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rainbow ruler   :   Archive   :   1999   :   SG Domestic Apr 1999


Domestic CP - April 1999

Corpun file 3523


The Sunday Times, Singapore, 11 April 1999

Spare your child the rod? No

Two in three parents have caned their children, the most common offences being disobedience and lying


THE cane still stings in Singapore households, with two in three parents saying that they have used it on their children at one time or other.

And half of those who wield the rotan say that it is the best way to keep children in line.

This finding from a survey on parents' methods of discipline has drawn mixed views from social workers.

Expressing surprise, Mrs Evelyn Chong, director of Asian Women's Welfare Association Family Service Centre (FSC) said: "Most parents prefer to use the soft approach.

"They want to know how to reason with their children and motivate them positively to be better disciplined. Perhaps the best method is not the preferred method." Mr Sim Ngee Mong, a social worker at the Covenant Family Service Centre, was surprised too.

He thought the number of parents who use the cane would have been higher, between 90 and 95 per cent.

"Many parents do feel insecure and control their children by the hard approach by using the cane."

According to the survey, the chief offences which bring down the cane are disobedience and lying.

The cane, the second most common form of discipline after private scoldings, is usually used until the child hits 10.

Madam Ivy Chang, a mother of three, aged 16, 12 and eight, agrees that 10 is a good age to stop caning.

"Young children won't understand when you try reasoning with them.

"But when you use the cane they feel the pain and they know you mean it.

"I stopped caning my eldest when he hit Primary 5 and will stop when the other two reach that stage."

But the cane is not used equally among families living in different types of homes.

More of those living in three-room Housing Board flats use it compared to those in bigger properties.

More Chinese parents, than those of other races, use it too.

The survey was conducted by the Singapore Press Holding's Marketing, Planning and Development (Research) department.

It covered 398 parents who have children aged 16 and below.

Those who do not use the cane -- 23 per cent of those surveyed -- said they preferred to talk or counsel the child.

They were also afraid of hurting him.

Madam Suminah Hassan, 34, a housewife with three young boys, said the rotan in her home is used only to threaten her sons.

"Caning your kids can endanger the relationship between parent and child and make the child hate you," she said in Malay.

What concerned social workers interviewed about the use of the cane is this: Almost half of the parents said they turned to the cane when they had "lost control" rather than as a conscious tool of discipline.

Said Miss Charmaine Lim, a psychologist at Kampong Kapor FSC: "Some parents do not know their own strength. When they hit out in anger they can really hurt the child.

"Lashing out at the child in this manner is not going to correct his behaviour as it is directed at the individual child."

One parent, who declined to be named, agreed: "I can understand, though, why it happens. We're all human.

"But it's very dangerous to cane your child when your anger gets the better of you."

Copyright © 1999 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 3525


The Sunday Times, Singapore, 11 April 1999

The rotan still swings

She's tried all but he still misbehaves

THE nine-year-old boy's last contact with the cane was on Thursday night.

His parents had passed him money to hand to his school bus driver. He forgot about it, lost the money -- and kept quiet.

He received six strokes.

His caning can get as frequent as once a week for leaving his books behind at school, not taking books to school, not packing his schoolbag and not doing his homework.

The caning gets heavier for more serious offences, such as coming home late or hitting his sister.

The one he remembers best is the 10 strokes his father, a pastor, dished out two years ago.

The boy had taken money from his parents' bedroom without telling them.

"That was the worst caning I received for stealing, 10 strokes -- I know, my father counted," said the boy.

"I could not sit down immediately as my buttocks hurt. I was angry at that time as it was painful.

"But I knew I had done wrong as my parents explained to me why I had to be caned. I have not done it again."

His sister, six, gets caned too but not often.

She was caned last week for pulling out the leaves from the potted plant at home.

His mother, a housewife, feels that her son is not so much disobedient as forgetful, especially over things related to school work. His school had recommended that the boy be referred to a Family Service Centre for counselling.

Said the mother: "We have tried everything -- rewarding him with his favourite things, talking to him, taking away privileges, caning and ignoring him.

"We are at our wits' end and we just don't know how to crack this."

She acknowledged sometimes whacking him out of exasperation.

"When I apologised to him, he told me that I must control myself. I know it can happen again," she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

"So that's why we are here to seek help at the FSC as everything else does not seem to work," she added.

The social worker at the FSC said the boy and his parents had a good relationship. His mathematics teacher was also helping out, by checking his diary and reminding him about homework.

"Most primary school children have this problem and in this case, the school asked for counselling and the parents were willing to come in for help," she said.

Copyright © 1999 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 3526


The Sunday Times, Singapore, 11 April 1999

Kids say: What works for them

'Talking is better than the cane because caning is so painful and when you've been caned, you'll have all these ugly marks."
-- Zhang Mei Hwa, 13

'For me, what's worse than caning is if they don't let me watch my favourite cartoons on television.'
-- Loh Ai Fang, 13

'Sometimes, caning is good because it will help me to remember that this is something I should not do.'
-- Kenny Tan, 12

'The worst thing my parents can do to me is not letting me go out with my friends.'
-- Lin Teck Hua, 14

What else parents resort to

THE survey found that the extent to which parents use other methods, apart from caning, to discipline their children varies according to race and household type.

For example, parents in one- to three-room flats are the least likely to cut or stop giving their errant children pocket money, compared to those living in bigger homes.

The survey also found that more Chinese parents prefer to scold their children in front of their friends. But making children do more housework was the method of choice for Malay parents.

Indian parents scored highest for two methods -- not letting their children watch television and ignoring them till they apologise. This was also more popular with those in five-room flats and private homes.

Apart from these methods, other parents also shared with The Sunday Times their "alternative" punishments for their children. These include:
Making the child stand in a circle for a given time.
Making them stand facing a wall until he apologises.
Making them sit on a high stool from which they cannot climb down.
Changing computer passwords when they've exceeded their allotted time for using the computer.
Making them write their misdeed over and over again.
Hitting them with the fingers (kuti).
Grounding them.
Talking to them in private and giving them time to ponder their misdeeds.

Cane facts

COST: 50 cents, made in China and guaranteed to last a lifetime.

WHERE TO BUY: At neighbourhood shops selling household items. Usually found stacked with the brooms and mops on sale or hanging, tied together, from the ceiling of the shop.

NEW LOOK: Rotans today have a plastic hook at the end, which comes in a variety of colours.

NEW USES: Besides caning children, it is being used to train dogs, for school art projects, or displayed as a novelty item in the home.

BEST SALES: During examination time.

Corpun file 3942


The Straits Times, Singapore, 14 April 1999

Second last word

Caning's just an easy way out

By ALAN JOHNPARENTS are still buying canes to strike their children with, and this form of punishment is alive and well in Singapore homes.

Two-thirds of parents use the cane, according to a recent survey reported in The Sunday Times, because they find it effective and the best way to instil discipline in children.

Some readers will cheer, but others will recoil at the news and I do.

We will disagree about caning as we argue about good and bad parenting methods, strict or soft choices.

The fact is, no method guarantees success, whatever your desired outcome -- good behaviour, honesty, good grades in school or some peace and quiet on a Saturday afternoon.

Parents who cane rely on pain and fear to fix flaws.

The survey showed that they reach for the cane when children are disobedient, or if they lie, are caught fighting, use bad language or if the school complains -- in that order.

Failing examinations ranks just ahead of stealing as a reason to cane a child.

The mind boggles.

It is easier to see how caning might reinforce the lesson that stealing is totally unacceptable than to figure out how it might inspire any child to do brilliantly at the exams.

And what is the message when violent behaviour -- fighting -- is punished with caning? That violence is okay if you are bigger and in a position of power?

Caning does not always work.

The Sunday Times told the story of a pastor's son, who is caned regularly, six strokes for this, 10 strokes for that.

His most common failing is his forgetfulness, and it has not improved despite repeated canings to teach him.

Child experts make a distinction between discipline and punishment, pointing out that the two are not the same.

Discipline can be a positive experience, they say, teaching children the limits of acceptable behaviour and how to do what is right even when Mum, Dad or the teacher are not around.

Punishment, and especially physical punishment, is meant to inflict pain that will be remembered as the deterrent to repeating the same act.

In my view, parents who opt to discipline children without the cane choose the harder way of parenting and, ultimately, the more worthwhile.

It demands that one or both parents must invest time to talk, reason and explain, in order to influence or change a child's behaviour.

It means raising a child who will ask why and why not, who will expect logical explanations, protest at double standards and does not buy "Because I say so" as a convincing reason for behaving in a certain way.

It means having an arsenal of non-violent devices to use when reasoning fails, and carrying out threats to remove privileges, have a child grounded, or cancel a favourite outing, activity or treat.

In short, you work a good deal harder than if you use the cane.

But the harder way is better, if it teaches a child that fear of pain is not the best reason to choose the behaviours Mum and Dad approve of.

Many parents who use the cane say they do so because they were caned themselves as children.

It is true that most of us adults turned out all right in spite of being caned as children -- and some of us were hit with anything from tree branches to clothes hangers, feather-dusters and belts.

Perhaps the reason most of us survived unscarred is that the world was a different place 20 or 30 years ago, and children grew up knowing far more stability than they do today. Families held together better, most fathers and mothers stayed married to each other, there existed a close-knit and ever-present network of uncles, aunts and cousins, and long-time neighbours were practically family too.

Life for a child today is completely changed.

Most families have lost that comforting buffer between the home and beyond, and the rest of the world comes pressing in early via the Internet, a horde of unseen friends who influence, and a craving for independence in early teenhood.

Kids do grow up much faster, seeing far less of their parents.

There is hardly an area of life in which we look to the way things were done 30 or 40 years ago and repeat them in the hope of achieving success today.

Not in school, not in the workplace certainly, and not even in our free time or how we spend our holidays.

Why then, do parents wield the cane because their own parents did decades ago?

There's a big information gap here.

We don't know where to look for the answers when numerous situations leap up unexpectedly as baby grows up, begins school and starts proving himself imperfect, after all.

How much time do fathers and mothers spend thinking through how to raise their children, figuring out what skills they need, where to get trained and how to make time to do the job?

The answer tells you why so many take the easy way, and raise the cane.

The writer is News Editor of The Straits Times.

Copyright 1999 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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