Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Beating for better behaviour

 The viral video of a mother beating her 12-year-old daughter for posting personal sexual content on Facebook requires more in-depth analysis because the behaviours of both daughter and mother is symptomatic of the wider society. 

No morally sound society should accept the actions of the child and, beyond any trace of a doubt, this behaviour should be condemned and discouraged. Yet condemning of a behaviour does not guarantee its non-occurrence as such actions are influenced by the value system instilled in the child, the impact of technology and the role of peers, teachers, leaders and family members. The greater debate of this episode stems around the corporal punishment administered, its public posting and the consequential psychological effects on the child.

The beneficial and detrimental effects of corporal punishment have indeed been a long-

standing debate. One can link a possible bene­-

fit to a concept in psychology and human resource management called “behaviour modification”. It is based on the “operant conditioning” concept: what happens right before and what happens right after a behaviour affects the likelihood of that behaviour happening again. Research on this theory suggests when it comes to discipline, parents can apply this principle by using reinforcement to encourage good behaviours to be repeated and punishment to discourage negative behaviour from being repeated. 

One component of behaviour modification is “positive punishment”, which posits that adding a consequence will deter the child from repeating a particular behaviour. Examples of positive punishment will include extra chores and penmanship. Spanking a child is also considered a form of positive punishment, however, there is an important difference between consequences and punishment. 

Spanking should be used with care and not be relied on too heavily because it doesn’t teach kids how to behave appropriately. In the viral video example, the spanking does not necessarily alter the value system of the child because it addresses one issue but may be ignoring many others. The attitude with which the punishment is applied also affects the impact. The obscene language used by the mother during the spanking invokes the question whether this may be common language in the household and, if so, what form of respect the mother expects from the child for “Satan cannot correct sin”.

When such extreme positive punishment is delivered with such emotions, it can have detrimental psychological effects, causing the child to focus more on their anger towards their parents for the punishment rather than truly learning from their mistake and focusing on how to do things differently. Consider the alternative where the mother posts a video that outlines the issues she is facing with the child, the trauma it is causing her and appeals to the child’s friends and the wider public to assist her in dealing with the matter. It may have imbued in the child a caring, loving and emotionally stable parent, with much less embarrassment. 

But even so, I must admit this is more com­plex in practice because to act in such a manner requires the mother to have a degree of hope and confidence in friends, family and leaders in society. With her current personal relationship issues, coupled with living in a “sexually charged” society, such confidence may be far-fetched.

Dr Ramchand Rampersad 

El Socorro