Physical punishment sends wrong message to kids

Posed photo of a girl crying.
Posed photo of a girl crying.PHOTO: ST FILE

The most effective lessons on values are communicated to children not by what adults say, but by what they do.

I strongly agree with the views Ms Teo Leng Lee expressed in her letter (Corporal punishment archaic, does more harm than good, Aug 12).

As Ms Teo points out, corporal punishment teaches children that when another person does not obey our commands, it is appropriate to use violence, fear and pain to establish our authority.

The other implicit lesson is that those with power have the right to force obedience from those with less power.

It tells children that might makes right.

Punishment and violence also erode the trust and connection between child and caregiver.

Yet it is precisely this relationship that can enable caregivers to impart their values and perspectives in a lasting and positive way.

So while corporal punishment may sometimes lead to short-term compliance, it directly undermines the basis for deeper and longer-lasting adult influence.

Some people claim that a positive connection can be preserved if corporal punishment is accompanied by gentle and loving words of explanation.

Certainly, children's natural attachment to their caregivers is very strong and may sometimes survive the strains of violence.

Yet such a dynamic teaches children that violence, fear and pain are acceptable parts of close relationships.

The caregiver in this case is asking the child to accept that where there is a strong emotional bond, one person is justified in hitting another.

What are the implications of this logic if the child later encounters abusive relationships in other contexts, such as dating?

Parenting and education are challenging.

But as adults, let's aim to rise to the challenge in positive and creative ways that respect children as human beings rather than seeking to impose our will.

There is a lot of good that we can do simply by meeting children's natural hunger for connection and relationships.

Jolene Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2019, with the headline 'Physical punishment sends wrong message to kids'. Print Edition | Subscribe