Affirmation is Stronger than Punishment

Affirmation is Stronger than Punishment
Fr. Shay Cullen

No child should have to suffer punishment and hardship in order for them to grow into mature, responsible young adults. The results of a global research project recently released in Scotland shows that punishing and hurting children has severe detrimental effects on children. It starts a cycle of violence where they grow up doing what was done to them.

Judge Raymundo G. Vallega, the presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court Branch 130 in Caloocan City, Metro Manila believes in compassion, understanding, mercy and alternative community service for young people who commit a crime. It helps restore dignity and a reformed life more effectively than harsh punishment.

He has made wise and compassionate judgments as the law allows helping many young people repent for their mistakes and start a new better life. That’s how parents and guardians ought to discipline their children- with patience, good example, understanding and dialogue. Scolding and punishment is a form of rejection that drives a wedge between parents and their children.

Spanking, hitting and hurting children is wrong and detrimental to the mental and emotional well-being and self-esteem of young people. It was the common practice in schools across Europe and North America decades ago.

These days the physical punishment of children is outlawed in many countries and in many, it constitutes a crime to verbally abuse or physically hit, slap or punish a minor. In the Philippines the child protection law abolished it. In many countries, including the UK and other developed countries, it is still done. Many parents or guardians believe that it is still the right way to discipline children and youth. The fact that physical punishment and chastisement is a violation of the child’s human rights does not deter them.

A group of researchers at University College London mined 74 social studies from around the world that examined the impact of punishment on children and they found that everywhere the conclusions were the same: such treatment as smacking and hitting a child creates a ‘Cycle of Violence.’ Whatever was done to them as children, many adults tend to do the same to their or other children.

We can see the evidence in the many court cases where adults facing charges of rape, violence, and child abuse produce evidence to show that they were abused themselves as children. Judges take this into consideration when passing sentence. The childhood abuse suffered by the accused does not excuse or lessen the crime but the childhood abuse is recognized as a mitigating circumstance and may reduce the culpability that led to the violent crime.

A major conclusion of the research stated that “physical punishment makes it more likely children will misbehave, leading to a “vicious circle of cascading conflict. Childhood physical punishment is linked to adult aggression and antisocial behavior, including sexual violence. Physical punishment is related to depressive symptoms and anxiety among children.”

When parents find their teenage sons or daughters seriously rebelling and in conflict with them and ignoring their parental authority, they would do well to think back and examine their disciplinary methods when the children were much younger. It may be a sobering realization. Getting professional help to make a dialogue for peace and reconciliation and admit mistakes would be a good thing to do.

Young people must be allowed to have the freedom to choose their own mistakes and driven as they are by almost irresistible drives of youth for self-satisfaction, that ought not lead to conflict with their parents or guardians. If they fall into a pit of misery, so be it. Then the love and friendship will be there to help pull them out.

We should review the harsh disciplinary approach of civil and police authority towards youth in hopeless ghettos that are areas of high unemployment. These are the breeding grounds of dissent, social unrest, street marches and protest. Harsh policing and repression with the beating of protestors and dragging them off to jail is the beginning of a “vicious circle of cascading conflict.”

This leads to the growth of angry young people thirsting for bloody revenge. Some join plots against society, others may head off to join the terrorists and return as trained jihadists to inflict punishment on their perceived tormentors.

Last week Preda social workers rescued two more 14-year-old boys from a Metro Manila detention center, one with jail cells. The boys were found malnourished, with bruises on their arms and shoulders from beatings by the security guards in the so-called local government children’s shelters named “Houses of Hope,” which give no hope at all.

One thing is certain: we have to end the physical, verbal and psychological punishment of youth and children. It is all the more urgent to oppose and eliminate child abuse of every kind. There is no better way to teach self-discipline to young people than to give them respect, affirmation, compassion and understanding. They need a truly noble goal in life and adults and parents must teach by example. We must treat them as we want to be treated ourselves.

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