A time for licks: David Muhammad discusses corporal punishment

Corporal punishment is clearly the most popular method of punishing children who misbehave. While there are other forms of punishing youngsters such as “being grounded” or denied certain privileges, a beating is the most immediate, swift and effective way to put a stop to undesirable behaviour.

Photo: The number one tool of choice.
Photo: The number one tool of choice.

And, even though the State hopes to ensure that abuse and brutality are not part of the process, most adults in contemporary Caribbean society would testify that, while growing up, “licks” played an important part in their personal discipline.

Corporal punishment is any form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable.

Corporal punishment of minors within domestic settings was made against the law in 2012 in the US state of Delaware, where it was stated that beatings that “leave marks on the skin” are child abuse, although it is still lawful in the remaining 49 of the states. But the “Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children” has overseen it being officially outlawed in 34 countries up to 2013.

Corporal punishment in school has also been outlawed in Canada, Kenya, Korea, South Africa, New Zealand and nearly all of Europe.

Photo: Corporal punishment to children is now outlawed in some corners of the globe.
Photo: Corporal punishment to children is now outlawed in some corners of the globe.

But this remains the most common penalty for misbehaviours in a private setting in the Caribbean, and now that beatings are being publicized over social media via Facebook and Youtube, government attention is being paid and intervention discussed.

I am of the view that it is definitely a step in the wrong direction to even entertain the thought of trying to stop parental or domestic corporal punishment in the home. But we as parents and guardians can be a lot more mindful of how we go about it and do it better.

Consider this; Proverbs 13:24 in the Bible explicitly endorses using this method in question where it says “he that spares his rod hates his son, but he that loves him chastises him at times…” and Proverbs 23:13-14 says “withhold not correction from the child, for if you beat him with the rod he shall not die, thou shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from hell…”

So our concern here must not be what is done as much as it is how it is done when it comes to this issue.

Photo: Corporal punishment is no excuse for child abuse.
Photo: Corporal punishment is no excuse for child abuse.

In law a sentence is the final act that is administered in the process of correction. But there is a sober period of reflection during the decision making process where deep thought is offered to how severe the punishment should be.

In many cases when we beat our children, though, there is little or no consideration as too how many lashes the child should be given or even how hard the child should be hit, and even what they should be hit with for that matter.

In our West Indian culture, common urban legends are told about the wide variety of instruments that are used to administer licks. These have included items from belts, electricity cords and wooden sticks to pot spoons, telephone directories and shoes. In some cases, when the child is at a distance, objects have even been thrown at them as a method of punishment.

If a child is beaten like this and it is done under an atmosphere of rage and revenge being taken on the child, then a message is being sent suggesting that they are in an uncontrolled situation where anger is driving the action as opposed to reason.

When emotions are used to make decisions there runs the risk of irrationality clouding reason and judgment. So parents should not beat their children if they—the parents—are under extreme stress or frustration. Beating the child is to correct behavior, not take revenge.

Photo: Is there a right way to hit a child?
Photo: Is there a right way to hit a child?

Finally another factor that must be taken into consideration is the negative impact of absentee fathers, especially since the single parent mother is left to carry out punishment of children alone which may add to frustrations and contribute to the mishandling of the disciplinary process.

We call to mind the old African proverb that says “it takes an entire village to raise a child.” If we cannot get the entire village then let us at least have both parents.


Editor’s Note: What is your view on corporal punishment? Write in and let us know.

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About David Muhammad

David Muhammad
David Muhammad holds a double Major Bachelor’s degree from UWI in Sociology and Education. He is the Trinidad representative of the Nation of Islam, hosts a radio show on 91.9FM and is a motivational speaker. He is also the manager of the Trinidad and Tobago national football team.

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  1. Warning: Undefined variable $userid in /www/wired868_759/public/wp-content/plugins/user-photo/user-photo.php on line 114

    If your kids have hit puberty and you STILL have to be beating them to get things like (1) respect, (2) honesty, (3) compliance with perfectly reasonable requests that can be easily justified to anyone with basic intelligence (4) demonstration of consideration for others, then I am sorry, you have ALREADY FAILED THEM.

    Respect is earned early in their development. Trust (which leads to them feeling they can tell you anything) is also earned early in their development. Ability to grasp simple reasons for why certain things need to be done and appreciating how their actions affect others are also BASIC early development skills.

    If the building blocks are not there then when those hormones hit at puberty and the impulsive, confusing, emotions start to take over well it will be hell to pay for you if they do not respect you, trust you, cannot understand the implications of what they do and feel the entire world revolves around them and have no appreciation for how others feel.

    I will add that no amount of beating at that stage is going to solve ANYTHING. Such a child will have to be totally emotionally broken down and then rebuilt again from scratch using much more enlightened measures.

  2. I take parenting very very seriously, and my kids will tell you I don’t go easy on them. But I could not imagine beating them. I can’t imagine someone beating me for not obeying/complying… whatever you want to call it. And I look at them the same way. I talk. I explain. I ask. I genuinely want to know when they’ve done a certain thing, why they’ve done it. And then we talk about that. Sometimes (many times) my talking is more shouting than talking. But then I get to watch them grow past obstacles they’ve had, I see them develop and understand. I am my children’s guardian. And I have no faith in “justice” meted out blindly by any school. If there’s an issue, call me in. Immediately. Let’s work together on that. But ultimately, that role of determining what works and what does not with the unique individuals who are my children, that belongs to me.

  3. I think teaching empathy goes a lot further in making children into good adults. Beating in my opinion accomplishes nothing. I truly wonder how many of the big men in jail right now or hardened criminals were brought up getting licks (probably most of them as it seems ingrained in the Trinidad culture) – and why those licks did not make them become fine upstanding adults? I wonder about all the people who ‘got licks as a kid and turned out fine’ whether they might have turned out better if they had rather had their parents listen to them and vice versa? I was hit as a child and I remember hating it and resenting my parents for it. I have an 11 year old and I cannot imagine hitting her for anything.

    • Will never forget a boy who was beaten by teachers ALL THE TIME for not listening, not being able to sit still etc. etc. Poor boy was partially deaf and had real legitimate behavioral problems that needed counselling and social intervention at home.

      Licks is PURE laziness! It is just not wanting to take the holistic, hard approach to repairing bad behavior.

    • Exactly Jessica Joseph you are so right. Parenting properly and actually addressing behavioural issues is harder than giving licks.

    • Exactly! How do you know what the root cause is without communication? What’s happening at home? Is there a learning disability? Is there an overlooked dynamic in the classroom? How does licks help any of that other than to harden and to lose an opportunity to teach communication, empathy and understanding of self?

      I’d rather see counsellors and counselling in every school before a return to corporal punishment.

  4. nah. i just ventin a vaps.
    carry on

  5. IRREVERSIBLE, that will be a retrograde step in the educational system. Our teachers will be at risk….we know where the problem originates…deal with it. I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO.

  6. …OK. But your survival depended on your tough psyche. LOTS of kids can’t handle that. Moreover, many of today’s kids would probably resist. Were I a kid today I would..

  7. To be honest, I had no such luxury Keith Look Loy. My mom, who was a school teacher herself, would tell my teachers that it is open season if I messed around. So I was no stranger to corporal punishment, although it wasn’t daily or even weekly to my recollection.
    I remember one or two deans who were creative about their licks in CIC. One liked to do a run-up as though he was a fast bowler. Another short fellah used to want the tall boys to kneel down.
    Otherwise, I went to Tunapuna RC and D’Abadie Govt. And I did A’s at Arima Snr Comp.
    I don’t remember any licks that felt like abuse or scarred me. So I don’t know…
    I do remember being grabbed around the throat by a Form Three teacher once, Mr Mahadeo. But then I was never cowed by authority figures and I was plenty cheeky back in school!

    • Me neither eh…we dare not go home and say we got licks in school.

    • I didn’t really have the luxury of a mom who always believed her son was right no matter what either. Thought me how to deal with consequences because my mom never assumed that I was right and the teacher was wrong.
      It amazes me sometimes how far some parents go to the other extreme and act as though teachers have just one student in their class–their chile!

  8. It all boils down to parenting. If parents did a better job with discipline they wouldn’t have to pass the problem to the teachers who will eventually pass the problem to law enforcement.

    • Perfect answer! I think long ago that was happening too much, I’m talking about the 90’s…. Parents left the teachers to raise the children, parents won’t discipline the children so when the children misbehaved in school and teachers shared licks the parents used to want to beat the teachers. I remember the stir in the late 90’s and then came Kamla “abolishing” corporal punishment.

      I am for corporal punishment for misbehaviour not for abuse.

  9. I feel somewhere we missed the boat in not having proper consultation on this topic. Or did we?

  10. ..And well said Fayola. The myth of the “prestige school” is precisely that. All the advantages equals all the results…

  11. ..No licks in school. I raised my children without beating them and never allowed any school teacher to beat them either. You have a problem with my child that you, an adult, can’t handle? Call me. That was MY rule. No licks..

  12. i dismiss this (comment by Gernot Hirsinger) as shallow analysis and self-serving logic.

  13. i never like the argument about looking at what the prestige schools are doing right since I do not think they are DOING anything special at all to deal with discipline. You put already high achievers from mainly middle and upper income together and it’s likely you will get high achievement. Maybe looking at government schools that don’t have those problems might be a better start.

    • Yes I also agree which is why I did not single out only prestige schools but all schools that have high achievement and well disciplined students.

      If what is revealed is that it is not necessarily the school but the caliber of students that come to the school, then we need to look at wider sociological and domestic factors and how they influence children and young teens and their behavior. I fear with what we already know, that is the CRUX of the issue and it will be sensitive to address and step on toes. Lots of parents do not want to be told they are bad parents.

      I would add that while yes, schools like the Naps, the Convents and Bishops have a lot of students from middle and upper income homes, it would also be simplistic to say that alone is the reason. There are lots of rich, spoiled, delinquent children as well. I can remember the few rare occasions there were suspensions or public shamings at Assembly of students for bad behavior at Naps, they were rich kids, already driving their own car in Sixth Form and accustomed to getting their own way etc.

      I came from a working class family in Pleasantville that only moved up the to middle class in my late teens. I have Naps girl friends who came from single parent income homes either due to divorce or death of a parent and we had students from poor rural communities as well. Wealth =/= a well brought up child. It’s the caliber of PARENT and their skills more so than how much money they make.

      But I will say that if there is evidence that a school is located in an area or has a majority student population from communities with high crime, high teen pregnancy, drugs, gangs and the parents do not attend PTA meetings and are not actively involved in the school, clearly the school cannot operate like business as usual. It has to undo a lot of damage at the school with social interventions, counselling, remedial programs and far more strictness and supervision.

    • I agree parent involvement at school plays a major role

  14. While celebrating with my alma mater Naps on once again topping the Scholarship List and Presidents Awards, I cannot help but note we did not have corporal punishment in order for the girls to conduct themselves with decorum, respect teachers, do their work. HOW COME?

    Perhaps the educators at schools ridden with bullying, fighting, disrespect, low achievement, teen pregnancy etc. need to look at the schools where these problems do not exist or are rare and see what they are doing right.

    And if the problem is the HOME these children come from, then clearly you need to ensure your school is equipped to handle dysfunctional, socially maladjusted teenagers. For starters you know you CANNOT leave them unsupervised at ANY time while at school, not until they have earned that responsibility.

    • Jessica I attended NGHS from 1984 to1991. I was a House Captain and we did have to deal with issues such as “bullying, fighting, disrespect, low achievement, teen pregnancy etc.”..it was just done quietly and out of the media..I was part of a Soroptimist Initiative a year ago where the “prestige” schools were identified by mental health professionals as having the highest incidents of cyberbullying – especially the girl schools

    • Yes the NAPS and Convents would have their version of “Mean Girls”. Girls can be brutal to each other. I never saw any teen pregnancy issues when I was attending between 1988-1995 but there was an incident of a girl being expelled for having sex with her boyfriend, there were girls there who were coasting by (usually rich girls), I remember two girls expelled for slashing a teacher’s tires.

      And you are right, the discipline is swift, decisive and discreet.

  15. Imagine that Fayola Bostic. 2015 and Garcia talking about discussing the possibility of bringing back licks! I say he should be the first guinea pig!

  16. Good grief. We’re back to this foolishness again?

  17. Only talk. No ideas. No solutions.Such is the Intelligentsia of sweet T&T

  18. I agree. What I am saying or neglected to make clear is that I agree that we had no planned approach to substitute corporal punishment but to tell me now “let’s go back to licks”. I don’t think so. Let’s come up with a more era appropriate, comprehensive and socially sensitive set of solutions.

  19. That may be so Burt, but the education system clearly has not evolved to suit. What is needed are supportive services and policies to address student indiscipline.

  20. I have to confess that I am confused that this is being debated in 2015. It is probably nearing 20 years since this policy decision was made. It is one of those things that cannot be easily rolled back. The horse has long left the stable. Teachers, parents and students have evolved and grown to know a new normal. There is no going back. It is not realistic.

  21. Who will be monitoring the licks? Why don’t we beat co-workers, neighbours or politicians who piss us off? Where is the evidence that licks causes behavioural change? Steups. ..

  22. The fact is there are now strategies available for addressing undisciplined behavior in children both in school and at home, but so long as parents and educators don’t avail themselves of these strategies they would continue to engage in futility in their antiquated attempts at behavioral modification.

  23. not this generation.
    if they cannot hear, they will not feel. and you, the parent, will make a jail.
    the bottom line is that society has shifted away from this, and the kids are on top that game. they WILL report you. and is all ah allyuh to catch

  24. Clearly licks does not teach discipline. If it did, we would already be a “disciplined” society. We have come from generations of generations of “cut-ass”. The people in decision making positions in society came from “cut-ass”. Yet, somehow we cannot seem to discipline ourselves. Why? We only know how to do the right thing, the proper procedure, the ethical thing when a BIG STICK is held over our heads.

    Slave mentality.

  25. Why West Indians so aggressive and quick to violence. Sprangalang explains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6vJGhiMYfA

  26. Hitting a child is the easy and abusive way out and not the way to properly discipline a child

  27. Violence is always a physical way of conveying the message “me eh know what tuh do”!

  28. With all due respect to Mr, Mohammed, no – stop the dinosaurism.

  29. Take cae of your children, and leave other parents to discipline and counsel their own…..that is why we have persons telling lies in high offices to date, stealing and pilfering our treasury, that same person/s want to tell people what to do with their children, we wonder if they brought forth any chldren period.

  30. All your points hinge on drawing boundaries and maintaining them. Something west Indian parents know nothing of. It always bothers me why we feel we are the only ones who ever had kids.

  31. I agree Kendel Frederick you should never administer discipline in a rage anyway. But why does the discipline have to be licks? Why not some other form of punishment like being banned or taking away privileges or games or whatever. And to me that should be for willful disobedience or something like that. Many children get punished for simply making mistakes and instead of having a discussion about it, they might get beaten. Opportunity for learning totally lost then.

  32. There is a difference between discipline and punishment. When the guardian gets caught up in rage in an attempt to execute discipline, all that happens is punishment ; you end up abusing the child. However if you explain why they are wrong and why they are being disciplined , it remains as such. You need discipline to administer discipline.

  33. I totally agree with you Rose-Marie Ingrid Lemessy-Forde Our society is one that encourages corporal punishment, when the extent to which some parents go, to me, can be considered abuse. It doesn’t stop being abuse just because it is seen as discipline, or because it’s coming from a parent. As a child the severe beatings I suffered for things like playing in water with my dolls, resulted in the diagnoses of sev disorders included C-PTSD. Very uncool, and cannot be undone.

    • Wow! That’s really unfortunate. I’m glad you broke out of the cycle. Many children who suffered beatings tend to follow the same methods of discipline with their own children. Good that you recognize the beatings for what it was. Some people never make that association and end up with the opinion….”look how much licks I get and I turned out ok”! Not realizing that they’re not really OK.

    • Yep totally agree. I see it too- kids who grew up with those kinda beatings turning around the repeating the cycle with their own kids. But this is what happens when we tell ourselves ‘a lil licks never hurt anybody.’ Well yeah it has. I might be a softie but as someone who got licks with everything (in front the neighbors and all my cousins) from pieces of sticks, branches, pot spoon, belts and threats to have my fingers burnt off on the lit stove, I can say that it does hurt, and the scars, oh they last far longer than the physical pain. People need to wake up and stop subscribing to these old very outdated means of disciplining kids. It also breeds mistrust and fear on the part of children for their parents.

  34. I know there are plenty so-called “hard headed” children out there whose parents are convinced that they can’t hear so they must feel. For those parents a good cut tail is the only way to get through to their charges. But if a parent took the time from baby and toddler stages to apply positive discipline by reinforcing and rewarding good behaviour and discouraging bad behaviour by being firm, consistent and calm in applying non-physical methods of discipline I honestly don’t see a situation arising where this type of parent would feel the need to beat a child as a form of discipline.

    I’m not talking about a slap on the wrist you might give a toddler in a situation where you’re worried about their safety and that might be the best way to correct a dangerous situation. But I could never see myself picking up a belt or something to beat my child because they did something wrong.

  35. See beating black kids dot com and spare the kids dot com for non-violent child discipline techniques.

    See the brutally violent Truth about Corporal Pain Punishment of Children in America’s Public Schools as YouTube video trailer for Documentary Movie “The Board of Education” by Jared Abrams.

    Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy D NY will soon reintroduce (3rd time) federal bill “The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act” to withhold federal funding from educational institutions that allow corporal punishment of students.

  36. Corporal punishment, which might result in immediate compliant behavior in children, is not an effective means of discipline or punishment! It is physical and psychological abuse, plain and simple. It is demeaning, terrifying, and exceedingly brutal. Parenting is a skill that nurtures and develops children with their mind and physique intact.
    Corporal punishment promotes violence as a problem solver, dismisses civility, negatively affects children’s self-esteem and confidence.

  37. Personally, I believe that Caribbean parents rely too heavily on licks as a punishment and equate it with discipline. Any argument that starts with “the Bible say so” I have a hard time buying wholesale. Equally unconvincing is the argument that “I got licks and I turned out great.” I respect a parent’s right to discipline their children as they see fit, but I remain unconvinced that corporal punishment is the cure all West Indian parents believe that it is. Controlling a child with violence seems to me could teach a child that violence was the way to exert control over others.

  38. A sober, level-headed restatement of all the solid underpinnings of the pro-licks argument which its proponents already know. But I think David misses an important trick here by not expressing an opinion on the real sticking point in the current issue: should the mother have posted the video on Facebook? Is there any real controversy without that portion of the question?

  39. Interesting article and I agree that ” it is definitely a step in the wrong direction to even entertain the thought of trying to stop parental or domestic corporal punishment in the home”. The author also raised an important point about the way corporal punishment is administered. I believe that when it is done in rage or under stress it can actually do more harm than good (physically and emotionally). Parents need to know their children and should evaluate which form of punishment would be more ‘effective’. For some children the pleasure of the wrongdoing outlives the licks and therefore is not effective. Personally licks worked for my child before the age of 12. Now the confiscation of laptop and other devices work perfectly.

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