We live in an age of extreme understanding and fantastic sensitivity. Which is wonderful as long as the product of our sensitivity isn’t spoiled and self-absorbed and entitled children, writes Howard Feldman.
The South African Constitutional Court has upheld a ruling by
the High Court that we are no longer allowed to smack our children. Whereas I
have never been a fan of corporal punishment, I am concerned that the finding
will edge us slowly and dangerously toward becoming a nanny state. Only without
the ability to actually nanny.
I was not a child that needed a smack. And yet, there was an
incident that took place that shaped my childhood.
When I was nine years old, I was unfairly called out at a line-up
assembly and beaten in front of the teachers and all the children in the
primary school. The principal called out my name, made me come to the front
after which he took off his belt and hit me with it. It was 1977 and I guess we
were a little aggressive back then.
The principal’s “charge” was that I had misbehaved on the
school bus and in his wisdom, he decided that the only way this scourge of
terrible behaviour would stop was if an example would be made. I was it.
To this day I maintain my innocence and to this day the
memory of that experience remains vivid. What will also remain with me is the
fact that my mother, on hearing the news, went to the principal’s flat, barged
past his wife and proceeded to hit the unsuspecting man in the head for having
laid a hand (or belt as it were) on her child.
It doesn’t take Freud to appreciate why when I became a
parent, that corporal punishment would be the last resort. My wife shares this
approach. With our youngest of our five children being 14 years old, we are pretty
much through the age when a smack is even an option, but there were a number of
times when they were young, that we would give them a smack:
When their lives were in danger.
When they swore or were very insolent.
When a young child runs into the road after being told not
to, or climbs into a swimming pool area after being warned over and over not
to, then as a parent, I believe that we have not only a right, but a duty to
make sure that it never happens again. When a child of six looks at his mom and
calls her a “bitch” because he is angry and has just learned the word, a smart
sharp smack will ensure that he doesn’t venture there again.
And whereas I am certain that a heart to heart and the
exploration of feelings is also a great option, I believe that none will
eliminate the risk of recurrence like a measured ration of corporal punishment.
I recall one Saturday night when a friend at age 13 stole his
parents’ car, got drunk and on returning it, drove through the garden fence and
squarely into the swimming pool. He was lucky to have not been hurt, and so he
climbed out the vehicle, dried himself off, climbed into bed and went to sleep.
When he woke up, he found his mother sitting at the edge of
his bed waiting to speak to him. The memory of the night before came back to
him and he was certain that life as he knew it was over. Luckily for him,
however, his mom was a practicing child psychologist and so when she spoke,
finally, after a lot of sighing and silence, she said, “Andrew, you must be
very angry to have done what you did.”
He told me that on hearing those words, he knew that come
next Saturday night, he again could borrow one of the family vehicles.
“Andrew” needed a smack.
We live in an age of extreme understanding and fantastic
sensitivity. Which is wonderful as long as the product of our sensitivity isn’t
spoiled and self-absorbed and entitled children. I don’t believe that corporal
punishment is the only prevention, but I do believe that curtailing parents’
choices limits their ability to parent properly.
I accept that corporal punishment can get out of hand. But
making it illegal is akin to banning alcohol because there are those who drink
too much, and like making sugar illegal because some of us eat too many
chocolates. The point is that whereas I understand first hand the dangers
around the subject, I believe that the Constitutional Court might well have
stretched out its arm just a little too far.
– Howard Feldman is a keynote speaker and analyst. He is the author of three books and is the morning talk show host on ChaiFM.
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