Discipline revisited

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

In light of all the emphasis being directed towards the subject of physical abuse by the media, many adults are being forced to revisit the use and effect of physical punishment in their lives. Physical discipline is nothing new to many adults, especially older adults.

As an African American, I grew up in a generation, where physical punishment was commonplace and an acceptable practice in our culture. Some older African Americans may remember it being commonplace to be disciplined with switches, belts, and in severe cases, even with brooms and extension cords. Now we are being told what many of us know—that that type of punishment is totally unacceptable. But at the time, the overall purpose was to manifest a memorable deterrent to discourage undesirable behavior. Our parents and grandparents were only manifesting the type of discipline they had been taught. They often told the recipients at the time that they were doing this because they loved them.

Contrary to what the media may project, all those utilizing physical punishment were not trying to hurt or maim the recipient. In the African American community, it was important to alter inappropriate behavior in our children in a society that was then and some say today, unapologetically harsh and unforgiving—especially to our young Black men. Disciplining their children was a primary role of the African American father, especially when lecturing proved futile. When older Black adults look back, they remember this firm physical disciplining as being a pivotal factor in making them successful and productive law-abiding adults.

How many of you can remember when the public school system was one of the primary contributors in displaying as well as supporting physical punishment as an acceptable practice in altering behaviors? Teachers and principals used wooden paddles on the buttocks of students with the primary goal of inflicting bodily pain. Many students suffered swollen and redden buttocks, and some even sought medical attention. Many inflictors of this type of punishment may have had good intentions, but some were sadistic and intentionally sought to cause extreme bodily pain. By today’s standards, some would call for the firing and arrest of these teachers.

Times are changing and you have pundits who claim that any type of physical punishment directed tow-ard a child is unacceptable, promoting the use of time-out as the only correct way to reprimand a young child. That may work for some children, but what about those children who (after countless attempts) literally laugh at time-out? We, as a society may still be searching for answers to alter negative behaviors, but one must conclude one size doesn’t fit all.

Behavioral modification is subjective and not an exact science. No one can condone physical punishment done in anger, with the intent of intentionally causing extensive bodily harm (e.g., bleeding, broken bones, burns etc.) The truth of the matter is that psychological abuse through verbal dehumanizing can cause just as much or greater harm than physical punishment.
The recent witch-hunt designating certain people as examples in our society is somewhat hypocritical, when there are so many guilty accusers playing judge. It is ironic how our society promotes a behavior and picks out certain people to penalize, when they need to treat the system as a whole. What happened to counseling and even offering a person a second chance to redeem themselves? Is there room for redemption for those who are truly sorry and are trying to go forward? If we are adopting an unforgiving and severe punitive stance for any physical punishment toward children, let’s be fair and don’t discriminate. Don’t exclude certain people.

It may be a surprise to some people that using time-out for children and constantly appealing to a child’s intellect through lecturing doesn’t work for all. Some parents feel they have a moral and spiritual obligation to discipline their children out of love. Their intent and practice is not to literally beat the hell out of their child. All physical punishment is not considered abuse. Only time will tell the results of the efforts of those totally committed to eradicate any form of physical punishment. Our penal system may have the last laugh.