawer for the money and he WILL have additional punishment for defying mom. Your husband will not undermine you again when your son goes to him, he should actually probably impose even more punishment for your son trying that move. And make sure to follow up on this at least once. After you and your husband have discussed the punishment for defiance/swearing, IF you decide to lessen the pusnishment you need to be the one letting him know, and your husband needs to communicate that he thinks mom is being "soft" and that he thinks the punishment should still stand. In short, your husband has to be the heavy, or bad cop to your good cop, because he undermined you in this situation.

Personally I see nothing wrong with a swear jar (although I have never used one with my children nor had one growing up). Defiance like you describe - in an ELEVEN year old! - is simply not acceptable and that your husband thinks defying you is okay, and supports your son being so disrespectful to you is rather concerning. An eleven year old is too your to treat like a young adult and reason with like you will when he is older. It is still a reasonable age to make and enforce rules and expect compliance. I am a little confused as it sounds like this issue that has clearly be troubling you, to the point of yelling, other punishments and rewards for not swearing did not register with your husband, seems to have sample tell missed your husband's attention. His suggestions for alternatives would have probably been welcome before now; he can't come charging in like a white knight to solve the problem he has been ignoring for so long.

A session with a parenting co-ordinator would probably be really helpful in getting some different tools in your toolbox, and well as getting your husband back on board as a team player, would be really helpful.
posted by saucysault at 2:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

I applaud you for not letting your kid get away with that kind of blatant defiance. I would not back down from this, as you are his mother and are in charge, end of story. Your husband needs to learn that if he's going to step in, he needs to take responsibility for some real parenting and not just giving an opinion. Anyone can provide and opinion, but it takes real love to enforce and to teach kids how to behave. It's super hard work and your husband's actions are undermining your good intentions. Your husband needs to pay up too! Good luck, kids are aggravating but worth it. Your son will one day thank you being so tough on him.
posted by waving at 3:03 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Folks, seriously, less psychonanlysis and more answering the question. OP is not anonymous, feel free to MeMail them with off-topic responses to this.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:20 PM on January 10, 2013

The whole thing about punishing is incomprehensible to me. You tell your kids to stop when
a) they are about to do something dangerous that may hurt them or others,
b) they are making a racket, a mess or anything else that compromises the living-together-contract or is disturbing for individuals nearby (like in a restaurant or at the beach...),
c) they are about to engage in something illegal.

Everything else ought to be derived from these basic principles. This is where you pick your battles. And since all these things are, in fact, real concerns, you will guaranteed be able to make your voice heard.

The core of all this is that you take, as a parent, responsibility for telling the kids to be safe and sound, and (as per point b), that you speak up for your own right for peace and order in your living environment. If your son swears so it disturbs you, send him out of the room. The message is: 'I can't care less whether your head is full of Swear, but I refuse to have to hear it. It compromises my day, and I have a right to that day.' Full stop.

If you fear that his swearing will upset other people outside your reach, tell him what you think and leave it at that. You should also be a good example; it doesn't change things overnight but it could have a positive medium-term effect. But punishing him is downright silly.

Why your husband didn't support you - to answer your question - yes, you solidly did cross a line. This goes into ethics, as opposed to techniques (which I am addressing here above), and so I find his reaction, although regretful from your point of view, and not strategically sound in a parents-against-kids-dynamic, nevertheless understandable.

What you ought to do is to apologize to both, and to openly announce a new strategy. Tell your son that you're through with fighting and punishing him for his f and s and whatever -words, but that you would prefer not to hear him use them when you're around, for your own sake, and that you'd be grateful if he would remove himself if he feels the urge. You can, then, enforce that.
posted by Namlit at 3:21 PM on January 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

FWIW when our family is in this situation, we have a meeting. We all agree on what the rule will be (in regards to swearing, in this case), we agree what the consequence will be, and we agree what will happen if someone refuses to accept the consequence (so if you agree that everyone will pay $1 whenever they swear, then someone swears & doesn't pay the $1--what happens then?).

We agree on all that, and we put it down in writing. Sometimes the discussion is pretty intense, and sometimes we have to adjourn and think about it for a day or two. But eventually we come to an agreement, we put it writing, we all sign it. We post it somewhere everyone can see it.

And then (and here is the trick!) we follow it. It really helps to have it written down.
posted by flug at 3:22 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Leaving aside the issues of whether $3 per swear is too harsh or whether or not its OK to take money he earned from a job, not from you because your house, your kid, your rules.

He knew swearing was against the rules, he knew the penalty for for swearing was $3.

He tested a boundary by refusing to comply - you were fortunate that he chose something that you could non-violently force him to comply with by taking the money yourself. What if he had refused to do his homework or go to school?
Privacy is important but it is a privilege. A 30s loss of privacy for disobeying a parent is not an overly harsh punishment. What would your husband have preferred you to do? Negotiate? 11 is too young for that kind of "power". Rules are to be obeyed, that is non-negotiable.
You put yourself in a bad position by devising a punishment that required his co-operation but under the circumstances I think you did the best thing you could do (until you got into a fight with your husband in front of him and gave the money back). It was wrong of your husband to undermine you and fight with you in front of your son. You should not have given the money back.

How often does he swear? Punishment can be over-used. If the punishment is no longer feared it loses its power as a deterrent. If it becomes common, the kid gets used to it and even though they may still dislike or fear it, it loses its power. An over-punished child can also become depressed and then he wont care if you take away his x-box or phone because the bad behaviour probably gives him more pleasure than those 'privileges'.

Is he an otherwise well behaved child? If this swearing issue is the only problem he has then the defiance may be because of the harshness of the penalty. How much dog-walking does he have to do to earn that $3? 11 is too young to have a say in the rules and punishments but its not too young for a sense of 'fairness' and justice. If he's generally a good kid, (rather than a kid who is frequently disobedient) he will likely respond better to punishments that are more proportionate to the crime and to how his peers are treated. Do his friends swear in-front of their parents, unpunished? If so you may be fighting a losing battle.

On the issue of taking money he earned from his job - sooner or later he's going to figure out that if he doesn't have the job anymore, you can't take the money away, what are you going to do then? If you want to punish him for swearing you need to come up with a better punishment, one he cant refuse to comply with and can't negate (eg by giving up his job)

FWIW I also agree with you that an 11 yr old shouldn't be swearing in front of adults. I'm 30 and I still don't swear in front of my parents! Not because I was punished (I think I was spoken to harshly for saying prat when I was a kid and I've bitten my tongue ever since) and not because I think they will punish or chastise me now but I guess I still care what they think of me.
posted by missmagenta at 3:24 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

How about instead of money - which is a weird, loaded thing - you take privileges away?

No TV for two days for swearing?
No TV for a week?

I remember I was once banned from listening to music for a week. That sucked, because I was a moody kid who liked to sit in my room and listen to The Smiths. I had a lot of time to sit in my room and think about the fact that I'd acted like a total jerk. In silence.

Extra chores?
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:50 PM on January 10, 2013

4. Even though I thought I was in the right for taking the money, I felt pretty low about going into my kid's personal drawer to do it.

I think you felt like you had to address the conflict (that he wouldn't pay), and taking the money was the best enforcement you could come up with when put on the spot. I think the kid is now old enough that you probably no-longer need to make the response immediate for it to be effective - in the future, you could give yourself the option of taking some time to devise the best response, by saying for example "You know the fine was $3, you chose to break the rule, and if you refuse to pay what you owe, there will be consequences", and dropping it for the moment, giving both of you a chance to cool down and you a chance to figure out your next step, perhaps bringing your husband in on it if he might have ideas or support.

You're probably going to hit more challenges to your authority as he grows, where you won't be ready with a good response but know you have to do something. Maybe it would help to give yourself permission to not escalate on the spot, to give yourself time to think up some options.
posted by anonymisc at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

all you've taught him is not to swear around you

A few people have mentioned this as if it were somehow invalid or unworthy, but I think "knowing where you can swear and where not to" is more reasonable than a goal of never swearing anywhere no matter what.

In the immortal words of Peter and Lou Berryman:

We sit down to have a chat
It's f-word this and f-word that
I can't control how you young people talk to one another
But I don't want to hear you use that f-word with your mother

posted by Daily Alice at 6:31 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

I think your husband is the Most Wrong here. Yes, it probably would have been better for you to take the time to calm down, but ultimately if your son wouldn't pay up of his own volition then I don't see many options to enforce the punishment other than by taking the money yourself.

If this had happened in my house growing up, there would certainly have been an additional punishment worse than... well, the enforcement of the original punishment, for the disobedience. Swearing in the heat of the moment is not necessarily deliberate disobedience, but refusing to comply is. (Although I strongly agree with the poster above who says that, especially for infractions like swearing, a sincere apology should also be acceptable in lieu.)

But your husband should not have undermined you. I don't know that parents always have to have a united front, but I think cases of enforcing regular, everyday boundaries are when it is most needed.

Your husband is teaching your son a terrible immediate lesson - that he can go to Dad when dealing with Mom isn't working out for him. Your husband is teaching your son a terrible life lesson - that complaining about the punishment is enough to make it not apply. That you can dismiss a punishment based on perceived injustice. Sure, authority is not always in the right. But it is going to be much worse for your son when he refuses to pay his traffic fines because "the cop had it out for me" or "they're just revenue-raising", and suddenly finds himself with a court date.
posted by lwb at 9:01 PM on January 10, 2013

Don't behave in ways you don't want your children to copy to them.

You've just taught your son it's OK to take things without the other person's permission, just because you are mad at them.

This was the WRONG MESSAGE.

It's not the message you meant to send! I know!

Figure something else out.
posted by jbenben at 11:02 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you may have felt especially bad about raiding his drawer because a) that form of punishment hadn't been previously established, b) you acted in the heat of the moment, and c) you effectively garnished his wages. Comparing this to a traffic ticket isn't quite right, an adult can still choose not to pay a ticket. There will be worse consequences, but wage garnishment tends to be associated with total deadbeat losers.

Re: heat of moment, not previously discussed: "Your father and I will discuss an appropriate punishment. We will tell you tonight/tomorrow what your punishment will be." Alternatively, "Your father and I will discuss this with you later." Eleven is old enough to understand (slightly) delayed consequences.

Re: United front: yes, usually. Except, it sure would have been nice if my mom had stuck up for me, even once, in front of me when my dad was saying/doing monstrous things. Would have been much healthier for me to know that he was screwing up being a parent, rather than believing that I was irredeemably worthless and broken. If you're not constantly screwing with your kid though, then yes - husband should have expressed his dismay to you in private.

I really like the notion of giving him a chance to earn that money back. Then instead of a raid on his burgeoning personhood, it's a withheld privilege (the autonomy of doing what he wants with his money when he wants).
posted by tllaya at 12:30 AM on January 11, 2013

He has a dogwalking job and has saved a nice amount of cash, so I knew he could afford it.

I'm with those who think you should let him have his little bit of autonomy and privacy, and I think you should encourage his efforts to make and save money. It's great that he's doing this.

Do you give him an allowance at all? Take money from that; don't take it out of money he's earned and undermine his initiative.
posted by BibiRose at 8:13 AM on January 11, 2013

You've just taught your son it's OK to take things without the other person's permission, just because you are mad at them.

I do not believe that is the lesson that was taught. The lesson that was taught was that if you break a rule that has a known penalty and then defy the enforcing authority, you are going to have a bad day. When I am at the courthouse, I often pass by people who have failed to learn this lesson or have disregarded it. They wear orange clothes that say "DOC" on the back.
posted by Tanizaki at 8:14 AM on January 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

You want to model appropriate behavior, which includes maintaining boundaries and keeping your cool during moments of crisis. You annihilated his boundaries out of anger, and you used your power/strength to take something away from him. So, yeah, I can see why it's not sitting right with you.

When I was 9, I started going to an inner city magnet school, where my job was to be a punching bag for racists. Lots of street talk and posturing, and I started to adopt the persona. Mom started to get a little bent about my behavior; one big thing was using "man" as conversational filler. I can still hear my mom say, "I'm not a man," but the problem was, at the time, I hadn't fully gotten code-switching down pat, and I needed to retain that particular linguistic convention so as to maybe not get my ass beat on a regular basis at school. Result: I stopped speaking as candidly to my mom, because when I did start telling her about things in my life, I'd invariably slip up, out would come the "man", and as soon as I heard it come out my mouth I'd wince, and BAM there would come the downslap. The only way I could avoid that particular bit of unpleasantness was to speak very little in front of her, and never really get into what was going on in my life. And our relationship went into the shitter for many years and never really recovered.

He didn't get in trouble for swearing, he got in trouble for swearing in front of you. As mentioned upthread, all this did was show him that he has no safe haven and nothing to really call his own, and that you were stronger than him.

The lesson that was taught was that if you break a rule that has a known penalty and then defy the enforcing authority, you are going to have a bad day. When I am at the courthouse, I often pass by people who have failed to learn this lesson or have disregarded it. They wear orange clothes that say "DOC" on the back.

... and to finish that analogy, now the parent is acting as punitive agent instead of rehabilitory assistant, and the child learns to place less trust in the parent. Is that where you want to be?
posted by disconnect at 10:22 AM on January 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

shelayna, I just want to point out that with this post, we're seeing one tiny slice of one tiny part of your family's life. That's all we have to look at, and God knows MeFi as a whole can over-contemplate a plate of beans - and indeed, regularly does.

So despite our communal interest in divining meaning from the nuance of this incident with your son, I'm pretty sure neither you nor your husband has Ruined Your Child Forever or Instilled an Unbreakable Lesson. I'm also pretty sure that when your son is 30, he isn't going be on a shrink's couch saying "It was all perfect. And then, when I was 11..."

You are raising an evolving being. You are all going to make mistakes. Don't let this thread bog you down into thinking the mis-steps are tragedies. They are not.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:20 AM on January 11, 2013 [8 favorites]

now the parent is acting as punitive agent instead of rehabilitory assistant, and the child learns to place less trust in the parent. Is that where you want to be?

Whole law school classes get taught on this topic, but the short answer is that this is a false dichotomy because punishment can be (and often is) both therapeutic and retributive. Does anyone think that sending Bernie Madoff to prison was more about teaching him not to commit securities fraud than it was because he deserved it?

In either event, it does not change the fact that defying authority has consequences. That is the lesson that was taught. The son knows that his mother has authority over him, but he won't have authority over someone who he is mad at when he "takes their stuff". "Authority" doesn't just mean the government, by the way. It can be any person or entity who has legitimate power over you such as teachers, employers, parents (of minor children), and the like.
posted by Tanizaki at 11:40 AM on January 11, 2013

You should see this incident as a wake up call.

Honestly, it matters less whether you or your husband is in the right. I think Tomorrowful is absolutely correct on the importance of some sense of ownership and privacy for a young person. For sure if you continue to invade his privacy you are almost guaranteed the sort of rebellious behavior you are hoping to quell.

The real problem appears to be that you and your husband have not had a thorough discussion of what each of you considers to be appropriate behavior for your son and, in turn, appropriate punishment for wrong doing.

He is 11 years old. A little cursing is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sort of things that are coming down the line in the next few years. I think you need to go to your husband, and apologize for acting unilaterally in this case but then emphasize that it's important that you both present a "unified front" to your child. You need to have that discussion about behavior and punishment, and ideally codify it.

I would include your son, too. In my house we had these things called "family meetings" where we would go into in-depth conversations about mutual expectations, feelings, and processes. I think it was profoundly helpful. I'm not sure if these were 100% responsible or if some of it was my own disposition, but for better or worse I never ended up going through the phase I saw in most of my classmates, where they hated or resented their parents, or felt it was okay to hide big-deal issues from them. There was almost never a time I felt that I couldn't be completely honest with them.

You could have a meeting where you let your son know that you really aren't cool with swearing, and most importantly why you aren't cool with swearing, and come up, with him, a fair punishment, deterrent, or reward system to deal with it (I think almost every behaviorist says that rewards are generally more effective). Discuss the issue of privacy, of what it means to be growing up to an adult, of how your relationships will evolve as all of you get older.

Family meetings aren't always easy. There was often a lot of frustration, crying, a tiny amount of yelling. Depending on the issue, one or more people might be upset. But at the end of it, we understood that we were in it together.

One thing that's important for family meetings: writing it all down. Have someone appointed as the note taker. They write down everything -- what each parent says they were feeling, what the kid says, what the agreed upon rules are, any comments or discussion points that are raised. If something comes up that is tangential or unrelated but important to one of the family members, it gets written down as an important issue, and you can either address it during that meeting or plan a later meeting to talk about it. Either way, make sure everything is down on paper so in the next meeting you can refer back to it. These notes should be available to all family members.

When we were very young we'd have a meeting whenever something big came up, and generally also have one every other week or so for "maintenance" purposes. The regular meetings faded out at around 11 or so, but by then I feel like a strong foundation had already been laid. Since you're just starting out, I'd recommend starting at out at least once month, ideally twice. Make sure to emphasize that these meetings aren't about him and his behavior, they're about the family and the family's behavior.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:45 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're absolutely wrong, because you're fostering the wrong behavior in your child. You think you're teaching your son not to swear. However, what you're actually teaching him is that there's no point in trying to earn money through hard work, since it'll just get taken away from him anyway.

I would be willing to bet that if you keep doing this, your son will eventually either quit his jobs, or start hiding his money from you. After all, you can't take what he doesn't have, right? Your parenting style needs significant improvement - you have to start thinking through the long-term consequences of what you are teaching your children. Taking away money from your child's allowance is OK; taking away money that he earned himself sends entirely the wrong message.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:57 AM on January 15, 2013

All the commenters who can tell exactly what lessons a child is or isn't learning from a couple paragraph description of one side of the events must have amazing careers in Child Development. You cannot accurately predict what lessons a child will take from any given experience. One child grows up in poverty and learns to spend every dollar they get as soon as they get it. Another child learns to scrimp and save.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:10 PM on January 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

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