“The overwhelming evidence is that using physical violence on children should come with its own health warning – especially after the age of 10 – as it’s likely to do more damage than good.”
AN ACCEPTABLE LEVEL OF DISCIPLINE?
Creflo Dollar’s arrest for hitting his daughter has sparked major discussion about whether physical force is acceptable in disciplining teenagers. Melvyn Davis adds his voice to this debate
Last month, social networking sites were dominated with debates about an incident involving tele-evangelist Creflo Dollar and his 15-year-old daughter.
Rev Dollar was arrested on June 8 after being accused of choking, punching and hitting his daughter with his shoe, in an attempt to prevent her from attending a party. The pastor originally said that his actions were in retaliation to her hitting him first but, days after, in front of his 30,000-strong congregation at World Changers Church International in Atlanta, Georgia, Dollar denied ever hitting or punching her, leaving everyone guessing: Who is telling the truth?
Much of the social media discussion has been about whose version of events is to be believed, and also about what constitutes an acceptable level of discipline for teenagers.
My intention is not to judge the case in the court of public opinion, but to consider the impact of physical discipline by a father on a rebellious teenage daughter.
A father has every right to intervene if he has concerns about his teenage daughter attending a party. He could reason and verbally challenge her; threaten all manner of sanctions, and even go as far as to stand in her way to prevent her from leaving the house. He could even accompany her to the party in an attempt to cramp her style, but the moment he physically hits, injures or allows the intervention to escalate into a physical fight, he has gone too far.
As a social worker, with over 20 years of experience working with children and families, I have seen my fair share of dysfunctional families and family breakdowns. The dynamics and patterns are always similar. Situations that erupt into family violence often have their roots in parents who have neglected to meet some fundamental need in their children, or who employ parenting styles that are either too harsh, or that have failed to change and adapt as the child gets older.
For discipline to be effective, it has to have three main components: a loving, supportive relationship between parent and child; the use of positive reinforcement when children behave well, and age-appropriate sanctions when a child misbehaves.
Many parents today are fearful of using spanking as a punishment because of the law, or because they fear it teaches violence. The truth is that, whilst spanking is not illegal, bruising or injuring a child is. Spanking should never be administered on impulse, or when a parent is angry or out of control. Physical punishment is most effective with very young children, when used alongside other sanctions. Spanking is considered inappropriate before 15 months of age, less necessary after six years old, and should rarely be used, if ever, after 10 years of age.
I was regularly beaten (not spanked) as a child, mainly with a belt but, on occasions, with the dreaded curtain rod. Those beatings continued up until I was 16, when my father used his fists for the first time. The beatings escalated as I got older, and did nothing to improve my behaviour. They just served to make me more determined to not get caught the next time. They also drove an emotional wedge between my father and me, that still exists to this day.
The anger and rage that accompanied my beatings reminded me of slavery. They sought to humiliate me and were never administered with love. If beatings really worked, then surely we should punish children less as they get older. Many adults have told me that they were severely beaten as a child, and it did them ‘no harm’, to which I reply, Yes it did; it left you believing that beating a child in that way is acceptable.
Fathers and daughters should share a very special bond. A Christian father is supposed to represent God the Father; the type of man she should marry, and the type of treatment she should expect and accept from a man.
We know from research that children who witness or experience violence are more likely to be victims or perpetrators of violence in their own relationships. The overwhelming evidence is that using physical violence on children should come with its own health warning – especially after the age of 10 – as it’s likely to do more damage than good.
The measure by which we treat others is often a reflection of how we might have been treated as children. The Bible admonishes us to break the bonds that so easily bind us, particularly those spiritual and emotional bonds from our past that surface during times of stress and anxiety, and which leave a child entering adulthood feeling unloved and unlovable.
“Whatsoever a man sows, so shall he reap.” If we sow strawberries, we get strawberries. If we sow love and respect, we reap love and respect.
Nowhere is the law of the generational harvest more pertinent than in the way in which we raise our children. So let’s forever be mindful that being a hands-on parent will impact on our children for the rest of their lives, and has the potential to create a negative barrier that not only affects your relationship, but their relationship with their own children.
Melvyn Davis serves as Director of boys2MEN Mentoring & Family Support Services. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org