Since statistics, research, polls and the like are often taken to be gospel, which should be the case if they are done without bias, prejudice and hidden agendas as is oftentimes the case, then Helen Bartlett, the mother in the spotlight, seems to be right in punishing her daughter the way she did!
Are all those people who support Ms Bartlett wrong, misinformed, illiterate, gluttons for violence and the like, or are they people on the ground in tune with the problem of teenage behaviour, who recognise that “firmness’’ is love and is often the way to bring “harden” children into line?
The question is, how do you reconcile the response above to armchair theorists who are often bookish to the core and who love to quote the research related to rehabilitation and reform as against arguments for deterrence, especially corporal punishment, and by extension, capital punishment for those convicted of homicides.
But even as the findings of such research may have some merit, it is worthwhile to remember that they would have come from societies where such reform was able to thrive, as against others where such theories would have limited applicability. In the former, there is often a cultural make-up based on the obligation to do the “right”, attributable in the first instance, to a judicial system which juxtaposes the right against the wrong and a consequence for the latter, and secondly, a social organisation equally demanding in terms of acceptable values, based on the home, the school and the like. Reformatory measures are likely to take root in such societies.
But where as in ours, criminals go unpunished, corruption is rife, role models are hardly that, absentee fathers are a common phenomenon, inter alia, you have a culture in which the seeds of reform can hardly thrive, for reform is based on a value system that the subject must aspire to, but if such values are under siege or virtually non-existent, what is there to aspire to? What does a mother do in such circumstances? Certainly not brutalise a child as this incident appears to demonstrate! But knowing that the system, indeed the society has failed her, and desperate to save a child who seems headed for disaster, should she not apply the firmness she sees as love to achieve her purpose?
Is the impact not telling as the child has come to see the error of her ways and is remorseful?
So even as we continue to strive for the ideal of reform and rehabilitation which the research speaks about in general terms, let’s be realistic about the kind of playing field that we’ve got in this country and try as humanely as possible to apply the firmness that is the necessary first step towards achieving that ideal.
Dr Errol Benjamin