Psychologist, therapist insist... Beatings breeding violence

Staff reporter

Sunday, November 26, 2017

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Corporal punishment in the Jamaican society is seen as one of the main reasons for the spate of violence here.

Psychologist Dr Leahcim Semaj told the Jamaica Observer in an interview that corporal punishment perpetuates anger, fear and resentment in society.

He said it is ineffective, contrary to popular belief, as it does not change behaviour.

“What [corporal] punishment does is suppress behaviour in the presence of the punishing agent. What you learn is don't get caught again,” the expert argued. “When the police cracks down in Cross Roads, crime moves to Half-Way-Tree, so what you learn from punishment is not to get caught, be more careful.

“What corporal punishment actually teaches children... [is that] you can hit somebody: (1) if you're bigger than them; (2) if you're angry; (3) if they disobey you; 4) if they disappoint you,” he added.

This, he said, morphs into domestic violence since the man is often bigger than the woman, and is reasoned as justification for him hitting a woman.

Semaj said that corporal punishment either encourages a child to continue the cycle of beating when they get older or be turned off by the act, not to continue it.

He argued that society is operating in a primitive state “where brute force and violence” is all that is understood.

This, he said, explains the way the police treat citizens, the prevalence of domestic violence in society and the reason for the seemingly untameable murder rate.

“People do not know how to settle disputes and differences without resorting to violence,” he said. “The simplest or little dispute, somebody kill somebody, somebody stab somebody, so we need to take a stand against this thing called corporal punishment.”

Art therapist at the Caribbean Tots to Teens, Lesli-Ann Belnavis, argued that corporal punishment leads to certain maladaptive behaviours in society.

“It can impact their education, how they learn, their self-esteem; it can even impact their social interactions with others and how they problem solve a situation,” she said. “So you may see a child may get upset about something that their peer did and they have this level of aggression to want to just punch the person and hit the person and it doesn't matter the gender,” she continued. “When you may check it back ... they probably did not learn a way how to deal with that aggression or deal with that issue.”

The Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment — a UNICEF and UNESCO venture started in Geneva in 2001 which seeks to encourage abolition of corporal punishment worldwide — labels Jamaica as a country that has prohibited it in some settings.

The basis for the implementation of the UN Convention in the Rights of the Child, the initiative reported that Jamaica is yet to achieve abolition of corporal punishment in the home, some day care facilities and schools.

According to the report, “the right to inflict reasonable and moderate punishment on children is recognised in common law”, though it is not confirmed in written law.

“The near universal acceptance of violence in child rearing necessitates clarity in law that no degree or kind of corporal punishment is acceptable or lawful. Prohibition should be enacted of all corporal punishment in all settings, including the family home and all settings where adults have authority over children, together with explicit repeal of the common law defence,” the report outlined.

It outlines that while corporal punishment is prohibited in early childhood institutions, legalisation should also be enacted to prohibit corporal punishment in all early childhood care facilities, day care for older children, including crèches, after-school childcare, child-minding. For schools, it states that prohibition needs to be enacted in relation to all schools, public and private, in addition to repeal of the common law defence.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressed his resolve to outlaw corporal punishment earlier this month when he noted that the time had come for Parliament to debate the issue of putting corporal punishment to an end in public institutions and within homes.

He cited a UNICEF report which stated a “frightening” number of children in Jamaica are dying violently and are regularly subjected to violence and violent discipline in their home, schools and communities.

This report, he said, also noted that eight in 10 children in the two to 14 years age group experienced violence as a form of discipline.

Holness argued that without changing the means by which children are disciplined and how conflicts are resolved, Jamaica cannot be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of good health and well-being.

“I must reiterate the commitment that I gave in this House to ban corporal punishment in all Government institutions,” he said at the time, adding that by declaring an end to corporal punishment it will be a forward step against violence generally.

But Belnavis said that alternative strategies need to be promoted as some may view Holness' push as Government interference and telling a parent not to correct the wrongdoing their child may exhibit.

“We do need persons to learn right from wrong, but strategies have to be learnt because one has to know what can the psychological impact or emotional impact of beating a child can have,” she said. “You might have some parents who say I give my child two slaps on the wrist and that's it, and that may be fine, but when it becomes a level where it's so extreme where you're beating them with — you're using objects; also words that are said to the child can have an impact on them.”

“If a child comes from an environment or they're in a situation where they perhaps already don't feel supported, maybe emotionally, and words are said to them like 'you're stupid or you good fi nothing'... and these rhetoric that seeps into a person's can lead to negative behavioural responses,” the therapist argued.

“We recently saw the case of the child who unfortunately committed suicide, and he said parents should pay attention to words they say to children. In essence, it was words that were stated to him repeatedly that he started to believe. He said “when me hear say me stupid', me believe say me stupid, so that's an example of an impact on the person's emotional well-being, it's an impact on their self-esteem,” she continued.

She said that if a child is not exposed to forms of encouragement and support, and that is compounded when they are brutally disciplined to the point of abuse, it can have dire effects on the child's psyche and well-being.

Semaj offered alternatives to beating that he said had worked and will affect the change in behaviour a parent hopes to see.

He noted that parents should never discipline out of anger, but rather in a calm, collected and calculated manner.

“I remember my eldest son he was on the basketball team in high school and an issue came up which we had spoken about again and again and he violated. And I just called him and said, “Listen, when you go to school tomorrow, inform the coach that you're no longer a part of the team and he said 'but dad I never said that'...And I said your behaviour does not make you worthy to represent your school; you need some time to do some thinking, you need time to look at your life and the time you spend practising basketball you could use that time to reflect on your behaviour,” he related.

He encouraged parents to manipulate variables within their homes to achieve the desired outcome with their child instead of resorting to “brute force and violence” which, he said, does not teach any lesson.

In this same manner, the psychologist said parents should target technology implements that the children love, such as cellphones, video games and other privileges that the child loves and wants.

Semaj told the Sunday Observer that an attempt to correct through beating merely perpetuates the cycle, whereas a rewards system extinguishes behaviour.

“Let's say you're in a relationship with somebody and you've ended the relationship and you keep calling them. What I tell people is do not answer the phone. Now, after a while every now and then you answer the phone and say 'mi say don't call me no more'. What you have done is actually rewarded them, you know, because they got you to answer. Now the proper thing to do is just not answer at all. It will take a while, but ultimately the behaviour will be extinguished,” he hypothesised.

“Many parents, after they done beat the child they feel good, they feel that they've done something because the impact of violence is immediate, the impact is immediate but it's not lasting. On the other hand when you now shape behaviour by manipulating the reinforcement contingencies, it takes a little while longer but it's lasting and you [need] to be consistent,” Semaj continued.

In recent times, videos of women caning children in rural Jamaica have brought into sharp focus the issue of corporal punishment in the society. The most recent being of an obviously frustrated mother agonisingly thrashing her four-year-old daughter in a video that went viral last weekend.

Another mother was captured earlier this year administering blows to her teen daughter using a machete. That mother was expressing frustration as she beat the child.

Parents who project their issues onto children are, according to Semaj, exhibiting a common defence mechanism in psychology called displacement.

He said that in such instances the Jamaican proverb “cyaa ketch Qwaku, yuh ketch im shut” is exhibited.

In such instances, the child is punished for the problems that the parent is experiencing.

“So you have displacement, you have projection; when you're projecting the problems that you're having onto your child,” he said. “You could also add one other thing — anger management, because sometimes when you look at a parent brutalising a child, the parent is angry.”

“You should never do anything in anger, you will regret it. When you're angry you lose all control. I have heard people talk about the level of box, and I have learnt from my own experience when my mother was beating me it was out of control, totally out of control. There is no rational process at work, so it kind of becomes that more than likely you will do more damage than you will have to pay for. Your frustration does not rationalise, excuse, or justify you abusing another human being. It's not acceptable,” the psychologist said.

“Corporal punishment does not change behaviour. There was a case of a mother beating the child, upset that the daughter got pregnant and saying 'me nuh tell you nuh fi talk to no boy', but the daughter says 'mommy me neva talk' and the child is right,” Semaj said. “She told the child what not to do; she never talk at all, no words were spoken.”

The psychologist said that society needs to get to a point of civility wherein corporal punishment is outlawed.




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