Over the holiday season noticed a disturbing trend on my Facebook Newsfeed; maybe it was the emergence of the season of giving that brought to light certain voids in society. Regardless of the motivation, it appeared that there was an increase in random articles and commentary taking the time to illustrate society’s desperate need of returning to beating children into submission in order to ensure gratitude and respect from them. This sentiment seems to cross religious, racial, and gender lines; which I suppose in some respect I should feel pleased unifying ideas are still possible despite the rigmarole of divisive atrocities that occur with increased frequency of late.
I, of course, am providing a hyperbolic and flippant characterization of this disciplinary idea passed in mass through social media. And, full disclosure, I almost never read the articles posted, when there are articles; much of the time, out of frustration, I don’t even completely read the status updates. Really, it’s a cost saving measure because it will be expensive to continuously replace my laptop after throwing it across the room.
As a relatively new parent, I’ve thought quite a bit about the issue of spanking. It’s one of those topics people whisper at family gatherings, along with which relative has cancer or breast augmentation. As an educator and social worker I decided not to completely decide how I feel about spanking that leaves a teary face and a slightly red bottom for ten minutes. As someone who cultivated a career working effectively with at-risk adolescents and incarcerated individuals, I know enough to understand child discipline is complicated. One thing is for certain in my mind, I cannot categorically denounce any parent who has spanked their child a time or two. While I hope I never have to, knowing it is not my preferred intervention, I’m not so arrogant to think I am immune from the impulse.
What I find disturbing about this trend of disciplinary commentary is the assumption that (a) the past was so dramatically different from today and (b) that the only way to manage a child is through physical force no matter how mild the act of punishment.
In the most severe declarations of the need for mild corporal punishment I’ve read, crime is the crux of their determination. But, crime has been steadily decreasing, for the most part, since the 80s, but media coverage and the glorification of events for ratings have increased. In my mind there is a link, but I don’t know of a study that explores the relationship. I do know, however, that there is no causality for crime, only correlations in research; the strongest being societal exclusion and poverty. These issues I’ve grappled with in my professional work for years; consequently, I’ve developed a bit of immunity from some of the commentary I’ve been reading from random people on the internet from keeping me up at night.
My second point, however, is something that rubs me quite a bit more raw, but I’m not so sure why. Perhaps it is the perpetual oversimplification of human behavior. Maybe it is what I interpret as a misunderstanding or an individual’s poor assessment of the issue. A while back I read an academic article discussing the link between increased usage of media for communication and a decrease of empathy in children and adolescents. This is not to say that our society is generating future criminals, rather developing people who lack the ability to communicate and relate to others, as well as a diminished conscience. The article indicated, for example, that adolescents were less likely to see a problem with cheating on exams. I’m aware that my readers will have to take my word on the existence and discussion of this article, as I can no longer produce it, but if one were to suspend this specific conflict, it is an interesting issue to consider even if it isn’t the entire picture of why “children are so ungrateful and disrespectful these days.” As I mentioned earlier, this is a complicated issue, and if it were an easy fix with some brainiac possessing the answer, this specific social trend (if you believe it is, in fact, a social trend) wouldn’t exist in the first place.
With my single toddler and one child on the way, I am far from an expert, but I have learned a thing or two that a decade of work in the field never really touched. Discipline is an ongoing conversation with my kid that requires constant diligence. As a mom who is my son’s primary caregiver during the day, it’s the choice to embrace the difficult path most of the time. When he is running his laps on the sofa and I’m ready to collapse from exhaustion, it’s standing up to take him off the sofa once again. It’s praising him for sitting on the kitchen chair the correct way instead of only chastising him for using the chair as his vehicle to dance on the table. It’s an ongoing battle not for the weak. Sometimes I’d love to simply plunk him in front of whatever asinine cartoon happens to be on television and nap. When I have two, I may very well do that from time to time. But, for me, discipline is about consistency of choice; most of the time I balance between my son playing independently and engaging with him in an activity. I try to be proactive as much as I can, but I’m not always. Sometimes I’m reactive and lose my patience, but most of the time I commit to grooming and modeling positive social behaviors I want to see. It’s too early to know if my tactic will work, and the day may come when he or my growing daughter receive a spanking, but I like to think that spanking is not the only option for raising a good human who contributes positive things to society.