The internet was ablaze recently with the vivid story of a mom’s reaction after her 13-year-old son stole her new BMW and took it for a joyride.
In the video, shot by the teen’s sister, the mother can be seen chasing him down in the street in another car, yelling at him to pull over and asking her daughter to hand her a belt. She then gets out, pulls the door of her new car open and proceeds to whip her son with the belt.
Not surprisingly, reaction to the video has been mixed. Some people condemn the woman for unleashing what looks like a rather vicious beating, while others praise her for disciplining her child. The overarching reaction of those in favour of the punishment is that kids today don’t receive enough discipline and as a result, don’t fear their parents enough to make them rethink pulling such an egregious stunt.
However, parenting experts strongly disagree with this mother’s tactics. Alyson Schafer, a family counsellor and author of Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, says the response from those in favour of the beating is rather common.
“When we look at the three recognized categories of parenting, the first one is the autocratic or ‘brick wall’ style, which includes corporal punishment and punitive measures,” she says. “Many people were raised . But this generation of parents is more enlightened, and they’re saying that they don’t want to be like that.”
And it may not just be a knee-jerk reaction to not wanting to mimic their parents’ style. Studies have shown that spanking can have long-term negative effects on kids.
A landmark study that examined research on physical punishment over two decades found that spanking between the ages of six and nine predicted higher levels of antisocial behaviours in kids two years later, and was a risk factor for child aggression.
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Beyond that, studies also showed associations between physical punishment and mental health, physical injury, parent-child relationships and family violence in adulthood. The mental health problems linked to physical punishment include depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, and general psychological maladjustment, and they can affect kids in all stages of development up to adulthood.
Unfortunately, Schafer says, the flip side to autocratic parenting is what’s called “jellyfish parenting,” where the parents raise their kids with no limitations, and they grow up entitled and disrespectful.
Neither style is ideal, she says, since in both scenarios there’s a slave-tyrant relationship at play. In the autocratic style of parenting, the parents are the tyrants, but kids will often rebel and make them pay for using strict disciplinarian tactics. While in the “jellyfish” scenario, the kids call the shots and the parents often kowtow to their demands.
“Both scenarios are a ticking time bomb.”
Schafer espouses a third model of parenting which is known as “backbone” or “democratic” parenting. This is where parents win the child’s cooperation as opposed to forcing their compliance. In this scenario, the parents are honoured as authority figures, but they don’t use their leadership in a disrespectful way. Instead, they aim for respectful discipline.
“The word ‘discipline’ comes from disciple, which means learning. If you use corporal punishment, your child isn’t learning anything. You may get a short-term correction in their behaviour, but you’re not helping them to make the connection that will help them to make better decisions when they’re out in the world on their own.”
In fact, she says, corporal punishment typically produces two types of children: ones who will rebel later on and ones who become compliant pleasers.
“There are risks to both types,” she says. “People who use corporal punishment tactics say that it works, but I promise you, there are other ways to get kids to behave that doesn’t come with the negative consequences we see with .”
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