Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Discipline them, one way or another


Mark Fraser

 Permit me to air a measured, reasoned and tempered response to the letter headlined, “Positive discipline, not sound beatings” which appeared in the Express of March 22.

There are consequences to every action. It is true there is the need for discipline, but in what form? It is a fact that the age of senseless “sound beatings” is long past. These “sound beatings” may in fact have been child abuse rather than discipline. 

As a future parent, it seems the need for distinction between disciplining a child, corporal punishment and child abuse must be drawn as most people have trouble separating these actions. 

Disciplining a child does not necessarily involve physical contact when taking action to curb problematic behaviour. Corporal punishment as existed previously merely involved the application of the ruler or whip across the hand or to the buttocks. This contrasts with child abuse, which according to The Children Act, 2012 s. 4(1) (a), is wilful assault, neglect or exposure of a child (among other things) which can cause suffering or injury to the child’s physical, mental or emotional health. Section (2) of this same act makes this an offence punishable by fine and imprisonment.

There therefore appears to be a thin line between corporal punishment and child abuse. The real problem is that when a child with no discipline becomes an adult with no discipline, criminal behaviour tends to be the result. The difference at this stage is that the discipline has to be enforced by the police rather than teachers or parents. The problem of indisciplined youth should therefore not be left to fester until it contributes to septic crime statistics.

Interestingly, the letter does not state what exactly “positive discipline” involves. This reflects our collective cluelessness as a society in finding alternatives to corporal punishment. The author herself seems to express some frustration in having to be “firm and disciplined, yet engaging and approachable”. While this is a challenge parents will constantly have to deal with, it would always be preferable to discipline your child, rather than have them experience “discipline” at the hands of the police. 

What exactly is this “positive discipline”? It is yet no more than a concept. However, one can read the report of a committee chaired by Prof Selwyn Ryan entitled “No Time to Quit: Engaging Youth at Risk.” It examines the causes of crime among youth in T&T and makes recommendations for reducing these crimes.

The report is available at and has several solutions for youth indiscipline. Where is the implementation of this report? How thick is the dust on the cover?

While I agree wholeheartedly that some parents have been abusing children, it is also clear the “developed” and “advanced” countries such as America have not found an alternative solution. One simply has to observe children kept on leashes in supermarkets, or the sporadic incidence of school shootings and the associated clueless response. 

Our country needs decisive action rather than further meaningless statements from those who can make changes. The videos of the school fights which probably inspired the author to express her frustration are a nine-day wonder soon to be forgotten. The problem of indiscipline will remain. 

We have to explore the author’s “positive discipline” as embodied in the Ryan report, or alternatively return to corporal punishment. Ironically, corporal punishment may be the fastest way to restore some sense of order and sanity to our nation’s classrooms. Scratching our heads while bumping our gums is no longer an option.

David Craig

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