Tuesday, November 27, 2012

To Beat or not to Beat - Part 3: In Schools

   The question of whether or not children should be subjected to corporal punishment in schools was brought to the fore this week by the report of level of slapping that takes place in Kensington Primary School. The principal holds that the use of this punishment is responsible for the good results achieved by the school in Grade 4 Literacy and Mathematics tests. However, a parent complained that this type of punishment made her daughter so nervous that she was unable to perform academically. Because complaints to the school only made matters worse, she removed her to another school.
   Corporal punishment in schools has a long history. Roald Dahl in his story “Lucky Break” describes the brutal caning he was subjected to both at boarding school at the age of eight (1924), and worse canings at a Public School (as private schools in England are called). There, the Headmaster, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted in canings which even drew blood. Dahl’s end of year report, 1932, read “this boy is an indolent and illiterate member of the class” – a strange observation on one who was to become a world-famous children’s writer. Had the repressive atmosphere of his school stifled his creativity?
   The discipline enforced by principals in Jamaican schools is legendary. One is known for having walked the school with his cane up the sleeve of his jacket. Another caned a child for carelessness when he reported losing money; and caned all the children who’d been in a bus when one of them had thrown a bottle out of the window. When principals are less ferocious with the use of the cane, misbehaving children have begged to be beaten at school, to avoid a worse beating at home.
   It is only in the last 30 years that the tide has turned against corporal punishment. There is some confusion over the legality of it in schools in Jamaica. Justice Henderson Downer, deputy director of the Office of the Children’s Advocate, interprets Section 1b of the Child Care and Protection Act to mean that corporal punishment is illegal, and should not be administered to any child anywhere in Jamaica. The policy of the Ministry of Education is that classroom teachers should not administer corporal punishment, but in exceptional circumstances it can be used by the principal or somebody appointed by him.
   What happens in practice is a different matter. There are several reasons for this. One of the problems is that many of the children in school have not internalized a moral code, for a variety of reasons. (See my previous post). These children, accustomed to authoritarian discipline, take a lack of it as a license to do as they please. Imagine being faced with a class of forty or fifty six-year-olds, half of whom have the concentration span of a butterfly, who won’t do as they are told, who get up and run around, who are constantly chattering and are themselves responding to other children with physical blows. Added to that, many of the children have undiagnosed specific learning disabilities, such as ADHD. Classrooms are cramped and lacking in educational materials.
   The other question to be answered at is what to put in place of corporal punishment. Tongue-lashing of children also produces undesirable results. Humiliation, ridicule and sarcasm are not acceptable alternatives to corporal punishment. When a child is repeatedly told he is dunce, or he is no good, or he will come to nothing, he will begin to believe it and use it as an excuse for not trying.
   Ideally, children should be motivated by positive reinforcement when they exhibit desirable behaviors, and performance. Children given tasks which they are capable of performing will be motivated by a sense of mastery. They can then be confronted with harder tasks, which in turn they will be able to master. The challenge is to raise the bar sufficiently to keep them interested, but not too high that they will be discouraged. It is difficult to do this in a class of children with different starting levels and rates of progress.
   The prohibition of corporal punishment in schools cannot take place suddenly, by issuing a decree. It will be necessary to continue to raise public awareness of its harmful effects and involve parents, communities, teachers and school boards in an ongoing debate, until alternative strategies have been worked out, and there is a consensus against corporal punishment. UNICEF has spearheaded a number of awareness campaigns against corporal punishment, for example “Educate, Don’t Punish”.
   The ongoing debate in the press and on radio, as in Steven Golding’s Mike 1-2-3, on Hot 102 FM today, is welcome.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

To Beat or not? Part 2: In the Home cont.

Some of the instances of child abuse in Jamaica take place because the parents believe that they are doing the right thing when they give a child a good beating. In contrast, the law requires that anyone knowing of such abuse should report it to the Office of the Children's Registry (OCR). I’m writing these posts to explain why beating is harmful and to suggest some alternatives.
   In my first post on this topic, (Nov 6,2012) I outlined some of the theories of psychosocial development in relation to children in their first 4 years of life. I now turn to children 4 years old and up.
   In an ideal situation, a child enters his fifth year of life with the strength of mind to be able to set goals and work towards them; and to be able to control impulses to do things which he knows are unacceptable. However, situations are rarely ideal. We as adults do and say things, intentionally and unintentionally, which we know violate our own moral codes. We give in to temptation. We make excuses for ourselves and justify our behavior, or we suffer from feelings of guilt and we ask forgiveness of ourselves or of others. We resolve to learn from our mistakes not to repeat the same behavior. Then we move on.
   Aware of our own weaknesses, we strive to ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ (Proverbs 22 v 6). Many people in Jamaica believe that this should involve corporal punishment. However, research has shown that harsh and excessive corporal punishment has the opposite effect to that which is intended. The child may avoid behaviors which result in such punishments, but does not internalize a moral code. It is this internalization which children need to achieve, so that they will be able to direct their own behavior, independently of their parents. Psychosocial theories help to explain how this takes place, and thus how parents can best assist.
   In the early school years (ages 4-6) a child develops a self-concept of himself as an individual. The developmental tasks include early moral development – “understanding that lying, cheating, stealing, hurting others, or making fun of other children’s differences are morally wrong and that telling the truth, playing fairly, sharing, being helpful and respecting people’s differences are morally right.” (Newman). It has three aspects to it: knowledge, emotions, and action. Children learn the moral code of their community and to make judgments about actions. They experience feelings of anxiety and guilt when they know they have done something wrong, and pleasant emotions when their actions involve caring for others. They act to reduce the unpleasant emotions and increase pleasant ones, so inhibit harmful impulses, and make an effort to do the right thing.
   The purpose of disciplinary methods taken by parents is to assist children internalize the moral code. They should help the child interrupt forbidden actions; suggest more acceptable forms of behavior for the future; and provide reasons, which the child can understand, why one behavior is preferable to another. They should help children to empathize with others, by asking children to put themselves in the victim’s place, to see how they would like being the victim. None of these can be achieved by corporal punishment, but by continuing dialogue.
   Parents also need to set examples in their own behavior. It shouldn’t be a case of “do as I say and not as I do”. The importance of rewarding good behavior cannot be overemphasized; and the importance of reading to children should not be overlooked.
   Reading a story presents an opportunity to discuss with a child what the characters have done, and what happens to them. Until about sixty years ago, books written for children usually had an overt message, the purpose being moral education. Many of these books are still read to children, but in more recent years, publishers and children have rejected these types of books. More modern books are less preachy, but they still have messages embedded in them. Reading to children also means spending quality time with them.
   Children, by the time they are six years old, will have internalized a moral code. However, they still misbehave at times. From 6-12 years old, they still need parental discipline to reinforce that moral code. They need lots of affirmation for good behavior, for example stars can be put on a chart. A certain number of stars could be required for purchasing a toy or something else the child wants. Stars could be removed for bad behavior. Watching TV can also be used as a reward for good behavior, and no TV for bad behavior. Corporal punishment should be the last resort, although I've heard adults say that, as children, they preferred a quick slap, administered immediately after they had done something wrong, to other kinds of punishment. If love withdrawal should is used as a punishment, it will most likely result in the child suffering from overwhelming feelings of guilt. Whatever discipline technique is used, it’s important to keep channels of communication open – to talk with (not to) children at every opportunity.
   During the 6 - 12 years, children should begin to read on their own and choose what they would like to read. Reading shouldn't be used as a punishment – it’s supposed to be a pleasure!
   The teenage years are characterized by turmoil, resulting from physical and psychological changes which teenagers undergo, coupled with social and educational expectations, and peer pressure. It’s a time when they need support and encouragement from their parents. They appreciate restrictions put on them by parents, as an ‘excuse’ for not indulging in risky behavior. They are still dependent on parents, so, if punishment is necessary, it can include cutting allowances and gating. Corporal punishment should not be inflicted on them. However, if parents continue to discipline by power assertion, as they did in the earlier years, teenagers are liable to rebel. When I was teaching, a mother phoned me to ask,
   “Is my daughter was attending class? If she is, please tell her she must come home. I won’t beat her.” The girl in question was seventeen years old. I suspect that many of the girls reported missing have in fact run away from home because their parents beat them. It is highly likely that they in turn will become mothers who beat their own children. One of the ways to break this vicious cycle is to have parenting workshops where information can be spread about alternate methods of disciplining children.

Reference: Development Through Life - A Psychosocial Approach by Newman and Newman

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To Beat or not to Beat? - Part 1 - in the Home.

I remember the feeling of terror I had when our first grade teacher showed us the strap. A boy in the class had challenged her pronunciation of the word ‘Gaelic’. Her response was to let us know what would happen to us if we stepped out of line. This was in Scotland in the late 1940’s. I was brought in up a loving family, without corporal punishment, so by the time I was five, I had a strong sense of right and wrong. I was not a child who needed the threat of the strap to make me behave.
     There are now 117 countries in the world where corporal punishment in schools is against the law, and 32 countries where it is prohibited in the home. In Jamaica, however, up to January 2011 it was still legal (except in Basic Schools). In a Green Paper on Safe School Policy, there are plans to abolish it. There is strong support for it in the home. People say that badly behaved children should get ‘a good lick’ and ‘if they can’t hear they will feel’. They quote what they claim to be a Biblical injunction ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ which in fact does not appear in the Bible. Parental discipline is often harsh to the point of being abusive. Many parents give accounts of the beatings they received as children and how it ‘didn’t do them any harm’.
     Why is it that countries around the world are making corporal punishment illegal? The main reason is the research that has been done into the psychology of development.
     One of the most widely accepted theories in psychology is Erik Erikson’s eight-stage theory of human development. In each stage, Erikson identified a psychosocial crisis or conflict. Successful resolution of these conflicts at each stage of development results in the acquisition of an ego quality. In other words, the individual is well-adapted and ready to move on to the next stage. Failure to resolve these conflicts results in a pathology which hinders future development.
     In the first life stage, infancy, the first 2 years of life, miraculous development of the brain takes place. The baby gradually gains control over his muscular movements and he begins to make sense of his world. He discovers that he be the cause of things happening and knows what to expect, an ability that continues to develop through life. One’s ability to plan, carry out and evaluate the plan, depend on this skill. He experiences new emotions ranging from pleasure to fear and anger. Babies cry because they are hungry or uncomfortable and are entirely dependent on the caregiver (mother or whoever is acting in her place). It has been found that babies, whose mothers responded quickly to their cries in the first 6 months of life, cried less often in the second 6 months. There are people who recommend that the baby be left to cry, implying that the baby is bad or simply a nuisance. In Jamaica, uncaring caregivers say the child will have a good singing voice when left to cry.
     Erikson identified the conflict at this early stage as trust versus mistrust. If children successfully develop trust, they feel safe and secure in the world, and the ego quality which they acquire is hope. If they fail to develop trust, they become withdrawn. They lack confidence that their needs will be met by the caregiver and doubt their own lovableness.
     A caregiver might be tempted to spank an infant who is exploring his world, touching things he shouldn’t touch and putting things in his mouth. However, spanking will only make the infant lose trust in the caregiver. A better strategy is make the environment suitable for the baby by putting things he shouldn’t touch out of his reach and providing alternatives. These don’t have to be expensive toys. They can be simple things like boxes and plastic containers into which the infant can put objects, which shouldn’t have any sharp edges, and should be too big for him to put in his mouth.
     In the second life stage, toddlerhood, encompassing years 2 and 3, children become more physically active and language develops. They also engage in fantasy play, a normal and necessary activity, in which they act out situations they wouldn’t be ready to deal with in the real world. During these years also toddlers learn self-control. They learn to behave in a socially acceptable way without external direction. Training at this stage includes toileting. If an accident happens, it must be dealt with in a good tempered manner, without a fuss. If the child is criticized, shame and doubt occur.
     At this stage the discipline strategies caregivers use fall into three categories: power assertion – shouting and physical punishment; love-withdrawal – expressing anger or disappointment or walking out; and induction – explaining why the behavior is wrong. The first two should be used sparingly.
     The manner of discipline is of great importance. It should be immediate or as close to the situation as possible, brief and appropriate. An alternative to corporal punishment is ‘time out’. Praise for good behavior when they are behaving well, and distracting them from undesirable behavior are also important. Toddlers learn by imitation, so parents also need to model desirable behavior.
     Frequent harsh punishment, such as beating, doesn’t achieve its intended goals. Instead, it gives rise to emotional distress which in turn generates externally directed behaviors including arguing, disobedience, destructiveness, and intentional hurting. Many of the behavioral problems encountered by teachers stem from the system of punishment inflicted by primary caregivers. The high incidence of violent crime in Jamaica is thought to be a result of frequent physical abuse and neglect by caregivers of these criminals when they were children.
     In contrast, reading to children has many benefits. Reading to a child sitting on your knee, or when he is tucked up in bed at night, comforts him. Stories illustrate the kinds of moral choices children are faced with, and help them to empathize with the characters.

Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach by Newman and Newman

Gleaner article: Creating Children who are Winners by Eulalee Thompson