Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reaping What Is Sown

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

I posted an article on this blog on November 9th entitled Death by Gun. It was a brief account of the eight-year-old boy in St. John's, Arizona, who murdered his father and a man who was a boarder in their home. In that piece I posited that that children aren't born troubled, rather they become troubled through their experiences in life. I also presumed that the boy's father was probably not a very good parent. That bit of prescience was based on the apparent fact that a gun was readily available to the youth, and that he knew how to use it.

Yesterday I placed an old graduate school paper of mine on the Ramble entitled Hell Hath No Fury Like a Zealot with a Rod. One of the things noted in that paper was that corporal punishment could have long-lasting negative impacts on children, up to and including death.

Today those two postings on the Ramble cross-pollinated by way of a front page article in the Arizona Republic. The newspaper reported that the boy from St. John's had told officials with Arizona's Child Protective Services that he had decided that the 1,000th spanking would be his limit.

First, let me say this: I am not a virgin when it comes to inflicting corporal punishment on children. I was a school principal (high school, junior high, and elementary) back in the day when paddling was an expectation in schools. Parents and school boards demanded order in the schools, and they "knew" that the most effective discipline was that which they had grown up with - fear and stinging behinds. I was very young when I moved from teaching to being a principal, but it didn't take me long to realize the futility and unfairness of paddling children.

Most kids learn quickly, especially the ones who tended to be in trouble on a regular basis, that a paddling might hurt, but the person swinging the paddle had to use enough self-restraint to avoid injuries and lawsuits. To some, being paddled was a badge of honor that made them big men on campus. About the only thing paddling did not do was change behavior.

Corporal punishment in schools was (and undoubtedly still is) a very undemocratic system. Girls generally did not get paddled, and neither did the children of "connected" parents. The children most apt to receive corporal punishment were those whose parents lacked the social muscle to prevent it - primarily the poor and minorities. Parents who strongly supported the use of corporal punishment would routinely draw the line when it came to their children.

Working on my educated assumption that corporal punishment had no impact at all on behavioral issues, or possibly a negative impact, I resolved to find out if I was right. I worked at finding alternative disciplinary procedures and employing them as often as possible. Each year I consciously reduced the number of paddlings that I administered by at least 20 to 25 percent. The last two years that I was a principal, I did not use paddlings at all. During all of those years of decreasing the usage of the paddle, the number of disciplinary reports fell as well.

I proved to myself what every good parent knows - if you want to change a child's behavior, communicate. Sit down and discuss the problem. Stress the dangers of the misbehavior and clearly state what the correct behavior needs to be. Pay attention, talk to your kids, listen to all that they say, and lavish them with praise when the opportunities arise.

Education and positive reinforcements will foster positive changes. Brutality will foster revenge. A dad in St. John's, Arizona, may have figured that out as he was drawing his final breath.

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