Friday, March 13, 2015

Daddy's Hands, Hard as steel when I’d done wrong

Is there a way to educate and discipline children without physical violence?
Does this have an impact on other issues including war and democracy?

The following song by Holly Dunn indicates the romanticized version of discipline and family life. In some ways there are of course good ideals here that should be encouraged but if it also romanticizes physical abuse that could escalate to greater violence it should be looked at a little closer.

"I remember Daddy’s hands, folded silently in prayer.
And reaching out to hold me, when I had a nightmare.
You could read quite a story, in the callouses and lines.
Years of work and worry had left their mark behind.
I remember Daddy’s hands, how they held my Mama tight,
And patted my back, for something done right.
There are things that I’ve forgotten, that I loved about the man,
But I’ll always remember the love in Daddy’s hands."

"Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin´.
Daddy’s hands, were hard as steel when I’d done wrong.
Daddy’s hands, weren’t always gentle
But I’ve come to understand.
There was always love in Daddy’s hands."

"I remember Daddy’s hands, working 'til they bled.
Sacrificed unselfishly, just to keep us all fed.
If I could do things over, I’d live my life again.
And never take for granted the love in Daddy’s hands."

"Daddy's hands were soft and kind when I was cryin´.
Daddy’s hands, were hard as steel when I’d done wrong.
Daddy’s hands, weren’t always gentle
But I’ve come to understand.
There was always love in Daddy’s hands."

Most old fashion methods of teaching and disciplining children seem to start with some form of physical abuse usually spanking. If this doesn’t work it often leads to an escalation of violence that ends when the subject submits to the will of the authority figure. This is not always the case, in some instances the physical discipline is accompanied by discussion to explain why the child needs to learn to abide by the wishes of the parent until he or she learns to make decisions on his own. There are also a growing number of people that have been arguing that there should never be an excuse to hit a child. The three most common arguments have often been divided into either advocacy of spanking and corporal punishment that escalates until the child learns, advocacy of corporal punishment only as a last resort or no spanking or any form of physical punishment to children. In the last case there would have to be an alternative in order to make it
practical. This alternative usually involves spending more time with children and find nonviolent ways of disciplining and educating children. These three general descriptions are not always agreed upon by many people though, in some cases what one person considers moderate another considers extreme.

Many people have argued that since children who have been disciplined properly eventually learn to obey that the discipline worked. This doesn’t always stand up to closer scrutiny though, in many cases these people only learn to respect authority as long as it is backed up by the threat of some form of punishment. In many cases when a child is punished in a harsh manner they may resent it but they may not express these feeling for fear of additional punishment. This could result in a situation where resentments come out much later if they are allowed to build up and they may not always be directed in the right direction. If punishme4nt has to be administered many times before the child learns and it e4scalates as it goes along the child may learn to respect the authority of the person who is stronger not necessarily the authority of the individual who is right which teaches the might makes right mentality. This may result in the appearance of good behavior but this may change when there is no accountability or if the child winds up in an unfamiliar situation. In many cases the child who0 is subject to harsh discipline may learn to settle conflicts with violence or they may learn to take out their anger on those with less power than them. This may initially involve bullying at school and lead to domestic violence later in life including using the same harsh discipline that they endured as a child on their own children.

There is an enormous amount of evidence that children who suffer from child abuse which often starts as corporal punishment and either escalates to more severe physical or mental abuse are more likely to become violent later in life. This should indicate that at least trying to minimize if not eliminate physical punishment works better if there is a more effective alternative. This could involve spending more time with children from an early age, some of which could be spent explaining why misbehaving is wrong and listening to why the child may disagree and addressing these concerns. This may involve using other forms of nonviolent discipline like taking a break or repairing damage that was done for example, cleaning up his own mess. The problem with spending with more time with children under the current circumstances is that some cultures have so many things that are considered more important often involving work. This indicates that in order to address improved child care it may be necessary to take a look at how effective the economy is at accomplishing its job. The economy is supposed to be an institution that improves the quality of life for the people by allowing the public to work together provide necessities in a more efficient manner but it has often turned into something that is more concerned about creating jobs and trade even when these activities don’t actually serve a good purpose. For example a job to create a product that doesn’t benefit the consumer isn’t improving the quality of life for the public. This only serves to benefit the businessman that profits from it. This may not seem like it has an impact on child care but if it is done on a large scale it deprives the parents of the time they need to spend with their children and leads to neglect.

One of the biggest obstacles to reducing corporal punishment has been religious beliefs in some cases from fringe cults that impose strict discipline starting before the child even learns how to talk. This isn’t limited to fringe cults there are also many more mainstream religions that advocate strict punishment and some more moderate religions that use this only as a last resort. In his book “Spare the Child” (1990) Philip Greven PhD. had reviewed many of the methods used to discipline children over the centuries including some that have come from many child rearing books written by religious leaders and in some cases psychologists. He has found that many of them rely solely on punishment and intimidation tactics that do little to educate the child but only teach them to obey out of fear of the authority figure. In some cases when children were disciplined with violence by their own caretakers they have learned to associate violence with love or they have developed paranoid attitudes. The most extreme of these religions focus on breaking the will of the child from birth and teaching them to obey the orders of the authority figure in some cases even when the authority figure is wrong. In one instance Greven cites Larry Christenson who says “The bible… does not say ‘children obey your parents when they are right’ it says ‘obey your parents in the lord, for this is right’- even when they are wrong! (see Ephesians 6;1) the child who obeys a ‘wrong’ command will still bask in the light of Gods approval.” He also cites Roy Lessin who says “A parent’s directive does not have to be reasonable to be obeyed.” Another quote from Sarah Edwards says “that until a child will obey his parents, he can never be brought to obey God.” These methods are all more concerned with teaching blind obedience than teaching morality. This sense of morality is based on accepting what you’re told by an authority figure whether it is right or wrong. This blind respect for authority is often transferred to other authority figures; which in the worst cases could lead to blindly following a leader like Adolf Hitler. Most religious leaders don’t make statements that are quite so clear and in many cases they will almost certainly deny that teaching children to obey even when the parent is wrong is the right way to go but they rarely if ever come up with an alternative and they often demonstrate with their actions that they do the same thing.

Phillip Greven also review the upbringing of many of the most famous televangelists including Billy Graham, Orel Roberts, Tammy Baker and Tim LaHaye and has found that they have learned these disciplinary methods from their parents and used them raising their own children as well. He has found that they usually marry people that are raised in similar manners and few if any of them have taken much effort to find an alternative. He cites one incident from oral Roberts autobiography when Oral and his brother were on a pallet listening to their father preach when another child pulled on the pallet and his brother Vaden responded by telling him that if he did it again he would cut his ear off. The other child said he didn’t have the nerve. Oral wound up holding the boy while Vaden began to cut off the boy’s ear. Their father intervened when he heard the boy scream and told them he would see to them later which meant they would be taught a lesson by beating them with a razor strap until there were stripes on their rears. Oral later learned to teach his children the same way. He didn’t seem to consider the possibility that the reason the attempted to cut the boys ear off in the first place may have been because they were imitating similar methods to discipline the other child. This wouldn’t have been the first beating they received from their father and it is probable that they learned that when they have a problem with others the way to deal with it is to “discipline them” in a manner similar to what their father did. Cutting off a child’s ear would of course not be considered an appropriate way to do this but they were children at the time and they may have used the most effective method they knew how to based on their resources and education at that time.

These methods of dictating the truth without question can also lead to blind belief in many myths and prejudices as well. In many cases cultural differences are often dictated by the leaders of each side of a potential conflict and they often both learn the same methods to settle conflicts which may involve breaking the will of their opponents or disciplining them the same way they discipline their own children. In many cases they are much more sever with their enemies since they are often demonized and anger and blame is often redirected to their enemies whether it is right or wrong. If the leaders of any one group dictates beliefs to their children about an opposing group then it justifies fighting wars against them and bringing them into submission often as inferiors who can never earn the same rights; however if the situation is reversed they feel that they should always fight to overthrow their tyrants. This leads to a situation where there is
constant conflict unless one side can eliminate the other or break their will and force them to submit to the leadership of the other. Neither of these options work in the long run. In order to successfully eliminate the opposition it often requires one side to use ruthless tactics which they come to be accustomed to then when they win they generally find another enemy to turn those tactics against. If they break the will of the opposition they have to maintain this with constant discipline which often goes too far and leads to another rebellion.

A study done by Stanley Milgram in the sixties indicates how extreme blind obedience to authority can be. He conducted an experiment where participants were told they were supposed to help “teach” a subject by administering electric shock to them when they got the answers to a question wrong. These shocks were escalated until they got the answers right even to the point of causing great pain in the subject. The subject wasn’t actually shocked but he acted as if he was and teacher was unaware. In most of these experiments the teachers were willing to obey the authority figure and administer the maximum 450 voltage even though the subject was often screaming or begging for the experiment to stop. No research was done at the time to indicate for certain whether the ones that did administer the full voltage were raised with strictly disciplinarian methods but enough research done since then has been done to indicate that there is a strong possibility that were.

The combination of teaching children to blindly obey their leaders and the paranoia that increases with strict discipline has a major effect on the current situation with the war on terror. In its most extreme escalating violence could lead to major wars like this one where neither side respects the rights of the other. Many members of the public are more paranoid and they are acting on their emotions. Their leaders are offering them a solution which involves constant fighting and more espionage. In the rush to come to a conclusion on how to deal with the situation many people are accepting this without question. There is little effort from most of these people to find out what the true cause of these efforts to terrorize the
USA and even less if it partially implicates those they view as their saviors. The terror of the opposition is used as an excuse to escalate violent tactics from our own side despite the fact that a closer look will almost certainly indicate that is what got us into this situation in the first place.  

A Growing number of academics including sociologist Murray Straus, psychologists Alice Miller and Benjamin Spock and many other more recent psychologists have recommended against much if any physical punishment for children. Murray Straus has reviewed over eighty studies on violence that look into many different aspects of violence and has found that one after another they indicate that violence begets violence. This includes a higher amount of school violence and murder in states that allow corporal punishment in schools as well as a higher rate if violent behavior of adults that were abused as children and a higher chance that these adults will also abuse their children. None of these studies are perfect but the cumulative results of all these studies plus the fact that the conclusions are also supported by different types of research by other academics including Dan Kindlon, James Garbarino and Ellen deLara and many others indicates that abuse of any type including corporal punishment should be minimized if not eliminated. Dr. Spock has always recommending avoiding corporal punishment when ever possible but in 1988 he went one step further and said spanking should never be used at all. He said “The best test of a punishment is whether it accomplishes what you are after, without having other serious effects. If it makes a child furious, defiant, and worse behaved than before, then it certainly is missing fire. If it seems to breaks a child’s heart then it’s probably too strong for him. Every child reacts somewhat differently.” Keep in mind in many cases it may seem to work for a while since in the immediate aftermath the child may be more concerned with receiving more punishment and may suppress his anger. This could mean that although his behavior may improve for a while if his anger builds up it may get worse later and then an even greater degree of violence may be necessary since he may become accustomed to it. Dr. Spock went on to say “There are several reasons to try to avoid corporal punishment, I feel. It teaches children that the larger, stronger person has the power to get his way, whether or not he is in the right, and they may resent this in a parent- for life. Some spanked children feel quite justified in beating up smaller ones. The American tradition of spanking may be one cause4 of the fact that there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation-murder, armed robbery, wife abuse, child abuse.” Part of the reason children learn to suppress their anger is that in addition to punishing children physically many parents learn to punish them even more if they cry or complain about their punishments. Some of the same leaders who recommend punishment for disobedience also recommend additional punishment if children don’t submit to punishment without complaints or crying.

Teaching children to accept what they’re told without question can be a serious threat to democracy. If there are a large number of people who believe what their told from their leaders they may vote accordingly instead of sorting through the issues and figuring out what is in the best interest of themselves as well as the rest of society. In order for a democracy to be successful the public has to have the access to the education and information they need to make rational decisions. If they are taught to accept certain false facts without question from their leaders they won’t be able to vote in a rational manner and it won’t be a true democracy.

Secular ideas about discipline often have their routes in tradition or religion even though many of the people that adopt them may not realize it. When enacting laws about child abuse many politicians are more concerned with the beliefs of the majority and perhaps the beliefs of the religious le4aders as well as legal precedents influenced by religious leaders in the past than they are about the research done by academics that have learned much more about the subject. Respecting the beliefs of the majority is reasonable but if there is a problem with those beliefs it is important to explore them and rectify them especially when the consequences are as severe as child abuse. Many people still don’t know how much damage child abuse and corporal punishment can lead to. There needs to be a much bigger education effort where the public is encouraged to listen to what the majority of the academic community has to say. One example where the law doesn’t seem to recognize the importance of this issue is Ingraham v. Wright where a school in
Florida was implicated in severe use of corporal punishment against the students who had no right to trial. This resulted in severe damage to many children simply for not leaving the audience fast enough when told to. The Supreme Court ruled that the children had no right to a trial nor was the protection against cruel and unusual punishment applied to students. This was true despite the fact that this case was extreme. Hardened criminals have more rights than children according to this ruling. More details are available about this in the link below.

The song Daddy’s Hands and many other stories and myths about our culture glorify the working man and the way they raise their children but they overlook the flaws in this culture. By making corporal punishment seem worthwhile they encourage indirectly the trust in authority that leads to giving the working man the short end of the stick yet they accept it with pride and even fight to defend the system that often doesn’t look out for their own best interests. The respect for authority that parents teach their children is often used to benefit the most powerful institutions at the expense of the majority. Child abuse has implication much farther than most people realize.

First Posted on Tripod on 02/12/10

For Murrey Strauss' home page see:

For information about Ingraham v. Wright see:

For the full HTML version of this blog with table of context see:
(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

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