Is hitting children discipline?

In many cultures and some religions, physical punishment of children is encouraged – the society I come from encourages this and many people have used a famous Christian bible verse to justify this practice. Years ago, I was sat in a meeting and the speaker who claimed to be passionate about fatherhood, especially for black males, had gathered quite a crowd to speak on the subject of fathers being present in the lives of their children. I watched him speak about the many challenges of fatherhood and the obvious challenges we had in the black community; I did not hear him provide any practical solutions – however, I would later understand why he was passionate about the subject of fatherhood. After the event, he and a few people sat down for a meal – being a very lively character, he proceeded to tell a story that would make many people laugh, himself included. However, the more I thought on this story he told, the more I realised that this was a painful memory for him and the humour with which he narrated his experience was to mask his trauma. He would tell the story of how his father was absent from his life and the only interaction he had with his father was a physical one. This father was the disciplinarian in the family and the only interaction with his son was his hands when he had done something wrong – and on the occasions the son had done nothing to warrant a punishment, he still hit him as a form of interacting with him! How sickening is that! The story had always been in the back of mind and this week, while I was on social media, I came across a post and the comments reminded me of this social speaker and his traumatic parent child relationship.

The post I came across on Facebook started with the following phrase “Children of today don’t even know that in our days, you could be beaten for any of the following reasons;”. The writer of the post then proceeded to list 44 reasons why people were beaten by their parents and then ended their post with the following “Some of these reasons for beating children appear far fetched today but sure did happen and they were norms that shaped a child to grow in a responsible manner.” The post was made by an African and it was accompanied by an image of a woman using a stick on a child who was being held up by their leg. The image that was posted showed the woman standing over the child who was in a helpless position and not able to escape their abuser. Over 70 percent of the comments on this post was of people endorsing this barbaric practice and I was very disappointed. Have we such bad memories that we have forgotten the pain and shame inflicted on us by adults who should have been protecting us but rather choose to continue this archaic and abusive practice? In the comments, I read many people recount their experiences of being beaten and for some being hurt by the very people that should have protected them. The sad reality was that all these comments were shrouded in humour! 

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As I read the comments on the post, I began to feel discouraged and to be honest, I was not sure if I should add my voice to the nonsense that was unfolding under this post. I wanted to ask the writer of the post how this practice was African and where it was documented as such? Also, why do adults get upset and cry abuse if another adult gives them a beating? Perhaps when the police beat suspects in their custody, they are merely meting out punishment for bad behaviour and therefore we should be thankful for being corrected, right? Wrong! If adults get so offended when slapped by another adult or assaulted physically, why are we ok to give the same treatment to children and call it correction? The shocking part was that, anyone who dared challenge this act was met with insults and some going far to predict that said people will have children who will grow up to be addicts, criminals and failures in society. When I looked up the phrase corporal punishment, it was described as a punishment intended to inflict pain on children in a home or school setting. When inflicted on adults, it may be inflicted on prisoners and slaves. People in the comments were justifying why children should be punished by inflicting pain on them – something that is done to adults in extreme settings like prisons or in slavery. I could not make sense of why people were justifying this and realised that, they knew no better and did not realise that their actions in the comments was a reflection of how these forms of punishment meted out to them had shaped them into the insensitive adults they were by how they attacked others who had different mindsets to them.

I finally came to a comment that made me sad and angry at the same time; the commenter shared his experience of how his father had beaten him for money he did not take. When his father later found the money where he had hidden it, he refused to apologise to his son and then proceeded to beat our commenter again for getting angry! He continues to write about how the beatings in his childhood was too much and also shamed him! This made me sad but then I got angry at how the comments underneath this particular story mocked the reader and even added that if he had cried too long, he may have been beaten again! In what universe is it okay to beat up your child for something they did not do and then punish them again for being angry at your callous actions? I finally started linking this upbringing to why people in leadership positions, especially in Africa, treat people in their care with no regard because to them, no one protected them when they were vulnerable children and therefore they do the same to the vulnerable in their care because no one will defend them. There were several stories of how people had gone out to play only for them to be beaten by their neighbourhood bullies or even hurt and they could not go home crying or to tell their parents because they would have been beaten for not standing up to their bullies. Is it a crime to have a child who is sensitive and does not use violence as a form of resolving conflict? And do we hate our children so much that we would not defend them against people that abuse them or provide comfort when they are hurt?

I could go on and on about the disfunction I read in the comments of the post  – we can do better. Our parents were not experts on raising children and with the information available to us, especially around mental health, I believe we can do better and teach our children compassion and empathy instead of beating their personalities out of them because we want them to continue with the disfunction we grew up in. My brother had a friend who was beaten by a teacher in a popular boys boarding school in Ghana until he bled, every time he narrated the incident, I could hear the hatred he had for this teacher and at one point alluded to hurting the man if he ever met him. The question is, if your children could fight back and did not have certain societal rule that forbade them from hitting adults holding them back, would you beat them? Knowing that they could fight back, would adults inflict corporal punishment on children? I don’t think so! The narratives that wants to paint past generations as being better than the current and next ones is absolute nonsense. We need to have faith that as society advances, the next generation will not have to deal with our challenges and therefore their outlook and actions in life will be different to ours. The universe forbids that I should deal with the challenges my parents faced – I have made certain progress in my life because I did not have to fight the battles they did. The struggles we faced and are facing are nothing to be proud of and we should not wish them on the next generation. 

The universe forbids that I should deal with the challenges my parents faced – I have made certain progress in my life because I did not have to fight the battles they did. The struggles we faced and are facing are nothing to be proud of and we should not wish them on the next generation. 

I am no expert on raising children, however, I have been a child before and I am working everyday to undo the damage caused by the adults involved in my growing up. There must be a better way to correct our children without damaging them. Thank you for always taking time to read, comment and share your stories – let’s continue to share our experiences so we can effect the change we need.

2 thoughts on “Is hitting children discipline?

  1. Some of our parents and grandparents did not know any better but us! We have no excuse to subject our kids to those primitive ways of punishment on the name of correction
    I know a few people who have sworn to not have kids because of their parents’ mode of discipline.
    Surely there are other modes of discipline that will not leave children forever doubting themselves and messing up their whole mental faculty.
    Thanks for sharing Mavis, hopefully we will make conscious efforts to adopt better ways of discipline

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Its saddens me that we have people who still believe that the only way to discipline a child is through beating. Sadly, this is the kind of parenting that many people are blindly carrying forward not having an understanding that it causes more harm than good.
    For me, its not a parenting style that I want to carry forward because I’ve seen the impact it has had on me.
    Nice read.

    Liked by 1 person

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