Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Spare The Rod... Or Beat The Child Into Submission?!?

crossposted at BlackAndMarriedWithKids.com

We all know the first part of the bible verse, Proverbs 13:24.

"He who spares the rod hates his son,..."

But do we pay any attention to the other half?

"...but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."

My son just passed that magical age of 20 months, which for all intents and purposes means he's in the throes of early onset Terrible Twos. Everything in the house is fair game to get chewed on, thrown under the couch, or doused with apple juice. Remote controls mysteriously go missing for days on end. Food is tossed. Food is intentionally regurgitated. Food reappears in mysterious places. And of course, as first time parents, we eat all this up and happily snap pictures to embarrass him with someday.

That said, there are those (increasingly more frequent) times when the young fella's natural enthusiasm and wonderment with his growing awareness of the world grates on your next-to-last nerve. He climbs on things he shouldn't. He doesn't fall asleep when he should. He pretends not to hear you, even when you've called him for the umpteenth time. And this is when we as parents are faced with a common dilemma: To Spank, Or Not To Spank.

That is the question, and I'll freely admit I don't always have the answers.

Old-school parents will tell you you've gotta pull out a switch every now and then to keep order in the house. That's how my parents, and most of the other parents in the Southern neighborhood I grew up in did it, at least. Generally, Mom was the day-to-day, multipurpose disciplinarian. She'd bark out orders, dole out punishments, and occasionally fry some legs if the situation warranted. But when things were really severe, she called in the Big Gun, aka: Daddy. After a long day at work, the last thing my Pops wanted was to have to lay hands on some unruly kids. Thankfully, this only happened a handful of times, but I remember them so well today that my butt still stings. The combination of both parents (as well as grandparents) and their contrasting styles of ass-whoppin' worked. My two brothers and I, by all accounts, turned out just fine.

But like most other remnants of the past that we tend to over-romanticize, I don't know if this brand of discipline is best suited for today's climate and today's kids. What used to constitute normal discipline would probably warrant a visit from CPS nowadays. Whites are often criticized for such laissez-faire tactics as "timeouts". Many will argue that this approach leads to kids who don't respect parental authority, talk extra greasy to their Moms in the grocery store, and eventually go on to become serial killers. Then again, the "switches and stension' cords" model of black discipline ain't exactly perfect either, as evidenced by the 8,000 or so black people who die, primarily at the hands of other blacks each year. You could argue that this suppression of anger, as opposed to giving an explanation of what was done wrong and an appropriate punishment, is somewhere at the root of this violence.

Before I was married and had my own kid, I pretty much agreed with the whole "spare the rod" bit. If it worked for me and my brothers, why would I do anything different with my own child? But like many other things that come with having your own family, I've since become really familiar with the phrase "never say never".

My wife and I use various tactics to keep our child in line, including punishment by loss of privileges, raising our voices in instruction (not anger), and yes, even the much picked-on "timeouts", which surprise, actually do work. Do we sometimes have to call in the Big Gun and "fry some legs"? Yes, but this is always a last resort, and for that matter, hardly a regular occurrence.

Only time will tell whether our method of discipline "works" by whatever terms you choose to define that word. But since we're talking, I figure I'll ask you guys.

Question: What forms of discipline do you typically employ to keep your children in line? What sorts of things will you not do? Have you found that certain types of discipline do not work?

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