Detention isn’t Effective. Here’s what is.


Ari Beckett

A Sage Creek student signs into lunch detention in Ms.Brown’s room. Detention has been used as the primary means of discipline in many schools across the country for decades.

Stephan Ellingson, Staff Reporter

The only thing a student thinks about when forced to sit in a chair and stare at a blank wall for thirty minutes to an hour is how many minutes are left until they are free from this mundane, monotonous, a seemingly cruel form of punishment; also known as detention.

Most of us at one point or another have served the age-old staple of detention in public and private schools alike. Nothing has changed; after eons of the same disciplinary methods in schools across America, primarily falling on the same ancient use of detention, it raises the question: why is it still in use?

In the past, before behavioral and cognitive neuroscience matured into the advanced areas of studies that they have become today, detention was the most reasonable form of discipline a school could offer, often removing a student from recess or a designated after school time. However, now, in the 21st century, why hasn’t anything changed? Detention in its entirety is utterly useless, archaic and needs to go.

Even with my limited experience serving detentions, I have recognized that the same patterns reveal themselves, time and time again.  A teacher writes a detention; the student serves the detention a few days later failing to remember why they are serving the detention; the problematic behavior is repeated. It’s almost a sad case of Catch-22 for both students and teachers alike. In the future, detention should be transformed into an active catalyst for change.

teachers and staff members need to take a refreshed and holistic approach to how we deal with behavior issues”

First of all, I am not proposing that detention should be eliminated in its entirety but rather revised to correct behavior or at least serve as a deterrent for future behavioral issues.

Teenage years are often characterized by raging hormones, rapid growth and changes in mood and temperament. Also during this time, a teenager ’s underdeveloped prefrontal cortex may increase or magnify the pressure felt from peers or others around them. Most people associate this idea with the term ‘peer pressure’ and it often carries a negative connotation; but, what if we were able to reverse it so it could be used in a positive way?

Instead of taking a passive approach to behavior reformation, students, teachers and staff members need to take a refreshed and holistic approach to how we deal with behavior issues. Detentions should be served in a two-step active process that encourages the student to analyze their inappropriate actions as well as serves as a real deterrent for future misbehaviors.

Ari Beckett
The sign-in-sheet for lunch detention has students reflect on why they are in detention and to get credit for serving it. Detention is the typical punishment for too many HERO entries (tardies), disrupting class or violating dress code.

The first step would be to allow students to truly reflect on their behavior; analyzing why, how and when their misconduct occurred. This can be done in a variety of ways including written assignments, open dialogue within the detention center or alternatively, as a short one-on-one session with the detention supervisor.

The second step would take advantage of the developing teen brain and its high sensitivity to peer pressure. The change would involve students actively participating in campus betterment activities such as picking up trash during recess or lunchtimes amid their peers. This, in turn, creates the perfect recipe; a pinch of humiliation coupled with a not so glamorous activity all adds together to create an effective and potent deterrent for future misconduct.

By eliminating a passive approach to discipline by eradication traditional detentions in our school systems, we will create more self-reflective members of the learning community while simultaneously doing something to better the campus and surrounding community. Sure, implementing a system of this type may require more upfront resources and planning, causing headaches for both students and staff alike, nothing ever changed when we sat around and did nothing. Behavior never really changed with detentions, and it never will until we get up out of our seats and start taking responsibility for ourselves, the school and community as a whole.