Sunday, August 19, 2012

Corporal punishment is ineffective and counterproductive

(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 7 July 2012)

The ongoing conversation on corporal punishment is of particular interest to me because I am a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of my own mother. I comprehend that in some minds there is a difference between spanking your child and beating your child, but because of my abusive background I see things a bit differently.
Though it was years ago, I have written before on the abuse I suffered at the hands of my mother who abused me verbally, emotionally and physically, day after day, year after year, until I moved out of her house and married. In fact, the fervour that burns deep inside me against violence of any sort is ensconced in the brutal memories of a defenceless little girl.
Growing up in my mother’s house, there was not a time when I do not remember being abused. There was a time when I must have been around three or four years old and my mother, angry at something other than me, grabbed me and knocked my head into the knob of a door until my white-blonde hair turned red. This was not discipline – it was abuse.
Likewise, although packaged a bit differently, it was also abuse when a father recently told his wayward 14-year-old daughter “…to pack her clothes but as she was doing so, he dealt her several cuffs about her body. He then beat her with a belt and thereafter an electric wire, telling her ‘the belt isn’t working.’ After the thrashing, he then ordered her to take a bath.”
Thanks to a magistrate, the father will serve six weeks in jail for what he did to his daughter. I wish someone had given my mother six weeks in jail when I was young so she would have understood that beating her daughter was wrong.
How on earth can anyone think that using violence against a child will give her/him the necessary tools to make rational decisions about his/her life? Yes, that young girl was looking in all the wrong places for love and acceptance already. But how could any sane parent believe that beating her would solve the problem?

In fact, it will only further perpetuate the issue. She will be looking for love even more desperately now and she will be convinced that her father does not have the love she needs or wants since it comes with violence.
Because of my abusive background, as a young mother I refused to use violence to discipline my children. However, my second boy was an extremely difficult child. If I told him to sit, he would stand. If I told him not to touch, he would touch. He fought me on anything and everything to the point of exhaustion. I was at my wit’s end.
Then one day we were visiting the home of a man who was the principal of a Christian school. He observed how difficult my son was and asked why I did not spank him. I told him about my feeling about violence and he convinced me there was a difference between spanking a child in a controlled manner to discipline him and the beatings I received as a child.
I took this man’s advice and regret it to this day. My son, who is turning 24 this month, did not benefit from this type of “discipline” at all. In fact, as his mother, I now believe it was even more detrimental to his development.
As a young mother, I did not need someone to teach me to be violent to “help” my child. I’d seen enough of that from my mother and knew it did not work. I needed someone to teach me how to talk to my child so that I could better understand my son and he could better understand his mother. I believe this is the best way to parent and will produce children who are ready for healthy relationships instead of violent ones.
I know first hand what using violence against children does to the souls of children. The impact such abuse has on the psyche lasts a lifetime and it affects every aspect of their lives and relationships with others. I was lucky to have found an understanding husband who was willing and able to nurture me back to a somewhat normal person.
Imagine what an entire society of children who have been “disciplined” with violence would look like. Those children as adults would not trust others, which would prevent them from having healthy relationships. They would be socialised to accept violence because it was a way of life while growing up. They would be stunted emotionally because they were not taught how to work through problems rationally by using words and compromise.
In short, such a society would be violent and uncaring and lacking the capacity to raise children to have healthy relationships. In fact, corporal punishment is ineffective as it produces the exact opposite of the desired results, which means it is counter productive to the goal at hand.
Beating a wayward and difficult child is not the answer. That child needs and deserves something much better from a parent than violence. It should start from young when we teach our children to talk about their actions and the consequences of those actions.
Hitting an errant child on the head does not effectively explain to that child what they have done that is wrong or why it is wrong. It just tells them that someone can hit them and not be held accountable, which means at some point they too can hit a child and not be held accountable. In other words, each time a child is hit – even when justified as “discipline” – the notion that the world is unjust is further solidified.
On the contrary, imagine a society where parents sit down with their errant child and explain the infraction and why it was wrong. Trust and respect are established between parent and child with this method and these are important qualities the child can take into future relationships. Such children do not need to look outside their home for love and acceptance and they are able to distinguish between good people and those who want to harm them because the line is not blurred with a childhood of violence.

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