June 22, 2011 12:35:00 PM
Scott Colom - [email protected]
Nothing will get you laughed out of a barbershop quicker in Columbus than suggesting parents should think twice before beating their children. I discovered this several months ago when I tried this argument with my longtime barber, Bobby Jordan.
The conversation started when Mr. Jordan, a man with no shortage of information or opinions, suggested that parents should start whipping children to teach them discipline, like his parents had done him. In response, I suggested that the problems with children wasn''t a lack of whippings but a lack of parental guidance, and I suggested there were unintended consequences to corporal punishment. This argument was roundly criticized - even by the younger barbers.
Events of the last week, however, have put renewed focus on the debate about the use of physical discipline. Two local parents were recently arrested for child abuse. One allegedly beat his 18-month-old daughter so badly her leg was broken, and the other allegedly beat her 7-year-old son with a car motor fan belt. It''s hard to imagine what children that young could do to make these actions appropriate for a parent, but the arrests provide an opportunity for us to think about the best way to discipline children.
First, I believe the effectiveness of corporal punishment on past generations is overblown. Adults who have self-discipline often believe this is because of the discipline they received from their parents. They fondly recall the whipping with the extension cord or tree branch and argue those beatings kept them on the straight and narrow. Yet, this mistakes causation with correlation.
A lot of my friends from childhood in jail today received tough beatings from their parents. That''s not to say they are in jail because of the beatings, but it demonstrates that beatings aren''t a magic ingredient for successfully raising a child. Without love, attention, guidance and positive role models, beatings are meaningless, or worse.
For example, there can be unexpected repercussions to physical discipline. Many psychologists and physicians argue that spanking children increases emotional and behavioral problems and teaches children to resort to violence to resolve conflict. The more children are spanked when they act out, especially at a young age, the more likely they are to think violence is the appropriate way to respond to an action they don''t like.
Spanking children at a young age can also stifle critical thinking skills. As unnatural as it may seem, when a child makes a mistake, the parent or adult should discuss what was wrong with the decision or the behavior before or after the discipline. Children should have an opportunity to explain their behavior, and the adult should respond to those explanations. Otherwise, there''s the risk the child will not develop decision-making skills, such as the ability to do a cost/benefit analysis, and, instead, become accustom to being told what to do and afraid of making decisions.
There are supporters of corporal punishment who point to Proverbs'' "Spare the rod and spoil the child" to support their position. Yet, this verse is consistent with the need to be cautious and strategic with the use of the rod. Spanking a child when they misbehave can teach discipline and proper instruction, but doing it reactively, out of anger, and without explanation can increase the anger in the child. And Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
During discussions about this issue, people always ask me whether my father whipped me as a child. When I say yes, they look at me like they''ve made their case. Of course, they don''t know to ask me about the years he coached my YMCA basketball team, or to ask about the mandatory trips to the museums each summer, or about the nights he listened to me read the sports page, or about his dissatisfaction when Andrew or I got a B. So, while my father definitely knew how to use a rod, it was the rod combined with the lessons and guidance I received from my parents that taught me the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.