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School CP - September 1999
Bermuda Sun, Hamilton, 24 September 1999
Spanking: The arguments for and against
Does corporal punishment in the home and at school help or hinder child discipline?
By Alex Barclay
TO SPANK or not to spank: Child discipline is a divisive issue in which two sides seek the same end -- but advocate very different means of achieving it.
In the main, Bermuda has moved away from spanking, a trend which followed an incident in the 1970s when a student at Prospect School for Girls was disciplined, leaving marks on her body.
And at that time, said Northlands Primary PTA president and AME pastor Reverend Leonard Santucci, a proponent for corporal punishment, there was a public outcry. The incident resulted in a court case and the community put pressure on both the teacher's union and the education department to make sure it never happened again.
"Since then I think the standards of discipline and conduct have deteriorated," he said. "Children now know from primary one that their teachers can't touch them."
Rev. Santucci felt that isolated incident some 30 years ago had gone too far. But he said the community's response has, in a way, created more damage.
He believes that Bermuda's children are not getting the discipline they need.
Despite speaking out strongly in support of spanking children, he places certain limits on how a parent should smack their child. And similar to the belief of Father's Resource Centre founder Alvin Goulbourne, he said spanking should be a last resort punishment.
But if the child persists in directly disobeying a rule, after a verbal warning, Rev. Santucci said a swift smack on the buttocks is in order. Although he cautioned that parents must be in complete control of the situation, not harbouring any anger toward their child at the time.
And Mr. Goulbourne suggested if the parent is angry a calming down period should be taken before issuing any punishment. He said that not only would it constitute as physical abuse if the parent strikes out with violence in anger, but he believed that it would lead toward the parent barraging the child with verbal abuse. In addition he said "violence breeds violence" and the children would learn that it is acceptable behaviour to lash out in anger.
"A parent who administers proper discipline is teaching a lesson in self control. That is what my colleagues who are against spanking have missed."
He also explained that along with punishment he believed that children should be rewarded, making it more effective for children to display the correct behaviour.
"A clinical child psychologist, Dr. Michael McDonough, said that for every negative a child should receive from five to seven positives. Sometimes this is difficult to do but it makes the child feel good about themselves."
Mr. Goulbourne added that the punishment should match the crime. "For discipline to be effective the child has to know what it has done wrong and that he or she has broken a rule set by the parent. For example, if a child breaks something in youthful exuberance, for a parent to spank it because they were angry would be inappropriate. The child has not done anything wrong intentionally."
He also said that parents must take care not to spank children that are "over a certain age." But he refused to give an exact age, because Mr. Goulbourne said that is individual to the child.
Dr. Santucci added: "Spanking when it is done properly ought not to constitute as physical abuse." He spoke out in favour of corporal punishment in support of former Northlands headmaster Dale Butler, who made headlines last year when he strapped three boys in front of the entire school.
"I am very supportive of corporal punishment in schools and I think Dale did the right thing. That situation was exasperated by Sheelagh Cooper because she tends to speak without direct, first-hand knowledge."
And he predicted that if Bermudians did not step up the discipline -- especially now that the softer approach to parenting is moving into a second generation -- there would ultimately be more violence as a result.
He said in the last decade Government has spent an "excessive amount" making up for the lack of discipline in schools. He said the creation of the CADET school at Warwick Camp, the hiring of truancy officers, a youth counselling programme, among other things had all been established to make up for the lack of corporal punishment.
"I would also argue that there are probably an increased number of children in residential care and more court appearances made by children of school age."
Dr. Santucci also said that the breakdown of the family (including the extended family) attributes to the discipline problem. Agreeing, Mr. Goulbourne said that single parents -- of which there are many more of these days -- have a harder time coping than the traditional family. He said the single parent has the entire responsibility and they are often tired.
"There is often also a matter of guilt because that child is missing out on things. Parents, men and women, deal differently with children and discipline."
He said there are also many other options, apart from spanking, to discipline children. And if a parent finds that spanking is their only tool, they need to make changes to their system.
Natural consequences in a controlled environment is one Mr. Goulbourne favours. "If your child has a habit of running late, maybe you can arrange to have them left behind so they miss out on something they enjoy," he said. "This is not a punishment but a consequence. If they make a bad decision they need to learn to live with it, as long as it is not harmful."
He also suggested withholding television or play-dates with friends, all depending on the age of the child.
SPEAKING to the Bermuda Sun against spanking children were Liz Boden from the Nurses' Practice and education department behaviour specialist Dr. Judith Bartley.
While in many cases they agreed with the alternatives given by Dr. Santucci and Mr. Goulbourne, they did not believe that spanking was a sensible option.
Ms. Boden said: "We are trying to show our children appropriate behaviour so we must get a very clear message that we never smack or hit another person. We do not hurt feelings by verbal abuse and constant put-downs. We will try to hand the problem to the child and then show them how to deal with it."
She went on to say that children need to be shown what they have done wrong and then helped to solve their problem, while keeping the child's dignity intact.
She pointed the finger toward adults and how they manage their problems. "Usually the problem in minor, but how adults handle it often results in the loss of temper, vial language, words said that would only be regretted later. In the end the problem is insignificant -- the problem is the outburst of emotions which has followed. Dignity was lost."
During her career as a registered nurse, Ms. Boden said she has encountered three different types of parents: the kind who let their children do what they want, those who are strict and never bend the rules and then the parents who are firm but flexible. According to Ms. Boden the third example is what parents should aspire to be.
She explained that there are many stages to disciplining children, starting as early as just six months old. At that stage Ms. Boden said babies have started to manipulate parents and test their limits.
"The baby understands far more than you think," she said. "I recommend a clear no, a stern face and a raised finger with an explanation. For example, 'no -- hot, hot, hot' if the baby is reaching for your cup of tea."
At that stage in life, she explained, discipline is about not allowing the baby to hurt himself, others or damage property.
She said parents often punish babies for behaviour perceived as naughty when it is actually just discovering or exploring.
Time outs, she said, can begin as early as the second part of the first year and it can be very successful moving into the second year. Ms. Boden's rule is one minute for each year of the child's life -- if they are three years old, they get three minutes.
Ms. Boden said children "love discipline" and they need routine. And, she said, if kids are going to stay happy it is important that parents do not get behind with either mealtime or bed time. "Tired and hungry children are not nice to be around. Whose fault? Yours, not the children."
Dr. Bartley said she recognized that a lot of parents make the choice to spank their children. But she suggested that there are other alternatives.
"Spanking is inappropriate for teaching your child how to make good choices. It is a short-term intervention for what could become a long-term problem. So if we are looking at training our children to become worthwhile and productive adults, we have to provide them with other strategies to help them problem solve besides spanking," she said.
"We want out children to be able to verbalize a problem or what has happened to them. They should be able to talk through it and then recognize the logical consequences."
Dr. Bartley said these skills could be used straight through life, when dealing with peers, teachers and then colleagues.
But if the only lesson in discipline a child learned was violence, she said, they would transfer that punishment in dealing with other people.
The consequence of the child's action needs to logically follow what the infraction was. She said: "If a child throws a plate of food on the floor, the natural consequence is the child has to clean it up and then go to their room."
Although Dr. Bartley said she believed spanking a child is always inappropriate, she said there are people who believe that in extreme cases, where a child can do harm to themselves a quick tap to indicate no is necessary. But she said she experienced with her own children that pulling the youngster away from the danger followed by an explanation of the consequences is enough.
Despite others' concern that the discipline problem in Bermuda is spilling into the schools Dr. Bartley, who works in the public system, said it is more a case of lack of communication.
"What appears in schools is not so much a lack if discipline but a difference in cultures. Children are bringing their home culture into the classroom and sometimes it does not blend with what the teacher has been exposed to.
"From my own observation understanding the culture of where the child is coming from can really alleviate the perception of a more serious problem. Building a rapport with the students and discussing issues can help to break down a lot of barriers."
She added: "I am not saying there are not discipline problems, but sometimes there are different ways to deal with them."
Dr. Bartley said, if parents are interested in changing their approach to disciplining their children, there are a few groups which can help with the process: PARENTS, various parent support groups as well as school guidance counsellors.
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