Friday, September 30, 2011

I will not teach violence

Something serious today.

I recently learned of a situation where a child scratched another child's face. The parents of the offending child were extremely apologetic and embarrassed at what their normally lovable, sweet child had done. They went home, discussed what to do, and decided that the solution was to spank their child, and they did. Now, these parents say that, for them, spanking is here to stay.

They inflicted hurt on their child in order to teach the lesson that the child should not inflict hurt on others. To me that is not just ironic, it is plain wrong.

Hitting another person, whether child or adult, is unacceptable, under any circumstances. Nothing justifies causing hurt to another human being. Nothing. And when you are talking about a bigger stronger adult hitting a smaller weaker child, I cannot, I absolutely cannot, see any possible justification.

Hurting a person, whether child or adult, in order that they will do what you want them to do is also known as torture. And no, it doesn’t sound cuter if you call it spanking or smacking or "beat beat". It is still violence. The intention is still the same - to cause them pain and hurt until they behave the way you want them to.

If an adult got hit, the police would be called in. Unfortunately, children are too young, too helpless and unable to take steps to complain or to stop the beating and in cases where the police do get involved, it's much too late.

Some parents don’t actually parent. They don’t teach, counsel or guide. Most of these parents actually have no idea how to parent. Instead, every situation is avoided, averted, diverted, bribed away. Then when a situation is inescapable – like their child scratching another child – these parents decide that there’s no alternative but to spank their child.

Spanking may work, but there are other ways to discipline your child. They just take more effort. Just like stealing can get you what you want, but it is wrong. You should work and earn the money to pay for what you want. Similarly, it takes time and effort to teach a child. Children are new. They are still learning and it takes time to do so. They may not always learn the first time around. They need time to learn to walk, to hold a spoon, to tie their shoelaces. Similarly, they need time to learn to socialise, to share, to be polite. There will be times that they don’t know how or that they don’t get it right. They shouldn’t be hurt when they try and they get it wrong.

Spanking a child is a shortcut for parents who don’t have the time or patience or the fortitude to go through repeated "talking-tos" or to patiently show the child, repeatedly if necessary, what the proper thing to do would be and the reasons why. Either that or they truly think that the child will never understand what is said to them unless it is driven in with pain. This is lazy, disrespectful parenting.

The purpose of using spanking for discipline is to instill the lesson that the direct consequence for bad behaviour is pain. Your child then “behaves”, not because she understands that it is the right thing to do, but because she fears the pain that would ensue otherwise. But that's the wrong lesson to learn.

What if somebody behaved badly towards your child? The response that your child has learned is to hurt that person until your child gets an apology or gets his way. Great job there.

This goes for parents who hit inanimate objects too – I’ve seen parents who hit the floor when the child falls down, or hit the chair when the child bumps against it. Apart from the fact that it is completely illogical, the lesson taught is, again, when someone/something hurts you, even if unintended, the response is to hit that person or thing in return.

I’ve heard all the exceptions that parents create to make it sound as if they’re doing the right thing – don’t spank when you’re angry, don’t spank in public, don’t hit the face, don’t over do it, always explain and give a hug afterwards, etc. They say that they otherwise lavish tender loving care on their children. I've even heard it said that, "the children still love you anyway".

Why on earth would any of that make hitting a child acceptable?

Sure, you can hug the hell out of your child after that and then treat her like a princess until she "misbehaves" again. Do you really think that makes things ok? Really? Would it make it better if somebody hit you and hit you and hit you until you cried and then explained that you deserved it? No? What if you got a nice hug after that? No? If I took you out for dinner everyday during the week, can I hit you on Sunday? I didn’t think so.

And yes, children have an amazing and beautiful capacity to forgive and forget. But please, that does not give parents a get-out-of-jail-free ticket to hurt them.

Sure, you can explain what the spanking is for and why your child "deserved" it. But if your child could understand your explanation, then your child doesn't need to be spanked. And conversely, if you think that your child can't understand the lesson without spanking, well, how does spanking help? Does spanking suddenly turn on a switch in your child that makes her understand and learn? Because if that's what it takes, then we should spank them anytime they need to learn anything, like their ABCs, or how to put on their shoes.

The lesson about the rightness/wrongness of the behaviour is lost when you place the focus on pain. The child may learn to behave when there is a threat of pain looming over her but the child also figures out that, if there is no possibility of getting caught and spanked, then it's all right to “misbehave”.

Let me ask the question another way - what if a teacher or an older student or even a stranger in a restaurant smacked your child for "misbehaving"? Would that be acceptable? No? What gives the parent the right to smack the child then? Because it's the parent's job to discipline the child? Well, that's only partially correct. Yes, it is primarily the parent's job to teach and guide the child. But that does not mean that the parent can use pain to do so.

Oh I don’t believe that those parents I mentioned at the start of this post actually abuse their child, certainly not. At most, I think they’re misguided. There are a lot of parents who think like they do. Still, that doesn't mean that hitting can be right. It only means that there are a lot of lazy, ignorant people out there who place their own interests above the child. They don't want to take the time to guide, they don't have the patience, they don't understand that children don't always get things right. They use spanking because it's straightforward and quick - it’s also so easy because the child is completely helpless. To these people, being a parent is all about how difficult/easy it is for the parent, never mind the child.

Scientifically speaking, there are many studies which say that spanking is wrong and damaging. There are also studies (fewer) which say that spanking does not have adverse effects. I’m not going to argue about which study is more reliable or better, it doesn’t matter to me. Hitting a child as a form of discipline is unacceptable to me. It is an act of bullying, of laziness and of ignorance. Ultimately, it is morally and ethically wrong, and I will not do it. I will not teach my son that some people "deserve" to be hurt. I will not teach my son that violence can be used to get your way. I will not teach him that it is acceptable, however limited the circumstances are, to hurt another person.


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