Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tough Questions: Is it OK To Hit Your Children?

This morning I watched one of the most disturbing videos I have ever seen, of a judge beating his disabled daughter for having installed a video game on her computer. Watching it almost brought tears to my eyes, but I really had to think about it for a while to really fully appreciate everything about it that made me feel the way I did.

Of course this brings up the question: is it OK to hit your children? There are people who might look at that video clinically and say sorry, it's not that bad. He doesn't punch her, he hits her with a belt, but not with the buckle so it's still legal. It's brutal, but she's not bleeding, nor does he hit her face, there are much much worse cases of child abuse out there and this does not qualify. To which my gut response is, BUT IT'S NOT OK TO HIT YOUR KIDS!

Here's the problem with that initial reaction: It goes completely against the gut reaction that I get when watching videos like this, which is "OHMYGOD if that was my child I'd smack him/her so hard they wouldn't know which way was up!"

So wait a minute, is it OK to hit your kids or not?

I'm going to go with no.

It might happen that once, in the middle of a passionate fight with your teenager you might slap them once across the face, which you might regret and apologize for later when the heat of the argument has died down. But relying your parenting on corporeal punishment can, in my opinion, range from being merely lazy to being the single most damaging experience of your child's growth and life.

Judging what this man did to his daughter goes far far beyond the physical damage he inflicted on her. True, she was not left bleeding or concussed. However I later realized that it is disturbing for reasons far beyond what was physically done to her. It was the fact that her screams and her crying invoked not the slightest bit of pity or fatherly love. If anything, her screams made him more angry and want to beat her more violently. It was the fact that her mother had not a single word of restraint for her husband, and nonchalantly changes the subject in the background while her daughter cowers in fear in a corner. It was the fact that he was visibly containing himself, and the feeling that later on he will be congratulating himself for not having given in to the urge to take it further, instead of feeling guilty for having taken it way way too far. It was the way he cursed at her to lay face down on the bed, and the palpable humiliation she must have felt while trying to find the courage to resist his demands.

I was very lucky in my childhood to not have ever been beaten, outside the occasional slap given in the heat of an argument. However I was an extremely rebellious child, and I can say for certain that beating me would have been entirely useless. One thing I remember vividly however, was the threat of a spanking from my uncle at the age of 10, whom I saw only once every couple of years. I cannot remember what I had done or said to deserve this warning, but I remember him calmly informing me that, although I was not his daughter he was still my uncle, which meant that he was perfectly within his right to spank me if he determined it necessary. He said this in a non-threatening, perfectly placid way. Despite this I remember the humiliation and disgust that boiled in me at the thought of him taking such a road. I said nothing and left because I knew, for a fact, that if he decided to spank me I would have fought him tooth and nail to prevent it, as hard and as viciously as I would have fought someone who was trying to rape me, and perhaps cause a family split because of it.

Now contrast that with the beatings I used to get from the son of a family friend. There was a woman whom I considered to be something of a second mother to me, but sometimes when she was not around her older son would wail on me, despite the fact that I was a child from 7-12 and he was in his 20s. I defended myself like a vicious little cat, kicking and biting, going for the balls, the eyes, anything I could to even the playing field, and usually I got away with little harm done. Yet this to me was not nearly as traumatic as a "spanking" from my uncle would have been. I did not come away from these encounters feeling like a victim, if anything I felt empowered by the fact that I could find a way to defend myself despite the fact that he was so much bigger and stronger than me. I was under no obligation to bow my head and take it. I forgave him for these encounters even long before I discovered that he was a drug addict at the time, I guess because I always sensed that there was something altering his behavior and that he wasn't an inherently bad person. Even though objectively this seems like a much worse case of "abuse" than anything that my uncle would have done to me, I came away from it in much the same way a young brother comes away from a tussle with an older sibling. Those of you who count the bruises when judging a child abuse case, you're missing the most important factor.

Beating you child is not just about the physical scars, it is about the humiliation and hatred you inspire in them. You cannot expect to build a loving relationship with someone you put down in such a way, no matter how much you may think they deserved your punishment. I'm sure my uncle would not have hurt me if he decided to spank me, I probably wouldn't have even felt the pain a few hours later, but I also know that I never would have forgiven him for it, and for the rest of my life it would hang there between us. What is even more sad is that he would have no idea it was there, influencing our relationship in unseen ways, because he has no idea what kind of damage his behavior might have caused.

Am I completely out of touch, because I do not have personal experience with this kind of physical abuse? Is the humiliation factor very different for a young girl being beaten by a man from a young boy being beaten by a woman? Let me know

And a brief message to the girl in the video: you did the right thing. Exposing your father in this way took enormous courage and I applaud and support you.
However, if he does not go to prison, or at least lose his parental rights because of it thanks to his buddies in the judicial system, and he comes back to take out his revenge on you, go for the knees. Do not hesitate, two good strong kicks with your heel directly to the kneecap will take him out and he will not be able to stand back up. Get up, and Run.

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