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What are we really teaching our children when we hit them?


Last Sunday, November 20, was celebrated around the world as Universal Children’s Day, a day set aside to pay tribute to our most precious resource, our children.

The recognition of Universal Children’s Day comes at a time when Vincentians around the world are reflecting on the reasons for the high levels of domestic violence in our country.{{more}}

Much of the discussion relating to the problem centres around dealing with what happens after the fact: escape routes for victims, such as crisis centres and hot lines; protest marches, the response of law enforcement, and our judicial system.

These measures are all curative, reactionary and punitive, and do not get to the root of the problem. For real long-term, society wide change, we need to look at why some of our people relate to those they claim to love in such a violent manner.

Perhaps now is the time to take another look at our practice of using corporal punishment to correct and punish our children. In the Caribbean, corporal punishment for children is accepted as the thing to do. We brag about how much “licks” we got as a child, and how it helped to keep us on the straight and narrow.

We are a Christian society, and advocates of corporal punishment point to the Bible, which advises against “sparing the rod”. But do we necessarily have to take this admonition literally? We sometimes forget the Bible also advises us to “train up a child”, which indicates setting an example, teaching principles carefully and purposely, and guiding them with care. We are also told not to provoke them to anger.

This is not to say that we should throw discipline out of the window and allow our children to break rules and misbehave without being punished. Punishment can take forms other than beating. Have we ever considered that what we are doing in our homes and schools is teaching our children that the most effective way to gain dominance over another person is to inflict physical pain? Could this practice be at the root of much of the violence in our homes?

Experienced parents say that while one child may respond to scoldings and withheld privileges, another may only respond to corporal punishment. On the other hand, professionals say that while some children are able to take corporal punishment in stride, others walk around with psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

Yes, there is a difference between “spanking” and abuse. But this is purely subjective, and therein lies the problem. One person’s “spanking” is another person’s “abuse” and vice versa. What are the definitive parameters which separate the two? Also, “spanking” oftentimes can be the gateway to “abuse,” as the chances of losing control are greater when one is angry.

In the Caribbean, any suggestion of doing away with something as deeply engrained as corporal punishment would be a hard sell. But for a start, let’s take another look at the practice. What are we really teaching our children when we hit them?