Thirty years ago, it would be stupid asking whether we should flog or smack our children as part of the disciplinary measures for their proper upbringing. Many people who are currently in their 30s and above were smacked or flogged by their parents at one point or the other, sometimes mercilessly. But society is evolving. Like many aspects of life, people are asking questions. Even terrains that were hitherto sacred or no-go areas are now being probed and questioned.
The issue of whether or not parents should flog or smack their children has become very contentious. Recently Pope Francis supported smacking of children to discipline them as long as their dignity is maintained. He said this in response to a father who said: “I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them.” No sooner had the Pope said this than child rights and human rights activists descended on him for supporting smacking of children.
Every human being is a combination of nature and nurture. Scientists have not told us which is dominant in humans, but nature is dominant in many animals. The fact that there is nothing parents can do in some aspects of the character and actions of even a new born baby, who is entirely reliant on the parents for survival, tilts the scale against parents from the beginning.
The parent has influence mainly over nurture, but as the child grows, this influence dwindles. Other environmental factors like school, neighbours, television, etc., compete with parents for the molding of their children.
A parent, therefore, cannot—and should not, anyway, because the child has a different personality—mold his child exactly the way he wants because of external influences and pre-existing nature. Yet he must train the child in the way he should go so that when he grows up, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).
To achieve Proverbs 22:6, children need a huge dose of parental love, guidance and direction, especially in the first 10 years of their lives when they are most amenable and intuitive. This is also when parents should set the boundaries. Discipline will also be needed sometimes because “children naturally do silly, careless things, but a good spanking will teach them how to behave” (Proverbs 13:24). “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24).
Humankind is almost universally firm and uniform on the need to discipline children. The point of divergence is what constitutes discipline. Some people interpret “rod” to mean discipline, not necessarily a cane. They go further to draw an analogy between the rod mentioned above and the shepherd’s rod (Psalm 23:4) which is used to direct and guide the sheep.
They contend that if the shepherd will not use his rod to flog his sheep and inflict pain on them, why should we humans use our rod to flog and inflict pain on our children, who are much higher beings, created in the image and likeness of God? A quick question here, though, what does the shepherd do to the unruly sheep that refuses to be directed and guided with the rod? Should he allow the sheep to be lost or use the rod to whip it into line?
Parenting must be done with love and the overall wellbeing of the child in mind. Parenting also includes discipline: “training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. Punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.” Should parents smack their children? There is no universal yes, but I say yes, as a last resort, if the child is unruly or impossible and other disciplinary measures fail. It should, however, be so rare that the child realizes the import. It should be done with dignity and love and must be applied at the right age. You do not breast feed a five-year-old. It is an anomaly.
I love the way some children behave themselves just by seeing Dr. Dogood (cane) around. But not all children need smacking to enforce disciple. Also, under no circumstances should children be maltreated or lacerated. Any form of discipline without underlying love is cruelty. There is no conscientious parent who enjoys using a cane on the children. The parents suffer more psychological pain than the physical pain the children feel.
Honestly, I would rather smacking is totally eliminated as a disciplinary tool, but it is easier said than done. Some of those who condemn physical discipline are only playing to the gallery, while some treat it as if it is some fashion fad that is outmoded. I concede that the unacceptable and constant vicious beatings some children get are results of parental failures and parenting ineptitude, nothing to do with the children.
Children are also recipients of their parents’ frustrations resulting from difficult bosses and spouses, financial problems and just about every stressful situation. Children might do “stupid things,” but they are also very rational beings. It is amazing how little children as young as five years can team up with one parent to plan a surprise birthday or other celebrations to “ambush” the other parent.
Some parents need to invest more time in their children to understand them better. Parenting is much more difficult and involving than many of us think. Unfortunately many parents are ill equipped for the enormous task. They resort to the use of the rod to mask their inadequacies.
Parenting is in stages. The way you discipline pre-adolescent children is different from that of adolescent children and adult children still living with you, may be, due to unemployment. Apply the measures for pre-adolescent to your adolescent children and you have the resentment that the Bible talked about. Treat your adult children like babies and you have rebellion in your house which can lead to fatal consequences. Always remember the biblical injunction: Fathers, do not exasperate your children… (Ephesians 6:4).