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Dangerous ‘discipline’

We believe it is perhaps impossible to find the perfect parent.

We equally believe it is basically impossible to find the perfect child.

There is good, bad and indifferent in all of us, whether we go to church every Sunday, recite a dozen “Hail Marys” four times a month, touch the ground with our foreheads in observance of the greatness of Allah, or consider acquiescence to all religion a monumental waste of valuable time.

Yesterday we carried disturbing images of a mother inflicting corporal punishment on her 14-year-old child on the back page of our publication.

It is a scene that has likely been repeated in several Barbadian households over the decades. Many, especially those of the older generation, will speak of legendary parental beatings and give every blow the credit for producing law-abiding and respectable citizens. And we will not argue with their words because often they are the living examples.

But this scenario, because we live in a technological age, was brought into our homes to be viewed and reviewed over and over again. We believe that thousands, while supportive of corporal punishment, would have found yesterday’s images a tad disturbing. Those who abhor corporal punishment would have found the beating of the child to be totally reprehensible.

In certain North American jurisdictions the mother could have been criminally charged for the beating, irrespective of the child’s indiscretions, such are the laws in existence to protect the rights of children.

But this is Barbados and a region where a parent inflicting corporal punishment on an offspring is as cultural, and acceptable, as eating pudding and souse, ackee and salt-fish or crab and callaloo.

But were yesterday’s images the best example of parental discipline?

Whatever the transgression of the teenager, it obviously left the parent enraged. And this begs the question, should a parent exercise his or her “unwritten right” to administer corporal punishment to a child while in an emotionally charged state?

And we say emphatically no.

If punishment is to be meted out for disciplinary reasons, it becomes counter-productive if the person inflicting the punishment does so in less than a disciplined frame of mind or in controlled circumstances.

But that’s one side of the coin.

Some will argue that parents should not beat their children at all. Dr. Sandra Graham-Bermann, a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan, says research has shown “consistently” that corporal punishment causes negative effects on children.

She posits that those studies have shown physical punishment that leads to pain may occasion increased aggression, antisocial behaviour, physical injury and mental health problems for children.

Dr Alan Kazdin, a Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Centre and Child Conduct Clinic has suggested that parents cannot “punish out” behaviours they do not want in a child.

Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, a leading researcher on physical punishment at the University of Texas at Austin, believes that one of the dangers in corporal punishment is that it usually intensifies when it doesn’t work.

“Physical punishment doesn’t work to get kids to comply, so parents think they have to keep escalating it. That is why it is so dangerous,” she said.

Corporal punishment also brings into question the rights of children with physical discipline being viewed more and more as a violation of their human rights.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a directive in 2006 calling physical punishment “legalised violence against children” that should be eliminated in all settings through “legislative, administrative, social and educational measures”.

The treaty that established the committee has been supported by 192 countries, including Barbados.

Presently 30 countries have banned physical punishment of children, including within the domestic setting. However, the legal bans on beatings have as their focus the provision of public education to parents on alternatives to physical punishment. The main thrust is not in any way to make criminals of parents who beat their children.

We accept that most parents love their children and want the best for them. We are also aware that the use of corporal punishment, for all the evidence produced by the experts, has brought positive behavioural change to many children. There are too many examples out there in our communities to state otherwise.

But anger, vexation, love, discipline, inflamed passion, expletives, public beatings and large pieces of wood, just seem to be an awfully dangerous mix.

One Response to Dangerous ‘discipline’

  1. Freeagent March 21, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I agree in part to the assessments of the good doctors as stated above, but I do not agree that children should not be beaten because the Bible says that they should be.
    Proverbs 22: 6. says – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
    Proverbs 23: 1. says – Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.
    2. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
    Parents do not have to abuse their children but correcting them sensibly cannot kill them and they will be thankful for the correction later.


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