One of the biggest evils plaguing the lives of the children of the world today is violent discipline practices. Spanking, whooping, beating- it all means hitting, a big, powerful person hitting a smaller, less powerful person. It also goes by the word corporal punishment. In a majority of countries, more than 2 in 3 children are subjected to violent discipline by caregivers. While teaching children self-control and acceptable behaviour is an integral part of child rearing in all cultures, many caregivers rely on the use of violent methods, both physical and psychological, to punish unwanted behaviours and encourage desired ones. It is not just a widespread practice at educational institutions but also in the very homes of children.
Before you think I may have misunderstood the meaning of violent discipline or what it includes, let me resort to some authoritative definitions.
According to UNICEF, violent discipline, also known as ‘corporal punishment’ refers to any punishment in which physical force is used to cause any degree of pain or discomfort. It includes, for example, pinching, spanking, hitting children with a hand, or forcing them to ingest something. violent discipline need not merely be physical but also psychological. Violent psychological discipline involves “the use of verbal aggression, threats, intimidation, denigration, ridicule, guilt, humiliation, withdrawal of love or emotional manipulation to control children”.
Violent discipline is a violation of a child’s right to protection from all forms of violence while in the care of their parents or other caregivers, as summarized in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Fortunately or unfortunately this chart may not show data for your country, so I would leave that to you to check the numbers for your country. In India, this number is over 50%. Indian Parents use 30 Different Ways Of Abuse, According To A UNICEF Report. Most parents would be embarrassed to read the list here. In India, it is quite common for parents to reprimand children by slapping them, pinching them on their arms or sometimes even throwing things at them. And hurling physical abuses, yelling is commonplace too.
Overall, in the last couple of decades, several research studies were conducted to study the impact of violent discipline on children’s growth and development. A new APA (American Psychological Association) resolution cites evidence that physical punishment can cause lasting harm for children and that physical discipline is ineffective. Not just that it’s ineffective but it also harms children’s mental health, as well as to their cognitive, behavioural, social, and emotional development.
As parents, there is a huge misconception, that children learn by suffering pain, humiliation, guilt and overpowering. “Children do not need pain to learn,” says Gershoff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, “We don’t allow aggression among adults. It’s a sad double standard that we don’t give children the same protection against violence.” Children learnt most and best by modelling the behaviour of their parents. I know most parents don’t get this or that it is hard to understand this: children learn to behave by seeing and emulating how you, as parents, behave, with each other, with them and with others. Using physical force on a helpless child talks more about the parent than the child’s state of mind. I am not saying that we paint pant black or white based on their ways of disciplining. I am sure most parents have their children best intentions in mind and do not have a deliberate intention of causing harm or injury to the child. Rather, it sometimes stems from anger and frustration, lack of understanding of the harm it can cause or limited familiarity with non-violent methods. I understand this. No one is perfect, true, but that doesn’t mean one cannot get better. The point is if we are learning from what our parents do well, we are also being influenced by what they don’t do well. And both can’t have a lasting effect on children’s minds.
Parents and teachers in India continue the practice of physically punishing children regardless of thinking whether it is right or if it is even effective in discipline enforcement. People want to believe in the age-old dictum, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” whereas there is no proof of beaten and bruised children growing up into responsible citizens any more than those who were spared the rod actually and brought up in a loving and nurturing environment. A rod cannot be a substitute for conversation. There is no point in a conversation where words need to become abuse and abuse into physical violence or pain. For a mature person, there are innumerable ways to illustrate the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour to children. Resorting to inappropriate behaviour cannot be one way of doing it. Physical abuse only hardens the children and they harbour resentment towards the disciplining authority for punishing them. Children grow up to resent and rebel against the Parents for practising this, allowing this and the institution for facilitating it. They may also look for an opportunity to settle scores and resort to violent means of retribution. Sometimes their impressionable minds may accept it as the correct way and they may grow up to be abusive adults believing in the power of violence. Either of these is wrong.
Violent ways of disciplining children at home and corporal punishments by institutions, both are tantamount to child abuse. They both need to stop. There are already laws against corporal punishment in place which we need to create more awareness about. But most importantly as parents, we need to change our mindset and adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards any sort of violence against children in our own homes and by us. Children (like parents) have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. Discipline them but with love. That takes true skill, creativity and maturity.
To read the full APA resolution on child punishment, go to www.apa.org/about/policy/physical-discipline.pdf