Why it’s cowardly to beat your child…
Thursday’s Topical Tête-à-Tête:
Welcome to another Thursday with Patrick Tulley; again he has written another engaging article, I hope you enjoy it as it is an interesting read.
Warning: Please note this video link contains disturbing images of a child being beaten.
Well many of you have perhaps been made aware of the video above that went viral last week of the judge beating his daughter with a belt. The video goes on for almost 8 minutes. At first I was unable to watch past the second belting, but I finally watched it today in preparation for this post. There is so much to discuss in this video for just one post, but I’m going to relate it to my own personal experience of being beaten myself as a child. The reason that she was given a beating it seems was because she installed a peer to peer program which allowed her to share music files with other users on the internet. Her parents saw this as stealing, which is the justification for her beating, under the guise of discipline As to the rights and wrongs about what she did is not really my question here, since I’m not aware of any punishment we mete out to adults that involves hitting them.
This subject of course goes down to the very heart of family life and so is met with shrill voices on either side of the debate. It raises all kinds of anxiety in people when they look back to their own childhoods, which is inevitable when confronted by such a video. There are, I believe, some deeply psychological reasons for that, which I may discuss another day. For now, I would like to approach this subject from a philosophical and universal manner.
I think one of the most shocking aspects to this video is the sheer size disparity between the father and daughter. It’s very clear that she will not be able to defend herself. At one point he says ‘I will beat you into submission’, which is interesting, since I’m not sure there is much she can do physically to avoid submitting to him, whether he beats her or not. This is what I don’t really get of course, since we’ve all heard the expression, ‘pick on someone your own size’. This expression is meant to humiliate a large aggressor against a smaller one in an attempt at fair play. Of course, it could only generally be uttered by a third-party that didn’t share the same power disparity as the weakling. We are very clear about the injustice of a large man beating and threatening his smaller wife. This is why people have insisted on laws to prohibit husbands from engaging in these violent acts. Of course people associate wife-beating with punching and kicking rather than belting or slapping, which is seen as less violent. But size is an important factor when we consider the beating of children. But it’s not just size though, oh lordy no.
The size disparity is one thing, but really it all comes down to dependence ultimately. Children experience dependency on adults like no other group in society. Almost all adults, bar the mentally ill can elect to move away, get a job and fend for themselves generally. This is not the case for nearly all children, bar some teenagers who can perhaps eke out a living around 16. So there is very little choice for them. They must make the best of the situation they find themselves in, in order that their basic need for food and shelter are met. It’s very often a dependence of course that is levelled at them as a criticism. That somehow their very dependence on their parents is something they are never grateful enough for. This dependence makes them extremely vulnerable of course. A vulnerability that should be considered when deciding on their behaviour.
From personal experience being beaten was very often quite arbitrary. I recall at 12 years old taking a long bike ride out of town some 35 miles to be exact. I kind of knew at the time, that I was pushing my limits of endurance and that I could very well have faced some serious consequences from my father as a result. So when I arrived in this small town, totally shattered and exhausted I decided to call my parents to let them know where I was, so they could pick me up. I always recall knocking on this door and politely asking the lady of the house whether I could use her phone to let my parents know where I was after explaining my adventure. Her response was, ‘you certainly cannot, what do you think you’re parents will say about such mischief’. Of course, my temptation was to point out the obvious and say, ‘well I can’t do that can I, if you won’t let me call them’. But I buttoned my lip and said goodbye and walked away. Two minutes later, a man comes bounding up towards me and hands me a shiny copper two pence piece, ‘here son, you can call your mum with this’, ‘oh yes, ignore the missus, she’s just having a bad day’. Needless to say I felt very relieved, since I didn’t fancy knocking on doors all evening until someone obliged me the use of their phone. When finally my father picked me up, rather than being angry, which I was half expecting, he was beaming and laughing at my escapade. He told me a story of a trip he did once where he rode some 100 miles in a day and had to sleep in a field. He wasn’t even able to call his mother, since the family didn’t even have a phone in those days. So my little jaunt was seen as an adventure and something for my father to brag about with his friends and colleagues. On the other hand I had another experience when my parents promised to buy me some ice skates. I had been skating for well over two years, doing around 16 hours a week practice, so I was pretty good by then and fairly knowledgeable about figure skates and skating itself. I really took my skating very seriously at the time and had some small thoughts about taking it further in time. Unbeknown to me my mother had arranged to buy a pair of second-hand skates from another parent whom she had met at the ice rink. On the face of it that didn’t bother me too much, I was just glad to have my own pair at last, rather than using the hired ones at the ice rink. However, they were dreadful to wear. Looking back I’m guessing the leather trim had a become so supple with prior use that I was unable to stand in them particularly well, without the blade giving way beneath my feet. This of course impaired my ability to skate properly. I tried it a few times, but of course I complained and gave my reasons why they weren’t any use. The original owner attempted to fix them by giving me a large pair of socks, but to no avail I was still wobbling on them. I really wasn’t happy with them and felt very irritated that no one was taking my complaint seriously. I even asked if I could just hire a pair so that I could actually skate for the rest of the session. This enraged my mother no end who proceeded to complain to my father whilst I was in the back seat of the car returning for home about how ungrateful and rude I had been. This of course precipitated a beating when I got home. Of course, in hindsight my mother was angry because I had embarrassed her in front of these other parents. The fact they had sold her a shoddy pair of ice boots didn’t seems to feature high amongst her priorities. I’m guessing the reason being that she wasn’t wearing them and attempting to skate in them herself. Unlike myself who was acutely aware of what constituted good ice skates. How I was meant to jump and spin with these boots was entirely beyond me. I did manage to find a way of skating with them eventually, but I never really recovered my abilities again. Sadly my interest dropped entirely and I gave it up some six months later.
So what does this say for corporal punishment? Well for starters it’s clearly very often arbitrary, as can be seen by my own example above. When the father in this video was asked to comment, he said that he was merely disciplining his child, but that he had overreacted and apologised since. Of course the fact that his daughter had decided to publish the video on Youtube once her sister had left the home and after her father she claims had been harassing her, begs the question about that apology. For the record my parents have never apologised to me for the incidence above. Very often parents are given a get out of jail card for some pretty despicable behaviour towards their own children. Behaviour I might add we would not find acceptable from other people. The fact that parents apparently elect to choose to stop hitting their child when they are bigger only highlights the sheer cowardliness of it.
I do think this issue highlights the problems with the need for discipline. I’m concerned that it’s an overused grounding for controlling a child beyond their ability to reason themselves. We all too often jump to the conclusion that a child is a broken adult that needs fixing. I recall my grandmother in her late years deriding my brother for being selfish, useless and careless. She threw away a present he gave her for her birthday. Of course when my brother complained to our mother, she merely said, ‘well she is old and probably doesn’t mean it’. However, when a toddler has a temper tantrum because they are unhappy about something we think nothing of slapping that child. But the mental faculties of an older person are rather similar to that of a child, but we wouldn’t dream of hitting the older person of course. Below I quote someone who pointed out the facts of beating children and asked serious question about why people were so outraged by this video. I think there is many a valid point among them.
“It’s hard to understand why people are reacting so strongly to the recent video showing a Judge beating his daughter. Over 90 percent of parents punish their kids by inflicting physical pain, so I’m not sure why everyone is pretending to be so, so shocked.
Is it because the girl in the video is a teenager? 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents – and the video example is far less violent than most of the examples that have been shared with me.
Is it because a belt is used? 30% of parents openly admit to hitting their kids with a belt, a stick or some other “hard object.” (Imagine how many more do not openly admit it!)
Is it because the man is angry? More than half of parents admit to hitting their children out of frustration and anger.
Is it the hypocrisy? The Judge recently claimed that he apologized for losing his temper, so no harm was done. Did he accept apologies from the accused in his courtroom?
Naturally, the outrage is focused on the Judge; the girl’s mother, who supports and inflames her husband, hits her daughter as well and demands that she lie down and “take it like a woman,” is barely mentioned.
I can’t help but think that the ‘shocked’ reaction of the general public is just a little bit precious. It’s like the pompous posturing of a veteran politician who claims to be ‘shocked’ about a Congressman’s corruption, or the infamous Captain Renault in ‘Casablanca’:
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money] Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much. [aloud] Everybody out at once!
Most parents hit their kids – and when the kids are much younger and more vulnerable than the poor girl in this video – so why is everyone so shocked? Are they pretending that such practices are somehow outside the norm? Statistically, when something is practiced by 90% of the population, claiming to be be shocked by it is ridiculous. I mean, 90% of Italians are Catholic – can any Italian claim to be ‘shocked’ when he runs into one?
Just about everyone knows someone who hits their kids. How many people have stood up for these poor beleaguered children? Have you? How many people have talked to parents about the civilized and civilizing alternatives to hitting defenseless little children? Have you? If you’re not exposing and opposing child abuse, you’re an accomplice.
I want to say to those who are ‘outraged’: please – don’t pretend to be shocked by the commonplace. You look ridiculous and guilty.
I leave you with a quote by Leo Buscaglia, which I think sums up my experience of all this.
Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.
Copyright © Patrıick Tulley 2011. All Rights Reserved.
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About the author: I am primarily a philosopher and an amateur writer but also have been a painter and sculptor in the past. Since philosophy is my preferred interest, it is always something I rigorously apply to all my thinking and writing. Philosophy has been a wonderful and fulfilling part of my life; it’s often been a very misunderstood subject -which I hope to discuss in future posts. Read more from this author