Today at Ikea, my husband and I just witnessed a well built and quite on the large side of a woman, with hands the size of a small child’s head, slap on the face a small scrawny girl of about of about 9 or 10 years old. She slapped the girl not only once but four times in between intervals of scolding. The girl apparently got lost in an overly crowded Ikea and made the “mistake” of moving and trying to find her parents instead of staying put. When the punishment seemed to escalate to a fifth slap, the father of the girl finally had to balls to remove her daughter from the situation and left the mother on her own.
In today’s time, a lot of parent’s still support physical discipline because the bible supports it-“the rod and reproof give wisdom but the child that is left to his own will bringeth his mother to shame.” But as child who survived a mother who liberally practiced her parental right to physical discipline, I support clearer and safer guidelines for the responsible use of the rod to give wisdom to avoid child abuse.
Like the little girl in Ikea, I also endured countless knock-the-wind-out-of-your-lungs face slapping both in public and private spaces. The slaps were so powerful that sometimes darkness engulfed my vision for moments at a time. But unlike the little girl, I did not have the fortunate presence of a father or another adult who could protect me when the physical discipline escalated to physical abuse. My mother was a single parent who isolated herself from all relatives for most of her parenting years.
I believe in these instances, clearer and well defined guidelines to a parent’s” right” to physical discipline is imperative to protect children from harm.
For one, I think parents should be required to take a license before they can practice physical discipline. The acquisition of a license should require extensive psychological testing to determine that the parent do not in any way suffer from any mental ailment such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia etc. A parent is already three to four times bigger and more physically powerful than a child and that power to inflict pain should be tethered to a sound and responsible mind most especially since a mentally unsound person can increase his or her physical force when in a fit of uncontrollable rage. If prison officials and the police force require a standard for psychological soundness before they dispense punishment towards criminals, it is only within the limits of logic and reason to require a parent to meet the same standards before practicing physical discipline towards children.
Second, a comprehensive training on physical discipline should also be attended by the parent. The comprehensive training should discuss the definition of physical discipline so that it would not be interchangeable with physical beatings. Hair pulling, slapping, strangulation, dragging, punching and use of hard props or implements should be disallowed. The training should also define and restrict body specific areas that can be be used for physical discipline. Bony areas and important body parts such as the head and vital organs should be strictly disallowed and should constitute some legal punishment from the government in cases of deliberate parental lapses. If the physical method can be used by a wife as a defence for domestic violence against her husband who is of her equal in age and physical strength, then logically the same methods should not be used on a child. Surprisingly and unfortunately, a lot of parents failed to see that logic including mine. Some parents believe that since they gave birth to their children, they have absolute rights to do whatever they please with their children and that includes relentless physical discipline with no boundaries.
The comprehensive training should also define and set a standard on the duration and intensity of the punishment depending on the weight and age of the child. In countries which serve corporeal punishment such as lashings to criminals, definite numbers of lashings with a definite controlled intensity are administered to criminals and there is always a doctor on stand-by to administer first aid in case of excess. The implementer of the punishment is also emotionally detached from the situation so that there is no fluctuation on the intensity of the lashings and that no undue damage can be inflicted on the criminal. The same rights to a controlled and safe physical punishment should also be given to children so that he or she should not suffer indefinite physical beatings with emotion driven intensity which can cause undue damage. I know this should be common sense but apparently not so common since a ton of parents discipline with untethered emotions that translates to an intensity of punishment which is not suited for children. In truth, a criminal is really getting a better bargain because his rights are more or less defined and protected by the law.
Furthermore, excessive physical pain can negate the objective of physical discipline which is learning and supposedly wisdom. I remember as a child, in order to endure the pain, I often mentally and emotionally detached from my physical experience and went to my imaginary happy place. I zoned out the beatings and everything in connection with the beatings including the supposed lesson. Even at a young age, I recognized that it was dangerous to zone out when being meted out with physical discipline most especially since my mother had zero control over her emotions nor the intensity of her punishments. I often get my head banged on the wall and I also neglected to protect vital organs, but when there is presence of so much uninterrupted pain, enduring becomes more important than protection. So if your child is no longer using her reflexes to avoid being hit, the parent’s force is definitely excessive and the objective of discipline and learning are already lost because your child has already zoned you out.
I also think that physical discipline should not be intertwined with public humiliation. There is a place and time for everything and that includes “wisdom” giving. If you hit your child in front of everyone, you are not only hurting his or her body, but also her soul. From a child’s point of view, you just gave everyone in that room the license to mock her/him and ridicule her/him. You have stripped him/her the rights to people’s respect by showcasing him/her in his/her lowest form. As a constant recipient of discipline by public humiliation, I did not grow up spoiled but I grew up with a severe lack of self-respect, very low self-esteem and a non-existent self-confidence. I often saw myself as lesser than everyone else and I also developed anxiety that sometimes bordered on paranoia. As an adult, I often avoid public conflict and confrontation with anyone even when I’ m right because it reminded me of my traumatic childhood experiences of having everyone’s eyes on you. Your child might be more resilient than I am and might not suffer the same consequences but that is a risk you willingly make. Besides, if public punishments for criminals have long been abolished in civilized society, why should public punishment for children still remain?
As a survivor of physical discipline, I cannot, with good conscience, advocate the rod for giving wisdom. The mere fact that I refer to myself as a survivor is a testament to my sentiment towards this parenting practice. I remember thinking while growing up, that the soonest that I can get out of the house, the soonest I can be free from pain. There were also times when I wished that somebody will save me sooner. I really think that there are far better ways to impart wisdom towards our children. But I cannot impose my personal belief on other parents who believe with conviction that the rod is the best form of child discipline. However, I want to give a voice to children who deem their life a living prison from parents who have crossed the very fine line between physical discipline and physical abuse.
For parents who practice this form of discipline, standards and regulations must be strictly imposed to protect vulnerable children from parental excessiveness. At the very least, if there is no strict institution to strictly regulate the practice, the parents should be prudent enough to self- regulate. I think it is best for parents to desist from thinking themselves as infallible sources of wisdom with an unlimited divine authority to impose these wisdoms to their children at whatever cost or means. Parents are human beings and therefore are prone to the flaws of being human. They should exercise due prudence in checking and re-checking themselves in the practice of physical discipline in order that they can avoid crossing the line towards physical abuse.