Black and Latino parents have a longstanding complicated relationship with modes of discipline, particularly when it comes to physical discipline. What the rest of the world labels as spanking, Black and Latino children grow up into adults who identified their parents’ discipline as beatings.
Recently, a NYT piece entitled “Stop Beating Black Children” chronicled the painful dichotomy that exists between slavery and the way black parents have chosen to discipline for generations. In her article, through research, she posits “It should not be surprising, then, that black American slaves, who endured the trauma of their own beatings, inherited their oppressors’ violence and, for centuries, passed down these parenting beliefs.”
“I’m gonna beat you to the white meat”, “I’m gonna beat the black off you” – these are phrases that millions of black people can tell you they heard in their childhood as parents administered slaps across various body parts with anything within reach. To be honest, before reading Dr. Patton’s post, I’d never correlated the heinous, violent nature of slavery to how parents so-called lovingly guide their children. But now I find myself having to reconcile the reasoning behind it.
First of all, there’s a stark difference between spanking and beating. Spanking is often an age-appropriate and situational form of discipline. Spanking is a few taps on the hands or the bottom. It’s the last resort after other forms of addressing bad behavior hasn’t worked. Beating a child shouldn’t be your go-to. Not only is it lazy parenting but in most cases, it’s outright abusive.
In the news on any given day in any given city, you’ll read a news story of a young child (usually under 5) who was beaten to death by a parent or caregiver. The circumstances imply that the adult lost control and things escalated from discipline to outright assault on a defenseless child. Because you couldn’t get the child to do what you wanted you when you wanted, you decided that you were going to do everything physically to break them. That’s not parenting. And in the context of Dr. Patton’s article, I can see the parallel of how we’ve been dangerously conditioned to think this is OK.
Secondly, one of best ways to discipline a child is to employ to 2 Cs: communication and consistency. Communicating boundaries to a child from an early age establishes trust and a semblance of respect. For example, screen time is a big deal in this age. If you set aside a clear schedule at the age of 5 and then gradually increase it by age or grade level, there’s no room for argument. But depending on the type of parent you choose to be, there may be opportunities for them to earn more time as they grow. In this situation, just giving them an iPad to keep them quiet and then spanking them when they won’t go to bed breeds unpredictability. The inconsistency of your parenting is what makes for a child you have to physically discipline later.
Kids want consistency. They like routines. Even when they step out of line, it’s not going to take a lot to punish them. When you have a good relationship with your child, a stern lecture is more than enough. Taking activities away is far more effective than lashes with a belt. Upsetting whatever their normal consistency is will be the deterrent required to make them think twice about the infraction that brought the punishment on.
And lastly, we have to stop making the excuse that because we turned out OK, it’s OK to spank or beat our kids. From experience, I can say that a lot of my beatings came out of my parents’ frustration. With me or with life. There were times that it might not have even been about me, but because they had had enough. I wasn’t the perfect child and they weren’t bad parents. Although, I’m not alone when I say that I didn’t become an OK adult because of how I got shown “tough love”.
Setting aside scientific studies and numbers, one can simply look at the emotional damage that physical discipline leaves behind. The language that parents use when they hit their kids is often negative and brow-beating. Parents have used physical intimidation over actual hitting as well. Those effects create seeds of resentment that manifest into adults who are crippled by mistrust, depression, narcissism, co-dependency, and a myriad of other issues that make them maladjusted beings.
This isn’t an condemnation of those who were spanked or beaten as kids. Rather, it’s an attempt to broaden the conversation around how we opt to parent our children as time evolves. To spank or not to spank isn’t the issue. The deeper question is to be frank about is how much of our adulthood is a product of the discipline we endured versus the tough love we embraced and actually learned from.
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