Thursday, 26 May 2016

Discipline. Smack? Hiding? Abuse? It's All In A Word

Discipline.  Where does one even start?  Discipline is a rather difficult topic to address as views in this area of parenting are often widespread and by no means universal.  Let me use my own experience as an example – I am a South African father with a child growing up in the UK.  The way we punish our children may be down to how we ourselves were disciplined as children, but due to rapid changes in society and social norms, or even merely cultural differences, the way I was disciplined in South Africa is heavily frowned upon in contemporary British society – yes, being smacked; “getting a hiding” as we knew it more colloquially.

A real issue with this form of disciple is the wording used to describe it depending on one’s geographical location.  When I was growing up, receiving hidings was completely the norm, both at home and at school.  A recent shift in the wording these days has contemporary society viewing it as something completely different.  The word commonly used in the UK to describe this form of discipline is “abuse”.   I have my personal view on using that particular word to describe smacking a child, a view which is often not supported by those around me here in the UK.

Before my daughter was born I had made up my mind that I would not use this form of punishment; unfortunately (to some degree) I have not lived up to that promise.  One thing I can be assured of, is that I have never responded with this form of discipline out of anger. To me, the intention is a key factor. If one takes the principles of social learning theory (the idea that we model and imitate the behaviour of others through mere observation) it only makes sense to avoid giving your child a hiding.  But this theory is void of any cognitive input of the person concerned.  Let me put it simply; I experience my parents smacking my brothers and I, and then, according to this theory, I imitate this behaviour when my child misbehaves by smacking her having mentally retained the action of my own parents from all those years ago.  The missing ingredient which is key in this example is that I have the ability to think for myself and process whether or not this is a necessary form of punishment.  Therefore as a parent, one needs to decide whether the method of punishment is in fact the legit way of going about things.

Punishment by definition is the delivery of a consequence that decreases the likelihood of that particular behaviour reoccurring; punishment serves to reduce the frequency of the behaviour that precedes it.  The reason I mention this is largely due to the fact that whenever I have such discussions with those who are so anti hidings, they almost always respond with the notion that if people are smacked in childhood, it teaches the child that aggression and physically hitting someone is the way one deals with one’s problems; in other words, through violence.  I could not disagree more with this view.  What is rather interesting, is that those who received this form of punishment as children are generally advocates for it, and if not, are generally indifferent about whether it is right or wrong to punish in such a way.  It seems to me that those who were not brought up with this form of punishment are those most passionate about how awful and barbaric it is.    

The world we are growing up in is fast becoming more and more tolerant of unfavourable behaviour.  Society seems to be shying away from imposing consequences on those whose behaviour is questionable.  When we see parents yelling at their sweet little darlings, we may instinctively view this as bad parenting, when in fact it might not be.  Imposing boundaries such as curfews may be argued against in light of infringing on a child’s rights or giving hidings because some label it abuse.  The fact of the matter is, by not imposing boundaries or   consequences, we are in fact doing our children a disservice, and in my view, that is where the real abuse lies.  So many parents want to be friends with their children from a young age and please them in all instances; this will only result in in adults who have little or no concept of real world expectations or societal boundaries.  Friendships are usually egalitarian; neither party exercises authority over the other – this, surely, is the key difference between friendships and parenting.     

I am fully aware that these, my views, are my own personal and subjective take on this topic. As a parent I try to always be objective in the way that I see things and use punishment accordingly, however, not imposing boundaries as a parent, in my (strong) view, is in fact a form of neglect.



  1. Most kids today, specially here in the UK, have no idea of consequence, discipline, manners, or general decent behaviour. My son of 21 has even brought this up in conversation. Being a SA mom of 3 now residing in the UK, my kids have been brought up in the SA way, knowing that there are consequences for their actions and that consequences 'hurt' in some way, whether it was a well placed spank on a well padded butt, or the removal of internet priviledges and phones as they got older. One of the other issues with kids in the UK is the fact that in schools, particularly high schools, there is no enforced sport like we had in SA, nor is there any sense of pride in the school identity like we had forced on us almost through strict dress/uniform codes. Kids do what they want when they want without any idea of potential repercussions or dangers.


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