“Our big problem is that we abolished corporal punishment but did not put anything else in its place. Our children are, therefore, operating in an environment where there is, in effect, no consequence for bad behaviour. That has resulted in a general breakdown of discipline, nationwide.
“Discipline is much more than punishment. However, punishment must not be removed as an option. We stopped beating the children and now the children are beating us, both literally and figuratively.”
The following Letter to the Editor discussing the essential link between punishment and parenting was submitted by Louis Winston Williams:
In the 1970s, there emerged so-called irrefutable scientific evidence from the USA that coconut oil was bad for one’s health. The coconut industry was ruined. Today, virgin coconut oil is considered a health food.
The USA abolished corporal punishment in schools long before Trinidad and Tobago. By the 1960s, the failure of that policy was quite evident. All of the disciplinary problems we are experiencing today were on display in the USA in the 1960s. We also saw evidence of those problems when children from the USA, of Caribbean heritage, visited the region.
There may be countries (not including the USA) where corporal punishment was abolished and replaced by more effective disciplinary measures. We need to do the research. It is quite possible that there are lessons to be learnt from those countries.
Our big problem is that we abolished corporal punishment but did not put anything else in its place. Our children are, therefore, operating in an environment where there is, in effect, no consequence for bad behaviour. That has resulted in a general breakdown of discipline, nationwide. There is no respect for law and order, authority, other human beings, etc. For this we must thank our politicians and intellectuals – ‘they too bright’. Some of these children are now grown men and women, and are victims while in prison of vicious beatings by prison officers and other prisoners. How ironic! Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind!
Discipline is much more than punishment. However, punishment must not be removed as an option. We stopped beating the children and now the children are beating us, both literally and figuratively.
The diminishing role of the extended family and the “village” in the upbringing of children and the decline in parenting skills have further exacerbated the disciplinary problems. Many children are left unsupervised for long periods of time as parents, particularly single parents, have to work long hours and do not have the traditional support mechanism of the extended family and friends.
I am recommending that the Government should establish a standing advisory board with responsibility for the formulation of measures for the enhancement of parenting skills, including the training and disciplining of children, both at home and at school. That board should, among other things, undertake a review of the history, culture, causes, etc, of indiscipline in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as of effective measures adopted by other countries to combat indiscipline and facilitate the proper training of children.
I am confident that the advisory board will recommend that parenting skills be part of the secondary school curriculum. Further, teachers should be trained in effective methods of disciplining children in school. Workshops on parenting skills ought to be conducted for would-be parents (both women and men) when women attend their pre-natal clinics.
A full programme of parenting skills should be available at community centres. In this regard, the Government should also make use of the conventional media (radio, television and the press) as well as of the social media,
Moreover, parenting responsibility legislation should also be enacted. I foresee, for instance, parents whose children are sanctioned for serious acts of indiscipline at school or elsewhere being required by law to attend free compulsory remedial parenting classes.