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Looking back, looking forward | Children are People

Jamaica Gleaner / For a very long time, children have been seen as appendages of their parents who should be seen but not heard. This cultural norm of treating children as though they are not people in their own right is responsible for a great deal of the abuse they face at the hands of the authority figures in their lives – from parents and teachers to just about any other adult whose care they happen to be in.

There has been an influx of videos of children being abused by their parents and other caregivers on social media, which has been contributing to a recurring discussion about corporal punishment and its usefulness in modern society. While social media has made things more visible, no Jamaican is oblivious to the fact that corporal punishment is generally accepted as a legitimate form of discipline for children who misbehave or otherwise anger their parents. In fact, it is widely lauded. Unfortunately, these discussions largely reinforce archaic ideas about children’s place in society and how they should be treated by parents, caregivers, and other adults, especially those in authority.

There are people who believe that because they were beaten (abused) and ‘came out fine’ nothing is wrong with this kind of discipline.

What does it mean that we ‘came out fine’? Are we as adults better able to deal with our anger and other negative emotions, or do we also resort to violence because it is the only tool we seem to have in our arsenal? What of its implications for mental health and our collective silence and failure to address these issues?

Throughout these discussions, there is an attempt to draw a line between discipline and abuse. My challenge with this is who decides that line, and how do we gauge how much harm what we deem to be justifiable can cause?

Murray Straus, a professor of sociology, defines corporal punishment as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behaviour.” I can’t help but wonder why we are trying to inflict pain in order to teach children anything. It says something about our psyche.

It seems to me that if we are trying to instill values such as respect, honesty, responsibility, and compassion in our children, then we have to find better ways to do so. Let’s be clear. violence is obviously not the solution. Our parents and their parents have been beating children into submission from Wappy kill Phillup, and we are not better off for it. In fact, there is still a lot of indiscipline and violence in our societyeven among the adults whose parents didn’t spare the rod and spoil the child.

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