As an expectant mother I subscribe to so many mothering and parenting websites that I feel swamped and overwhelmed with a lot of the information that is found on these websites. From labour and how to sleep to what to eat and what no to, most of the information is quite confusing and goes over my head like water on a duck’s back. But interestingly I came across this article about discipline and its effects and ramifications on the psyche of the child and how it affects his/her association with others. It spoke about a mother who, because her 15-year-old had consistently failed in school and after lectures and groundings went unnoticed, and earned himself an F in gym class his mom decided that was it. She made a sign that read, “I did 4 questions on my FCAT and said I wasn’t going to do it … GPA 1.22 … honk if I need (an) education,” brought it to his school, made him put it on as they left campus and then had him wear it at a Tampa intersection for 4 hours. A psychologist who worked with Child Social Services said “It definitely would fall within the category of emotional abuse. It is shame, embarrassment and humiliation. This will be a lifelong memory for him”.
This article actually got me thinking. When is a punishment deemed appropriate and when is it deemed abuse? Do we as parents have to toe a thin line in showing our children the right and proper way? Or do we become their friends and molly-cuddle them until they have no perception of reality?
Growing up my parents instilled discipline through spankings and respect for authority. There were no time-outs or sitting in corners. You took responsibility for your actions and learnt that everything you do has an effect and consequence from an early age. The fear of bringing up children that were “sissies” or “soft” were the things that my parents were trying to avoid. Bringing up well-rounded children was their plan.
These days, a parent can’t spank their child or even raise their voice on their child for fear of being accused of verbal or physical abuse towards the child or, worse, the police being called to intervene. Children in developed nations in this current generation enjoy a lot of comfort and protection from the government, so much so that parents aren’t allowed to parent anymore. So what’s next- a kid being forced to clean up his mess is being forced to endure “manual labour”? Grounding a child is “false imprisonment”?
Now please don’t get me wrong. Definitely there are some parents who actually do abuse their children, sexually, physically and emotionally. Some people who feel that their children are not to live normal lives but to be scarred with self-esteem issues and emotional hang-ups. But these are the minority. To say that a mother who decides to shame her child into bettering his life as abuse is just laughable. If after speaking herself hoarse and grounding her son didn’t work to bring him back in line, then she had to resort to desperate means of embarrassment. But it begs to ask the question: if she had being stricter when he was younger would he have had to be embarrassed?
It is never too late to change the discipline routines we use towards our children, if we intend for them to be great people in life; the danger is feeling that in some way or the other we as parents are viewed as the enemy of our children. I don’t intend to be liked by my children, if liking them means that I set aside rules that can enable them live fulfilled lives after I am gone. The relationship of the young man mentioned might change with his mother…he may “hate” her at this point, resent what she did and yes, feel humiliated by what she had him do. And, if this boy turns his academic situation around, regardless of the motivation behind it, I can only imagine that he is bound to have an improvement in his self-esteem and feelings of capability. It feels good to succeed, and it sounds like he hasn’t likely had that feeling of achieving success for a long time, if ever. And how exactly did this young man feel about his “punishment”? “I felt crazy, it’s embarrassing,” he says, before adding, “She was trying to teach me a lesson. I should have been working harder than I was in school.” And if that is the result we get for disciplining our kids, then it makes it all the more worthwhile.