Spare the rod and spoil the child, so the saying goes. For older generations, the use of force is an effective and necessary way to maintain discipline at home and school. However, norms and practices change over times. While the wisdom may still be the guiding principle of some parents and teachers around the world today, few would actually act with the rod.
It is disturbing to learn that corporal punishment appears to be still commonplace in Hong Kong. According to a survey commissioned by the Caritas Youth and Community Service, some two-thirds of children had been struck by their parents in the past 12 months. About half of them reported punishment that was categorised as physical abuse, such as beating with a belt, a stick or other hard object. The figures are backed up by what the parents said, with more than 54 per cent admitting they had used physical violence on their children.
The findings warrant deeper reflection on parenting, education and social services. Competitive exams often prompt Hong Kong parents to put too much pressure on their children. The situation worsens if they cannot control their stress and emotions and vent it through violence. A lack of help from support groups means abuse may even become entrenched.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. Some couples think child-rearing is their own business. Some go further and say parents have every right to do what they like with their young ones, including smacking them. Cultural values certainly play a part, too. For instance, many Chinese parents believe that good behaviour comes from strict discipline and physical punishment. There is no shortage of references about tiger mums in Chinese society.
The truth is that corporal punishment is increasingly unacceptable. Research shows that it has only a short-lived deterrent effect, and may nurture aggressive behaviour or inflict long-lasting psychological scars on the victims. There are better ways to achieve discipline, such as guidance and reward. Physical abuse should be avoided.