Life and Living: The Weakening of a Society?

     For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying like crazy to make some semblance of sense out of two possibly related, definitely troubling topics in today’s society; the issue of “bullying”, and how our views on corporal punishment have changed. The crux of my thoughts on these two issues has been how our present views on both could, not only possibly be affecting how we perceive and address the world around us, but also the ways in which society deals with things like crime, punishment, pain and loss.

I remember being bullied during my grade school days. At various times during my childhood, there were other kids who would seek to exert power and instill fear in others. To this very day, I couldn’t tell you exactly why they did this. Maybe it was because they weren’t being hugged enough at home, maybe it was to cover or compensate for some other inadequacy. I just don’t know.

What I do know is that it hurt. The pain of being ridiculed, picked on and even physically assaulted for who I was cut deep. Luckily, I also had several positive aspects in life to counter the negatives, including a very stable home life and family. I grew up with two parents who loved me, and a grandmother who did quite a bit to instill in me the concept of self-worth and the ability to cope with peer pressure. Due to the positive influences in my formative years, the negatives were far easier to parse, analyse, categorise and address.

Conversely, it seems that in today’s world, we’re concerning ourselves more with the attempt to stop bullying in its entirety, while at the same time we’re abdicating our responsibility to the youth; the responsibility to teach them things like self-worth, confidence and the ability to once again parse, analyse, categorise and address the bullying.

Looking back at my own adult life and the person that I have become, I can’t really complain. I have three wonderful and loving children, including two grown boys that I am extremely proud of, and a nine-year-old girl with a heart as big as the Montana sky. I have seen quite a bit of the world, having served six years in the U.S. Army. I’ve not only been to both oceans, but across them as well. I have few true friends to be sure, but those few are steadfast in nature. To the best of my knowledge, I’m generally well-liked. (Although sometimes I wonder why, as I can also be somewhat of an arse at times!)

You see, these musings have brought me to a quandary; what are we teaching our children when we attempt to shelter them from the cruelty in the world, yet make little or no attempt to reinforce their coping skills? Make no mistake, the wider world can be a very cruel place, driven by selfishness, avarice, ignorance and intolerance, and it is incumbent upon each one of us to counter that by building up the younger generation and giving them the proper ammunition and skill sets to offset the negatives.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be trying to discourage bullying. Dealing with the source of pain is always a good idea! What I am saying is that no matter how hard we try, we’re never going to completely eradicate the problem of bullying, therefore we need to be covering down on the back end of the issue as well.

This brings me to the other topic; corporal punishment. (Plainly speaking, spanking children when they’ve broken the rules.) In today’s society, spanking has been all but outlawed, and I am at an utter loss as to why. Even the courts have occasionally ruled that spanking is detrimental to child rearing, and have punished parents for merely trying to raise their children.

Since time before antiquity, some parents have been spanking their children. Examples for this type of disciplinary practice can even be found in places such as the Bible, where Proverbs 13:24 connects the discipline of children to the way in which the parent(s) view their children;

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

In other words, if you love your children, you’ll take a proactive stance on discipline. If not, then you’ll just allow them to “exist”, while doing nothing to reinforce concepts of discipline and accountability.

Logic dictates that at this point, we have to ask the question; what does spanking teach our children? Opponents of corporal punishment have made the case that spanking teaches children the following things:

  • That hitting is acceptable behaviour.
  • That “might makes right.”
  • That it only reinforces the fallacy of “do as I say, not as I do.”

I was spanked as a child. Whenever I broke the rules, whenever I operated in contravention to the expectations set forth for good discipline, I got the strap. In turn, my sons were raised in a similar fashion, and my daughter is also being raised in the same way. To date, I have never been in jail, never been arrested, I have no misdemeanors or felonies on my record, no tickets, no accidents, no trouble with the law. My sons are also living their adult lives with clean slates. (So far!)

If you ask me, (and I would hope that you would, simply for the sake of argument!) spanking if implemented properly, teaches children that there are (or darned well should be) real, tangible and painful consequenses for breaking the rules. Think about it. If you go out and rob a bank, and get caught, what are the consequenses? First, your freedoms are taken away. You get incarcerated. Second, you no longer get to see the people that mean something to you, whenever you want to see them, because of result number one. Again, think about it! How would you feel if you were no longer able to go wherever you wanted, do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted? How would you feel if you were cut off from others? Would it cause you pain?

When I talk about proper implementation, I mean that there are rules for corporal punishment’s use. First of all, you should never, ever spank your child out of a sense of anger. In the midst of anger, your potential to do harm…even unintentional harm, is vastly increased. Second, every spanking should be followed up by positive reinforcement. (Now that I think about it, I might have even covered these things in a previous post!) The basic idea is to spank, let the child think about it for a bit, then sit them down and talk about the issue, asking questions such as if they know why they got spanked, were their actions the “right thing to do”, and what could they have done differently. The most important step in this discussion phase, is to let them know that you love them.

I can’t help but feel that by not spanking our children, we’re sending the message that breaking the rules is no big deal, and that there are no real consequenses to be expected when they do break those rules. In an unfortunate twist, this lack of consequense is now being reinforced and realised within the context of problems in the judicial and penal systems. Jail time no longer carries the undesirability or “sting” that it used to, due in no small part to a now “revolving door” issue in our jails. Cases are taking forever to adjudicate, and even those convicted of capital murder can sit in jail for over 20 years, while availing themselves of a lengthy appeals process.

Here’s the meat and potatoes of it, my fine young readers. What are we doing to the next generations of society, if we do not properly equip them to deal with stress and potential conflict, and do not instill in them any realistic expectation of consequenses? I’ll leave that bit for you to answer.

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