[Guest Post by Dr. Sudha]
I find myself increasingly concerned with the slow pace of societal change related to the pervasive acceptance of corporal punishment in our schools. I feel dismayed to read the social media posts of parents whose children (even as young as 3 years old) have been physically assaulted or even threatened or verbally abused in other ways. But when such topics come up for discussion, I find it even more perplexing that many parents are unwilling to take a stand against such violence against their children, sometimes even deeming it necessary for 'discipline'.
The issue of violence against children in the name of discipline is deeply entrenched in a cultural fabric that often overlooks the severe mental and physical repercussions of such practices on children. Thus, it is imperative that we delve deeper into the complexity of this issue, exploring why parents might tacitly accept, or even endorse, these harmful disciplinary tactics. Let's discuss why legal deterrents might fall short and why a societal shift in attitudes towards discipline and childhood behaviors is crucial.
Parental Attitudes: Understanding the Problem
The roots of acceptance of corporal punishment lie deep within cultural norms and personal experiences. When parents themselves have been subjected to such disciplinary tactics in their own childhood, they may perceive it as acceptable or even beneficial. Their personal experience becomes a validation point, leading to the belief that 'they turned out fine,' so their child will too. This mindset creates a cyclical pattern of abuse that can span generations.
Furthermore, if parents are already employing corporal punishment at home, they may not find it unacceptable in schools. Accepting it as wrong would entail confronting their own behaviors, which can be a challenging and uncomfortable process, laden with guilt and cognitive dissonance. This dissonance, the psychological conflict resulting from contradictory beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously, often leads to inaction or justification of harmful practices.
Why Legal Measures Aren't Always Effective
Despite the prohibition of corporal punishment under the Right to Education Act 2009, a lack of stringent enforcement and widespread societal acceptance allows such practices to persist. The lack of punitive consequences for perpetrators often translates to an unsaid endorsement of corporal punishment, thus making legal measures less effective.
The Call for a Paradigm Shift
There's an urgent need for a shift from punishment-focused discipline to guidance and understanding. Children are not robots to be programmed. They are individuals with a myriad of emotions, behaviors, and perhaps even invisible mental disabilities that need acknowledgment and acceptance.
An environment that allows children to express themselves without fear of reprisal can lead to a healthier emotional and psychological state. Understanding why a child behaves a certain way and addressing the root cause rather than punishing the behavior can be more effective and less damaging in the long run.
The Dangerous Implications of Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment can have long-term damaging effects on children. It can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injuries, and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Moreover, it could distort their perception of authority, trust, and love. It also breeds an environment of fear and apprehension, which could hinder effective learning and emotional growth.
One critical aspect to consider in this discussion is the desensitization effect that corporal punishment can have on children. When children are subjected to an escalating pattern of violent discipline – starting with raised voices, moving to harsh words, and culminating in physical punishment – they can become progressively inured to these tactics. They grow increasingly resistant and indifferent to the rising levels of violence, thus defeating the very purpose of the discipline the authority figures aim to instill. In this escalating cycle, the authority figure, be it a parent or a teacher, might also find themselves resorting to harsher methods to exert control or achieve compliance.
In the long run, this approach is not only ineffective but also severely damaging. Instead of learning discipline, empathy, or respect, children learn to associate authority with fear and violence. They develop coping mechanisms and defensive behaviors that can hamper their emotional growth and interpersonal relationships, as well as distort their understanding of acceptable behavior. It's a vicious cycle that perpetuates violence, undermines respect, and fails to instill true discipline based on understanding and self-regulation.
Addressing Teacher Behaviors and Offering Alternatives
A major issue lies in the lack of training in classroom management and child psychology among teachers. The resort to corporal punishment often stems from frustration, lack of awareness, and a misguided belief in its effectiveness. Schools need to invest in teacher training programs that provide strategies for handling challenging behaviors without resorting to violence.
There are numerous effective alternatives such as setting clear expectations, using timeouts or loss of privileges, rewarding good behavior, and using restorative justice methods. These methods help children understand the consequences of their actions without inducing fear or humiliation.
Schools as Pillars of Change
Schools play a pivotal role in shaping a child's personality and must take a proactive role in ending corporal punishment. Policies that explicitly prohibit such practices and encourage open dialogue about acceptable disciplinary tactics should be implemented. Regular workshops on positive discipline strategies should be part of the professional development for teachers.
The Way Forward
The issue of corporal punishment extends beyond legal measures and into the realm of societal beliefs and attitudes. It’s about breaking the chains of a damaging cycle that has been perpetuated over generations. The solution lies in shifting attitudes, increasing awareness, and creating a supportive, nurturing environment for our children to grow, learn, and thrive.
What do you think?
We need more discussion and awareness on this topic for change to happen. Let us know your thoughts and experiences on this topic in our Facebook Group.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which has come into force with effect from 1 April 2010, prohibits 'physical punishment' and 'mental harassment' under Section 17(1) and makes it a punishable offence under Section 17(2)
This is an interesting article written by Dinesh Singh Chauhan, Advocate (J&K High Court of Judicature, Jammu) :
The author is a medical doctor and an expressive art and movements based psychotherapy facilitator. You can read her blog here.