To Beat Or Not To Beat?

By Rogan Smith |
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Scolding the child

To beat or not to beat? That is the question.

Except for many Bahamians, it’s not so much a question as it is an expectation that an unruly child will be physically dealt with.

For the religious, it’s what the Bible requires. We’re warned that if you spare the rod, you spoil the child, and we take that warning seriously.

Many of you old enough to remember the Bahamas of auld lang syne, know that we’ve always operated with a village mentality – that it took a village to raise a child. And you entrusted that village to handle that child if he or she got out of line. And by handle, I mean beat.

Still photo of Mo'Nique of Precious
Mo’Nique was an absolute monster of a mother in the Oscar-winning movie, Precious.

For modern parents, spanking in any form, is abuse and does more harm than good. A lot of scientific evidence supports that, noting that it leads to poor social and developmental behaviors. In fact, some studies show it’s better to reason with children and strip away privileges. The problem is, that works until it doesn’t work. The question then becomes, now what?

I personally don’t think spanking should ever be a first or even second option. But, it’s a disciplinary tool that I always keep on the table. Most of the children in my life are well-behaved and respond to stern warnings. But, I believe life functions best with graduated levels and repercussions. It keeps things in order.

I have stood in check-out lines and seen modern-thinking parents standing by helplessly as their children completely disrespected them in public. Also on the checkout line are the strict disciplinarians who are cursing and beating the life out of their child because he or she asked for a candy bar. These are both extremes. They’re both not good.

I didn’t grow up in a household where I got beaten. My mother says I didn’t do anything to warrant it.

That all changed in the summer of ’93. This is what I like to refer to as your typical ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ moment.

I was 13 with extremely poor vision and wore embarrassingly thick, purple glasses. Making matters worse, one of the handles was missing. Yet, I wore them to school every day.

That summer, my mother asked me if I wanted to go away with her and our extended family to Miami. I didn’t. I told her that I preferred for her to use that airline money to buy me contact lenses so that I didn’t have to wear my old glasses anymore. In the front of God and my cousin, she promised to buy me those contact lenses if I went away with her. So, I agreed.

With each passing day, I gently reminded her to remember to take me to the mall to get my contact lenses and she assured me she would. Each day, I would see her burning through money at JC Penney and began to worry there wouldn’t be any left for me to get my contacts. The day before we were scheduled to leave, I had had enough. As I sat on the bed of that Holiday Inn hotel with my cousin perched beside me, I demanded that she buy my contacts. When my mother screamed that she was not buying me any contact lenses because she didn’t have any more money left, I lost it. I told her, and this is a direct quote, that “this is why I didn’t want to come on this damned trip in the first place” and told her that she was “a stinking, dirty liar.” My mother, who was busy ripping tags off of clothes to deceive Customs, immediately jumped over a suitcase, charged towards me and slapped me across the face.

It’s been 25 years and not a day goes by that I put my contact lens in my eyes that I don’t see my mother charging towards me to deliver the cut ass that would eventually make it to this column.

It was the only time I was physically disciplined and I remember my mother feeling extremely guilty about what she’d done. So much so, that she scraped together the money to buy me the contact lenses later that evening.

Despite Slapgate ’93, I don’t regard it as an abusive moment. Shocking. But, not abusive. I learned not to disrespect her, especially when she’s in the process of deceiving Customs. I believe she, too, got a lesson that day. She never spanked (or slapped) any of her kids after that. But, again, we knew it was always on the table.

Spanking will continue to illicit strong responses. But, we have to remember that even the experts disagree on the effect it has. Scientific studies are also often replaced with newer findings. So, while there is an overwhelming amount of scientific studies that support the case for not spanking, there is also evidence in favor of it.

Despite what the critics think, I believe there is a clear distinction between spanking and abuse. There’s no way that a parent who uses a belt buckle, frying pan or sharp object to beat a child every week should be placed in the same category as one who seldom uses an open palm to spank a child on the butt or on the hand.

Furthermore, not every child who is spanked turns out to be a monster and not every child who is reasoned with turns out to be a productive member of society.

Culturally, The Bahamas is much different from the United States and what is revered as a rite of passage in child rearing here is vastly different from methods employed by our neighbors to the north. I’m curious to see what scientific studies produced here would look like.

Parents will continue to raise their children as they see fit. Hopefully, they won’t look to beating their child as the only way to correct behavior and instill discipline and hopefully other parents won’t view spanking as passé and barbaric. There are merits in both methods.

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