The consequence of having no consequence

18 May

My first post on the joys of parenting has prompted requests for my take on smacking. That’s one topic I never thought to take my dad up on because in the back of my mind I knew the response would be painful.
So with that insightful bit of background, my take on smacking is yes, I do agree smacking children is acceptable.

Not so fast. I have to tell you why I agree and under what circumstances before you disappear into other parts of the interweb. Nothing divides opinion quite like this subject and believe me, it’s one I don’t take lightly either.

Many of you might say there is no justification for smacking a child and many have never been smacked or smacked their children. My dear friend in California is one such person and has made it clear that she would kill anyone who laid a finger on her children. Yeah, I know, not the kind of non-violent response you’d expect right?

My justification?

The purpose of being a parent isn’t just to shower your kids with love and attention but also to instil discipline and teach them right from wrong. Que? How do you do that without making them aware of a small thing called consequence? Don’t get me wrong, smacking in my opinion is last resort and I don’t say that to curry favour with the non-smacking brigade, I say it because it is. I’ve told my kids that there are two things that I will not accept, lying and stealing. So accidentally breaking my iPad, being cheeky (back home we call it being disrespectful), tantrums and good old disobedience never caused me to raise my hand or voice; there are other ways of dealing with that kind of behaviour. When I was a kid, I’d get a smack for much less.

My dad used to tell us just before the lash of the cane ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you’, I used to reply (in my head of course) ‘then don’t do it and save us both the pain’. Unfortunately, he wasn’t telepathic and yes I have become my dad; it hurts me when I have to smack a child but the consequences of not doing that are far worse.

Without consequence there is no fear, that’s why a teenager can happily stab another knowing the maximum penalty he can expect is free room and board for the next five years. Some years back, we used to get kids come round to our flats, they would smoke hash, make noise and vandalise the place. No one challenged them until one day someone called the police and I happened to be returning home when the police arrived.

“What’s your name son?” Asked the constable.
“Mickey Mouse.” Comes the reply, followed by the cheers from his mates.
“And you?”
“Donald Duck.”

Disgusted I left them to it, reflecting that had MOPOL (Nigerian mobile police force) asked for my name I’d give it to them and add ‘sir’ at the end. These kids had no respect for authority because there were no consequences to their actions.

Not long after I’d entered my flat, one of them runs up to the door bangs loudly on it and runs away. So my brother-in-law (he’s 6 foot plus) and I give chase, both of us in little more than jeans and vests, and catch up with them outside a house further up the road.

“Were you the ones banging on my door just now?”

“Nah mate, wasn’t us. Why d’yu call the police anyways blud?!”

I turn on the Naija accent “Call who? If I wan deal wit sometin’ I deal wit it myself; I don’ have time for police. Apart from dat I am not your mate or your blud.”

That gets their attention so I press home. “So now I know where you live, I will bring my own mates to come and smoke and spit on your doorstep.”

“We’re sorry, we won’t do it again.” Well that was unexpectedly quick! “Can you go now please before my mum gets back?” he continues in a plaintive tone. Ah, so there is an authority they fear and respect.

My point?

These kids realised there were consequences to their actions and desisted; they understood if they crossed me or their parents they would hear about it, but as far as the police were concerned they were virtually untouchable.

So why do I consider smacking an option? It is serves as a deterrent against bad behaviour and with all deterrents, sometimes you have to follow through.

Does smacking work?

Interesting question and one I have asked myself countless times. If it works, why was I smacked all my childhood and into my early teens? Why didn’t it stop earlier? Was it me or was it because those older than me thought they knew better and that I needed a smack for whatever reason?

I don’t know about all parents, but my dad knew when to stop. It was the day I looked him square in the eye as he delivered those strokes of the cane for something I knew I shouldn’t be punished for. I didn’t flinch or even respectfully yelp in pain (it’s disrespectful not to cry or yelp apparently), that was the last time I was smacked.

I was 15.

Smacking is like every other ‘parenting solution’ you can think of; you shouldn’t expect the same results. It’s the same as bribery, negotiation or whatever that book from the self-help section tells you, it won’t always work and when it doesn’t, you have to get creative.

I read Almazu’s blog post on smacking and though I didn’t ask, I don’t think it worked in her case because she couldn’t understand why her mother smacked her and her dad didn’t. I could feel the hurt in the writing and yes, I do worry if there is a right way to discipline. What I did notice from the article was that she didn’t ask the reason for the smacking and her mum probably didn’t tell her. I would say though that this doesn’t mean smacking is bad but not explaining to your child why they are being punished is.

Can you discipline a child without smacking?

Yes you can. I don’t do bribery but I do choice; you can be naughty, throw a tantrum and refuse to go to bed and I won’t smack you, but that means you’ve chosen not to watch your favourite tv programme, play in the park or go to a party you were invited to. What I try not to do is say “if you do this, I’ll give you that” or “if you go to bed early I’ll buy you something”. I prefer to leave the choice up to them, making it clear what their choices are. That way you can start to find out what they value and what the consequences of losing that or missing out on it would mean to them. On the flip side they also come to realise that they have the power to chose what they want and wisely.

I’ve read other articles on the subject including one on alternatives to smacking on rodewayoflife blog which has really useful tips and some which would horrify someone who prefers smacking. David Lammy’s (MP) interview on mumsnet also looked interesting and I take his point on the guidance in the UK which allows you to smack your child as long as you don’t leave visible marks and don’t use an ‘implement’. Legislation that definitely wasn’t drafted by a black man.

The best way to stop smacking is to have time for your kids. Difficult call I know, especially when you’re holding down a job, doing night school and bringing up your kids the best you can. You don’t even have to be a single parent (male or female) to have the odds stacked against you as far as finding time for your kids is concerned. Children act up mainly because they are looking for attention and will do what they can to get it, interrupt adult conversation, yell, dance in front of the TV just as the game goes to penalties.

Discipline

I’m a learner dad, haven’t got teens yet so I will do what I can to raise my kids with whatever skills and tools I can bring into play. I’m not going to take sides just for the sake of being seen to do what is proper and acceptable – it’s my kids’ future we’re talking about here. I do worry like most dads if I’m raising my children right, if smacking scars or not doing so spoils their future, but one thing I am certain of and don’t need legislation to tell me is that they need love, education and discipline – they need my time.

You can tell by the word count there will have to be a part 2 to this and in that part, I’ll tell you about my experience of being hauled into the headmaster’s office for smacking my daughter.

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2 Responses to “The consequence of having no consequence”

  1. Clara May 18, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Enough said:-)

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Dad’s on the naughty step | Somewhere for my stuff - May 30, 2013

    […] you read my other post on the consequence of having no consequence then you’ll know what the summons was about. At this point in time I didn’t, so you can […]

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