The Controversy of Discipline

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In the yesteryears, discipline is the rule for every child, a rigid training by parents in order to prepare them in the life journey of their own. Parents’ words were the unwritten, unquestionable and indisputable laws at home. Outspokenly, it is the common belief that that is the family’s customary way of rearing children in most cultures. Today, should discipline evolve or be replaced with ambiguous rights and undefined freedom of the progenies? Discipline is vanishing in the limelight of technological advancement and misinterpreted rights and freedom, the miserable and despondent reality of our contemporary time.

Social media posts on the issue of children’s discipline garnered diverse views from different perspectives and from one’s own lived-experiences. Children’s rights advocates are vigilant on this matter. Politicians, claiming to be representing the will of the people, are hitching legislative actions to protect the children from any form of harm. In view of children’s rights advocates, child welfare professionals, numerous government leaders and significant numbers of lawmakers, corporal punishments are said to be physical abuse. This is one of the qualms of today’s discipline in debate.

At some point, confusions come to mind on how to distinguish discipline from physical abuse. This mix-up is an excellent opportunity to revisit corporal punishment as the sting of discipline and as parenting model. Several researches found out that corporal punishments resulted to hamper children’s multifaceted personality development.  Nonetheless, research outcomes could not suggest a single alternative for eradicating corporal punishments in disciplining children. In relation to child physical abuses, researchers must look into the costs and effects of family breakdowns, impacts of the distractive state-of-the-art technologies, and the influences of the global media in the behaviors of the parents, as the disciplinarians, and their children as the subjects of discipline. Also, it could be inferred that parents who had been abusive to their children were not disciplined at all by their parents, instead they were more likely abused by someone not necessarily in their kin.

To unblemished the misperception, the following questions might help to elucidate and enlighten the issue. First, how would discipline be defined with an untarnished description of its parameters? Second, who would be the right persons to impose discipline? Third, at what stage of human development or at what time of life does discipline be applied?  Lastly, how would you differentiate corporal punishment, an act of discipline, from physical abuse? These queries shroud the controversial child’s discipline.

Discipline, according to the Oxford Living Dictionary, is the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience. “Descepline”, the origin of the word from Old French, means physical punishment, basically for the sake of correction. In the context of upbringing children and based on the given definitions, when disciplining children, either parents are teaching them to be well-behaved or they are punishing their children to enforce obedience. Thus, parents are correcting them to fortify moral character. Although, the purpose of the act is clearly stated, the parameters of the physical punishments were not evidently described.

Definitions of discipline may vary on the perspectives of different authorities and legal bodies. Through the ages, cultural evolution brings new perceptions of discipline where its purpose has no importance. The advent of neo civilization, where rights have greater weight than responsibilities and where freedom seems to be absolute, brings discipline into extinction. Considering these particulars, parameters concerning discipline and physical abuse must be clearly delineated.

Corporal punishment, as an integral practice of discipline, could be culturally determined, embedded in the family system, parenting and home governance. In some societies, either this paradigm be acceptable or it might be impermissible, approved by parents, ratified by learning institutions and even allowed by laws. Discipline implies corporal or physical punishment but does not intend physical abuse. Hence, purging corporal punishment loses its meaning. The point is, if there were well-defined bounds of corporal punishment then beyond those limits could be simply identified as child physical abuse. Discipline is the essential ideals of parenting, leadership and management. It is the inseparable element of success, be it personal or organizational.

Family, the basic unit of the society, serves as the foremost training organization in acquiring this significant human skill (discipline). The earliest time to castigate children is when they already have the ability to listen and follow simple instructions. None other than home is the proper venue to serve corporal punishments to children. Calmly and patiently explain the pros and cons of their actions and expound the reasons before giving the punishments. In the process of learning from the basics to moderate to complex things, children used to test adults by insisting what they want. Knowing that children are very persistent, if parents submit to their likings, neither right nor wrong, children would presumed they were always right. By doing so, parents allow children to spin their heads.

Mild to moderate or controlled corporal punishments, like slapping open palm or hitting the butt with bare hand could be applied. Nonetheless, parents have different ways of giving punishments and yet there is no restriction on which part of the body to smack. Generally, acts of smashing, spanking and the likes are viewed as corrective measures for children’s wrongdoings. Mere words would not ever suffice to discipline faltering children of minor ages.   It construes the theory of operant conditioning of Burrhus Frederic “B. F.” Skinner (1938), an influential American psychologist. Skinner, a behaviorist, believed that behavior is determined by its consequences, neither be reinforcements nor punishments, which make it more or less likely that the behavior will occur again.

In my previous article titled “Irrefutable Challenge to Parents of Today”, I emphasized discipline rooted from the family, as a reflection of respect to authorities and other people but corporal punishment was not tackled as part of the imposition of discipline. More so, it is a betimes preparation of supporting social norms and adherence to the laws. This acquired self-control skill is anticipated to manifest outside their home. Similarly, in the same article, I pointed out that no one else except the parents are the first and the right persons to correct and castigate their children. They are the immediate authorities, spending more time with the children except for some other reasons, responsible to shape their children’s character and positive attitude through discipline. 

Indisputably, discipline is one of the strong pillars of  a country’s development. Ferdinand Edralin Marcos, former Philippine President (1965-1986), challenged the Filipino people to be disciplined to attain national progress. Marcos adopted the catchphrase “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” (For the nation’s progress, discipline is needed) to awaken the spirit of the masses. Likewise, Lee Kuan Yew, former first Prime Minister and Founding Father of Singapore, transitioned the nation from “third world to first word in a single generation” through imposition of tough discipline to its people. Marcos and Lee both envisioned discipline as a technique of leadership and governance towards national progression. Indeed, to be disciplined is one of the good qualities of productive citizens towards a transformative society.

At an early age, children must be taught by parents to mindfully follow rules and to demonstrate respect to anyone particularly to authorities. In this real-life drill, children would know the rules and the corresponding punishments for their defiance. For example, stealing money, cheating or not doing homework have the corresponding punishments of slapping the palms or hitting the buttocks by bare hands respectively. Such physical or corporal punishments must be controlled in a way that would not inflict unbearable pains and serious injuries, a way of reviving honesty, responsibility and hard work. Integrity, incorruptibility, hardworking, accountability, respect and obedience to laws would be the expected impacts of such penalties. Teachers, particularly in the pre-schools to secondary schools, are the next persons of authority who complement children’s discipline. However, this matter must be stipulated in the institution’s manuals.

Back in time, the Holy Scriptures (King James Version) speaks about child discipline in the Book of Proverbs: Proverbs 13:24 – He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes; Proverbs 22:15 – Foolishness [is] bound in the heart of a child; [but] the rod of correction shall drive it far from him; and, Proverbs 29:15 – The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left [to himself] bringeth his mother to shame. Impliedly, corporal or physical punishment is a practice of discipline since the dawn of civilization.

Child physical abuse, on the other hand, is a deliberate act of hurting a child causing bruises, open wounds, and broken bones among other physical injuries or deformities. Reflectively, physical abuse is an excessive infliction of bodily pain to someone due to uncontrolled fury resulting to ferocity or for the purpose of pleasure. In this description, the uncontrolled emotions and the purpose of the action could never justify its possible outcomes.

Most likely, children who have experienced corporal punishments are tougher in handling life conflicts whilst those who have not experienced punishments are more likely struggling depression as they grow older, burdened with more responsibilities and other excruciating life encounters. Probably, children who do not understand why they were punished became more unruly. Whereas, those who comprehended the reasons for punishments recognizes shortcomings, knows to accept faults and embraced the lessons learned. Contrariwise, other foreseen unfavorable effects on the children’s personality development must be given full attention and proper guidance. Institutional interventions – government units, schools and churches, social welfare agencies – through counselling and other professional services must be accessible to each family. 

I joined discussions of parents of dissimilar ethnic backgrounds about discipline. At the end, they were all grateful to their parents who enforced corporal punishments which taught them to overcome the most reproachful events in their lives. Commonly, parents with tough discipline would say: “Abide by the rules and stay. Otherwise, leave the house and live on your own.” Participants in the dialogue never termed corporal punishment as a form of physical child abuse. Likewise, they never thought that they were abused by their parents in such parenting scheme. Unanimously, they blamed the current governments on the disparaging upshots of excessive rights awareness for the children without equal encouragement of responsiveness on responsibilities for misbehaving or misdeed.

Children use their rights to evade punishments for their transgressions. As an outcome, children become impolite and abusive, opportunist and irresponsible, and egoistic and fibbers. Undoubtedly, I am not against children’s rights. Still, rights must be equally taught with its corresponding responsibilities at the right age when one could be contingent for what is right from wrong, deemed to be matured enough to have sound decisions, and could live on their own.  Inability to take responsibilities and incapacity to decide for their lives are the rationales why minor age children, seventeen years old and below, are dependent on their parents. The optimal test of discipline’s efficacy commences the time children reached the legal age of eighteen or when they decided to have life of their own.

It is the government’s obligation to set the parameters and gravity of punishments to distinguish corporal punishment to a child from child physical abuse. Government must set the precise descriptions, the gravity or degree of both corporal punishments and physical abuses and identify which body parts would be reasonable (corporal punishment) and would be unacceptable (physical abuse) to give a hit or smash. Legislators in this matter have different viewpoints, reflective of their own differences in family upbringings and disciplinary approaches. Decades ago, a call for the government to create and implement a comprehensive and operational parenting program to parents of minor children to keep each family intact and prolific, is still echoing.

In a nutshell, the gist of discipline is corporal or physical punishment. Taking away such punishment jeopardizes discipline in the vocabulary. Corporal punishment as a label of discipline ought not to be viewed as physical abuse unless it jumped across a well-defined limitations.  Researchers should not single out corporal punishments – to carry out the distinct purpose of discipline – to amplify child physical abuse snags. The readiness of the couple (maturity, taking complex responsibilities, independent decision-making, etc.) in raising children; misleading influences of the social environment; other social dilemmas like poverty and illegal drugs; changing family structure; wicked impacts of the modern technology; and, accessible yet unnecessary and inappropriate information to young and old people are perhaps the strong strands of child physical maltreatment. These might traverse towards a profound unfolding of the truths on the alleged “child corporal punishment is child physical abuse”. Reflectively, the child physical abuse concerns could be addressed through a responsible and mindful parenting.

In the end, the government should commit positive approach to discipline and must craft a sensible machineries against the proliferation of child abuses. I am not intensely convinced that child physical abuse is in the guise of discipline. I pause for your comments.

65 thoughts on “The Controversy of Discipline

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