To spank or not to spank – a burning debate

Once again a post appeared on my Face Book page saying how a person is no worse off for having been spanked when a child. A short while later came a response which read something like “People say that spanking teaches violence but why was there less violence when spanking was considered the best form of discipline?” An article on the front page of the Sunday Tribune this morning says that research shows thatbullying and violence has increased significantly in schools. 22% of children said that they had been bullied at school by teachers and/or fellow learners. Not only punch-ups or hitting, but guns, knives and other weapons are used. On an inside page is the story of a young woman (18) who was struck 116 times with a sjambok because the perpetrator claimed that the victim had stolen her boyfriend.

Before I go any further, I will admit that I frequently received a spanking from, not only my parents, but my grandmother as well.  Grandma was small and round and believed in a good ‘switching’! While at her farm, any transgression meant “go and cut off a piece of bamboo and bring it to me”. It took us a while to learn that the thin pieces hurt a lot more than the thicker ones. I felt more shame and embarrassment at having to go and select the ‘weapon’ than actually being smacked with it. Why? Quite possibly because she would send you off in front of adults and children so they all knew that “You had been bad.” No matter how often this happened though, we always loved to return to the farm for holidays. She died when I was 11 but I still have lots of good memories as well as those involving being switched. My parents seldom used any form of tool to do the spanking though a long stick was kept in the house.  If it was not handy a solid hand on the backside worked very well.

As far as I am aware, these spankings have not made me a violent person but did tell me that my parents cared enough to discipline me. My own children did not go without a good sharp smack when they had misbehaved. Yes, sometimes it was done in anger and frustration but usually, it was done with the child knowing the misdemeanour which deserved a painful consequence. My siblings, children and I seem to have grown into responsible and considerate adults. We learnt to respect all persons regardless of age, not to speak rudely to adults, to stand aside or give up a seat for anyone older or less physically able than ourselves and to mind our Ps & Qs.

Our children were raised in the 1970s, a time when the whole debate on new forms of discipline started. Maybe it had something to do with the “Peace & Love” generation. With our eldest, it was still the old order and we were given a copy of Dr Spock’s book which we were told to read, mark and inwardly digest. “Don’t pick up the baby every time she cries as you will be making a rod for your own back” was the basic approach. By the time our second arrived 3.5 years later, advice had almost completely reversed. “Babies thrive on love; they need lots of holding and rocking; letting them cry only causes them distress. Out with Dr Spock and in with Marina Petropolous and Dr James Dobson. “No smacking but discipline with lots of love. Reason with the 3 year old!(Ha Ha). It is very important to remember that children learn most behaviour from their parents’ behaviour.” and so on. We had a wooden spoon, given the name ‘Tommy,’ and after just one or two incidents Tommy had only to be taken off the shelf for them to apologise and settle down. There is an article in the Huffington Post of 13 October 2013 which tells of a County Judge who said that “Spanking a child with a wooden spoon was not child abuse” and the 13 year old admitted that this was the only form of punishment which had succeeded for some pretty awful behaviour.

Now we have governments all over the world, including South Africa, who have or are proposing to legislate against parents smacking their children at all. If they do the children can open a case of grievous bodily harm or something similar. More and more the emphasis is on a child’s rights but very little on their responsibilities. Children are assaulting teachers because the teacher wanted to punish them for talking on a cell phone in class or walking out during the lesson to collect something they had left elsewhere. Is it any wonder that so many teachers are leaving, or wish they could leave, the profession?

I believe that the real issue which needs to be tackled is the education of parents, teachers and any other persons who are involved in children’s development to understand the difference between discipline and abuse. To me, discipline involves teaching by example, explanation and an occasional smack if nothing else works. Abuse can be physical or emotional – beating and not a quick smack; telling a child how useless she is; using a child for an adult’s sexual pleasure and so forth.

This has turned out to be very long and I would love to add more so shall do so in anther blog.

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