The pain of corporal punishment
Why do so many of us find it so easy to resort to physically punishing our children when they do wrong? It is because we are intellectually lazy? Is it because finding an instrument to beat a child is easier than thinking and reasoning about creative methods of punishment? Is it because we believe it works because we say, “It worked for us.”
I have great difficulty reasoning with parents who prefer to stick to the good old days of harsh, unreasonable methods of punishment. Even when it is obvious that the physical punishment is not working, their only response is, “perhaps I am not beating hard or long enough.” They still continue, even when their own teenage child is telling them: “Dad, that’s not working.” It is as though these parents have lost all ability to reason. I am often surprised when I hear even highly educated people defend violent behavior as a healthy form of child discipline. This is when tradition takes precedence over reason. This is when a society moves from personal discipline and becomes chaotic.
Listen parents, corporal punishment is emotionally and psychologically damaging. Many parents do not understand the difference between punishment and discipline, and they do not want to be taught anything about it. Although some form of punishment is needed when raising children, parents must be aware that no punishment is effective without discipline and reason. What is discipline? Discipline is teaching and modeling moral values. Discipline is an attitude. Discipline is self-control. Discipline is intrinsic or internal. Discipline is establishing and maintaining a well-structured home environment with sensible rules and guidelines to govern one’s behavior. For example, there are set bed and meal times. On the other hand, punishment is extrinsic—only external. If a parent beats a child for stealing cookies, but there is no bed time and the child has not been taught explicitly that stealing is wrong, then most likely there is no discipline in the home.
Many Bahamians still cherish beating their children. They feel good after doing their part to correct their disobedient child. They say, “I’m going to beat you so badly you will never forget it.” Socially, there is nothing positive about the word “beat.” The dictionary defines beat as “to strike forcefully and repeatedly” or “to hit (a person or animal) repeatedly so as to cause painful injury.” Globally, world social leaders are very much concerned about child abuse and the severe use of corporal punishment—beating. The Bahamas is one of the countries where a significant part of the population is stubbornly holding on to the negative traditions of corporal punishment. Ironically, The Bahamas is one of the countries where the number of dysfunctional families is growing daily and violence seems to go on unabated. If beating has been so effective over the past years, why hasn’t the violent behavior been averted? The practice of beating children is like using a heavy hammer to hit a square peg into a round hole. It cannot work. But we still hit and hit the peg, forcing it into shape until it is jammed in the hole and unable to come out. That’s painful.
Parents, guardians, teachers, do you want to be known as someone who beats or someone who loves? If you are going to use a Bible text to support your physical tirades then please notice by clarification of Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth his rod, hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” The New Living Translation translates it this way: “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.”
If parents focus on the word rod to mean the belt or a piece of wood, then it would be difficult to understand the true meaning of Proverbs 22:6: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” The text does not say beat your children. The word used is about an instructional process. It is a process of teaching and learning. Why so many parents resort to beating is because they are too lazy to teach. No wonder child psychologist, Dr. James Dobson, entitled one of his books: “Parenting isn’t for Cowards.” The word ‘rob’ in Proverbs 13:24 comes from the Hebrew word which means “sceptre” (shebet). This is an instrument monarch uses for something positive. In addition, the text uses the definite article ‘the’ in front of the word rod.
Psychologist, John Rosemond, in his article “Parenting by the Book” speaks to this point. He states that “In every case, when the word rod (in Proverbs) is used with reference to the training or disciplining of children, it is preceded by the word, “the”, connoting that the usage is metaphorical. To understand it otherwise results in irreconcilable confusion.” Proverbs 14:24 does not use the article “a” with the word rod. Rosemond explains: “On the other hand, “a” rod is always with reference to a concrete object—a straight stick that might have been used as a tool of measurement (1Sa 17:7, Rev. 21:16), a symbol of authority (Is. 14:5), or a staff used in herding sheep (Lev. 27:32). Isn’t it painful and humbling to acknowledge that for centuries we have built our beliefs and practices on a gross misinterpretation of Scripture and by so doing, messed up society?
Unfortunately, our greatest challenge with overcoming the beating syndrome in The Bahamas is predominantly found among people of religious faith. Until those who claim to be God’s people allow Him to permeate their minds, our country will remain violent. Church leaders, wake up and preach about a loving, redeeming Jesus. Wake up school principals, teachers, parents, and guardians. It’s time to show love.
• Barrington H. Brennen is a marriage and family therapist and board-certified clinical psychotherapist. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or telephone 242-327-1980.