Lesson from Norway: Drop that rod, and spare your child

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 11, 2012 11:00 hrs

Beat up your child. Go ahead, he or she deserves it.

How dare they defy, deny and disobey you?

Go ahead, a few smacks on the head or some other delicate part of the anatomy will only ensure that the kid thinks twice before doing it again.

After all, “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them,” says Proverbs 13.24. And what’s discipline without force? And haven’t you heard of tough love?

Thankfully, my father, and I believe his father, disagreed.

According to them, beating up children was nothing but bullying, and bullying was a despicable, cowardly act. Never pick on someone smaller or weaker than you. And conversely, don’t let someone bigger pick on you.  

Both, of course, easier said than done.

That did not stop my father once from declaring that he would have cheerfully skinned me alive if it would help him get into his car, which I had accidentally locked with the keys inside moments before he was supposed to leave for a critical meeting.

But since it would not, I was spared.

The lack of corporal punishment at home, however, was made up for in my last school, where PD, short for a brutal punishment drill, was officially endorsed and encouraged.  

‘Six of the best’ were also regularly administered to those caught violating school norms, which ironically enough, included bullying.

This, of course, was before the government banned corporal punishment in schools a couple of years ago.  

The fact that most schools are unaware of this law, or continue to ignore it, is another matter.

I often hear many of my friends and colleagues defend, and actually praise their parents – and teachers - for having beaten them up when they were small.

“How else were we supposed to learn right from wrong?” asked one of them.

"Children invariably mistake kindness for weakness," declared a teacher and parent. "It is critical to draw red lines, and enforce them. You cannot do that by explaining, arguing, pleading or begging."

Most close the argument by pointing to their own ‘success and stability’ as a sign of the system having worked. Many of them continue to perpetuate it with their own children.

The fundamental flaw in this argument is the belief that the use of force is the best, and sometimes the only way to get the message across.

It is certainly the easiest. It is much much harder to slowly count to 10 with your fists clenched behind your back.  

There’s no such thing as an ideal parent, which makes parenting a very, very subjective thing.

Most of us bristle if someone even dares imply that we could be doing something against the best interests of our children.

Most of us, consciously or unconsciously, also tend to try and bring up our children the way our parents brought us up.    

But sometimes,  as the recent incidents in Norway show us,  that is not enough.

In the first case, in a bizarre, extreme example of Norway’s concern for children, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya had their three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter taken away by Norwegian social workers in early January. Why? Because they were feeding them with their hands and sleeping in the same bed as them.

In the second, more recent example, software engineer Chandrasekhar Vallabhaneni and his wife Anupama, were arrested by the police and sentenced by Oslo District Court to jail terms for 18 months and 15 months respectively,  for repeated abuse of their son, seven -year-old son Sai Sairam.  

According to Kurt Lir, Head of the Oslo Prosecutor’s office, “There were burn marks and scars on the body of the child, who has also been beaten by a belt.”

The child’s crime? Incontinence.

And crime, as we all agree, must be met with punishment.

So why are we interfering with a parent’s right to punish their child? Yes, incontinence might be more of a medical issue than a crime, but what does one do when faced with a cheeky, defiant, rebellious, irreverent child,  who just refuses to listen?

Simple: Make the punishment fit the crime. Children, by nature, constantly tend to push the envelope, to provoke and press all the wrong buttons, to see what they can get away with.

Detention, the equivalent of jailing in the adult world, is usually a good deterrent in school.  

At home, grounding serves the same purpose. So does curtailment of rights like TV time and going out with friends. Tough love doesn’t necessarily involve violence.

So unclench your fists, drop that rod, and spare the child.
Not because it is illegal. Not because someday, they’ll thank you for it.
But because it is the right thing to do.

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Ramananda Sengupta is a senior editor and strategic analyst

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