How much is too much?

by Cherisse Francis

“Hard ears ya won’t hear, own way ya gine feel.”

I can hear my granny’s words, which have become Barbadian reality, ringing in my head and I wonder: how much feeling is too much? When does discipline cross the line into abuse? And is there no other way for our children to learn?

These questions all arise in my mind as I watched in shock a Barbadian video which has gone viral on many social media sites including Facebook and Twitter. In this video a mother is seen disciplining, or abusing, her daughter with “a piece of 2×4” as Barbadians would call it.

This article however will not focus specifically on that one occurrence, but rather on the disciplining of Barbadian youth: methods and responses.

Let us first of all examine the methods of discipline administered by Barbadian parents. Our society traditionally believes in the literal application of the Biblical saying, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. It has been said by several established writers that this mentality originated from the harsh treatment of slavery combined with West-African culture and learnt behaviour.

This has gone to such an extent that most Barbadians can recall an instance where they were corporally punished by their parents, grandparents or other adults. Most of them add to these memories that the instrument used to inflict the lashes was whatever was closest to the adult. In fact, when the BYDC took to the social media network to garner the youth’s perspective on the video and this method of punishment, many stories came out of being beaten with belts and tamarind rods and pots and how the “licks” made them better people.

The major reasoning behind this mentality is that you remember the lashes and the scenario that they were affiliated with and how badly they hurt at the time so you know not to do it again. Recently however, the question is being asked: “Is it a method of discipline or is it child abuse?”

As a country that has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the citizens of Barbados and the state must be cognisant of the contents of this convention. Some may argue that this convention conflicts with some of the ways Barbadian and by extension Caribbean Parents inflict corporal punishment.

Articles 19, 28(2) and 37 of this same Convention, protect children from all forms of corporal punishment. For example, Article 37(a) states that “State Parties shall ensure that: No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Based on a personal belief system, what constitutes “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment” varies and we must question whether Barbadian methods of discipline are categorised and are they the best way to raise our children.

In order to examine this, we must look at the thin line that runs between discipline and abuse. Where this line is drawn has much to do with the relevant society and the culture that exists. Previously, an adult beating a child with a tamarind rod in public or a teacher punishing misbehaviour with some ‘taps’ from a ruler would have been considered accepted and even normal behaviour.

Today, children are often not corporally punished in the home and parents are very weary of teachers using this disciplining method in the school. The question then exists whether Barbadian society was too harsh and crude in its methods or are today’s parents trying to be too “friendly” with their children?

The predominant view of the executive and youth in general from our research has been that while corporal punishment does have its place, it may be losing its effectiveness on this generation and so other methods must be employed. According to one of our Facebook followers, “licks does bun and cool”. The same young lady then went onto say: “I don’t know about anyone else but I can testify to getting “the look” and all bad behaviour stop and I am in a chair, well subdued.”

Though this is just one situation, there are many others which echo the same sentiments. It indicates to me therefore that the method which works has much to do with the parenting. If as parents, you emphasise in your children during their early developmental years strong morals and values as well as alternative methods of discipline, it is highly unlikely that they will become unresponsive to such in the long run.

An example of this came from another one of BYDC’s Facebook followers who stated that he was only beaten twice in his 18 years of life and he has turned out to be quite disciplined. Additionally, it was said in this discussion: “What we have now are a generation of young people who have never been trained and are consequently subjected to abuse.”

At the end of the day, my humble opinion is aligned with that of many child psychologists. This view is that though the authoritarian parenting method has been proven to be most effective, alternative disciplining methods can be embraced. To start this movement towards “less abusive” practices, parents must first be educated on the effects that their actions can have on their children as well as other ways of handling situations.

It starts with you, parents as you are charged with raising our future. Take your responsibilities seriously and learn to skillfully walk that thin line between discipline and abuse without crossing over.

To conclude, I summarise the views of the youth of Barbados: The problem is not corporal punishment but the extent to which it is given. Just “givin de chile some licks” is not the answer to every scenario. Raise your children firmly but fairly; love and respect them and they will in turn respect you.

* Cherisse Francis is president of the Barbados Youth Development Council

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