Jaevion Nelson | Beating doesn’t make us better
Jamaicans like to pretend they were innocent well-behaved children as they justify the corporal punishment meted out to our children. And, if they were beaten or 'did get tie up inna ants' nest', they claim it made them so much better and more disciplined.
In their mind, the beating with belts, smacking with pot covers, knocks in the forehead with a wooden spoon, and shoes thrown at them caused them to be the 'exemplary' adults they are today.
It is quite understandable that many of us think this way. A significant number of us grew up being disciplined like this. Consequently, regardless of our educational backgrounds and occupation or profession, we feel this is the best way to get children to understand when they are spoken to, or that it is the most appropriate last resort.
Like many Jamaicans, I was a child with potential. My poor academic performance frustrated my mother greatly (but I was over school from the fourth grade). I didn't seem to appreciate my mother's sacrifice. I didn't always keep my promise to do better. On top of that, I was (on occasion) quite mouthy. As a result, I got a lot of beatings from my mother - especially for snarky comments.
I'll never forget the beating I got one morning before school in grade one. I had two rulers in my bag. My mother bought one. She didn't believe that I had found the other, and no one answered when I asked who it belonged to. Therefore, rather than leave it on the floor, I took it home to take back the following morning.
I got sick that day. She was teaching me not to steal (though I didn't), but that was not the way to teach such a lesson.
There were countless other occasions, including the time in grade five when I took all the plums I picked by our neighbour to share with friends at school and didn't leave some for my young sister. The lesson? Share. But was that the right way? Thankfully, by the time I got to high school, it lessened until it stopped eventually.
Corporal punishment - the caning, flogging, and smacking is one of those issues that will take quite some time for us in Jamaica to unlearn and acknowledge/accept that it is harmful to a child's development and well-being. According to The Committee on the Rights of the Children, the UN treaty body that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, corporal punishment is "any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort" and 'teach' the pickney a lesson.
I grew up around a lot of parents who were teaching a lesson to my friends, their sons (especially). Fathers and mothers would always boast about tying their children to trees to beat them (so they couldn't get away), beating them with pipes, pieces of tyre, and machete. But this didn't make them better.
My mother meant well, but the beatings, despite her love, didn't make me a better person. I'm better because I became more mature. Instead, the beatings helped to create an emotional distance between us. I feared her more than I loved her.
I'm who I am today, in part, because of all the times she spoke to me rather than beat me - the times she encouraged me, trusted me, and allowed me to grow. It's the encouragement from my stepfather and grandmother. Sadly, I, too, thought beating was necessary, though I hated it. I recall beating my sister from time to time because she needed to be disciplined.
The public response to the police arresting the single mother from St Thomas who was seen beating her daughter with a machete is worrying. The seeming attempt by residents, sections of the media, and others to invite pity for the mother and cast her as a victim illustrates the gravity of the state of affairs. One hopes the mother should be given the support she needs, but that does not mean she shouldn't be held accountable.
It is evident we need to have more public discussion on this issue and a public education campaign that would help to engender a national consensus that we cannot continue to harm our children like this. We need to help people understand that inflicting harm on children does not make them better children. It doesn't make them do better in school either.