SIMMONS: Tough discipline or a tougher fate

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Spanking. Corporal punishment. A rap on the knuckles. All are no-nos. The “experts” call such measures abuse. They say we’re traumatizing youths. Oy vey.

There was a time when a parent, Sunday school teacher or other adult figure could use a mild form of physical discipline to correct a child’s errant behavior. But no more.

These days, putting palm to a boy’s behind is considered abuse and grabbing a girl by the arm to stop her from fighting in the school hallway could mean assault charges for a teacher. And having Big Mama wash that 16-year-old’s mouth with soap to stop him from verbally abusing his sister? Forget about it.

Soft parents are begetting unruly children and out-of-control teens. Tough disciplinary actions are a thing of the past - and the “experts” want to keep it that way.

Violence only begets violence, they say.

A new study by the D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute (JPI) says that “of the more than 93,000 children that are currently incarcerated in the United States, between 75 and 93 percent have experienced at least one traumatic experience, including sexual abuse, war, community violence, neglect and maltreatment.”

“War” is one thing. Once Congress throws down the gauntlet, there’s nothing we can do but get in it to win it. “Sexual abuse” is wrong and unlawful by any measure.

But “community violence, neglect and maltreatment”? Well, the victimization approach won’t get us to the Promised Land.

We send mixed messages when we ship our children off to schools where the first things that greet them in the morning are metal detectors and security guards instead of loving and tough-as-nails teachers. We condone community violence and neglect when we ignore God’s teachings in Leviticus 19:18.

Laying down behavioral parameters is a parent’s responsibility. I’m not talking about using licking sticks, hickory switches or belt buckles. But childhood foolishness left uncorrected often begets teenage miscreants which often beget anti-social behavior which often begets criminal behavior. At-home intervention is key.

Yet, Dr. Erica Adams, author of the JPI study, says, “Addressing a child’s trauma through the public health system before that child becomes involved with the justice system is critical to promoting the well-being of the child, the family and ultimately, the community.”

But how can we address it before it reaches the “system”?

Spankings, corporal punishment in school, even a rap on the knuckles for cursing the school security guard are prohibited and considered abuse. Sending a child to bed without his supper can be considered neglect. And grabbing your son’s ear as you escort him home can be viewed as maltreatment. Before you know it, social workers are rapping at your front door.

Indeed, we allow authorities to suspend a child from school, categorize them as “special needs” or ship them off to juvenile detention centers rather than correct their behavior.

Tough love is OK, even morally appropriate - as long as “tough” remains the adjective and “love” remains the noun.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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