September 18, 2006

Child Abuse - Part 1

My paternal grandfather was the sixth or seventh (I can't remember) generation of a certain line of southern farmers. A few years before the American Revolution they landed in Charleston, South Carolina having crossed the ocean from Ireland. A hundred years before that, they crossed the North Channel from Scotland fleeing religious persecution.

I don't know much about my maternal grandmother's heritage, but I know that she grew up in Iowa.

My grandfather died when I was five and I don't remember much about him. I remember that he didn't seem to talk very much. He was also a dark, intimidating figure. My cousins and I feared getting into trouble with him.

My grandmother, however, played the part of kindly church lady. I believe it was my grandmother, however, who played the part of judge in my father's family even if she left the actual discipline up to my grandfather. To be sure, my gradfather was complicit in the acts, though.

I believe this of the two of them based on my observations of my uncles and aunts. In my father's family, the men are dullards and weak in the face of a woman's whims, wishes, and rages. They're easily manipulated and the women take as much advantage of the situation as their short-sighted shrewish minds can connive.

They are positively, but colorfully, dreadful people. Perhaps another time I'll share some of my stories of them.

Spanking with switches and belts was the common form on punishment for the children in my father's family. Corporal punishment was stock and trade even for minor infractions.

I am not privy to the details of any particular incident, but in the one conversation my father and I have had on the topic, he merely said that it was to excess. The statement was offered to me as an excuse and I was in no mood to hear about it.

My cousins were obliged to go cut their own switches. They were beaten with belts and bare hands, too. I also know that on occasion they were even lashed with the cords of lamps or other home appliances.

Why do people hurt their children?

Presumably to punish the child for misbehavior.

Punishment for children is as different from criminal punishment as night and day. For criminals, the objective is punitive, to mete out justice, to give them what they deserve. For children, the objective is actually educational. The goal is to teach the child why their actions are wrong and concretely associate the misbehavior with negative consequences that might otherwise be beyond their grasp due to their undeveloped conceptual faculties.

More simply put: it is difficult for children to understand property rights or the concept of fraud, so you punish them for taking other people's things or for lying.

It is important that one never, ever be arbitrary in punishing a child. The rules must be consistent and (for maximum effectiveness) should be rational. One should never punish a child simply because one is in a foul mood.

Parenting is not an easy job by any stretch of the imagination.

I am of the mind that teaching a child the consequences of their actions does not require physical violence. It does require that a person be resolute and clear.

I think that people who beat children lack clarity. I also think they are not in good control of their emotions.

Many people who support spanking say things like, "I was spanked and I turned out just fine!" I was spanked and I turned out reasonably well. I would not say "just fine" because I am aware of the struggles I've had and continue to have to teach myself the rational way to deal with the world. I am sure that a person could be beaten as a child and still turn out normal and non-violent, but I think that is merely the result of other fortunate factors and circumstance rather than the result of the abuse they suffered.

I like to be clear that spanking is abuse because it is the violation of the child's body with force with the intent to cause pain. I doubt supporters of spanking would be more pleased if I referred to it as 'torture' although the comparison is apt.

Most of my father's family display common psychological traits when it comes to their interpersonal relationships. They're not very good at identifying or communicating their feelings. They are prone to violence when in a fit of rage, not knowing how to otherwise deal with their anger. Verbal abuse such as calling names or just repeated insults are routine and made even in public. They tend to make small attempts at manipulation, but their efforts are usually no more sophisticated than lying or concealment of their actions. They take pleasure in merely exerting power over one another. The espouse an admiration for familial ties and tradition, but they act more like it is a painful obligation. Children are forever "children" when it comes to their relationships to their parents.

Observing them at family gatherings is like watching a pack of apes in many, many ways.

It seems to me that physical abuse of the type my father weighed upon me was present in all of their lives to varying degree and duration.

Posted by Flibbertigibbet at September 18, 2006 08:44 PM | TrackBack
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