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Of late I have been attempting to enjoy something of a Netflix-supplied Alec Guinness Festival.  To that end, over the past week or so I’ve sat down to The Horse’s Mouth, Our Man in Havana and Twelfth Night.

I can’t really tell you anything about Horse’s Mouth, in which Guinness plays a grubby artist on the make, because I dozed off relatively early on.  It is the only film I can think of in which he seriously attempts to disguise his normal voice.

I can’t tell you much more about Our Man, because I dozed off the first night, picked it up again the next night where I remembered leaving off (thereby breaking my usual rule about single chances), and promptly fell asleep again.  Pity, too, because it’s got such a good cast, including Ralph Richardson, Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacs as a sinister Batista-era police captain.  Plus, it’s got the only reference to the doctrine of invincible ignorance I’ve ever heard in a movie.

I can tell you that the Twelfth Night, done in 1969, is actually pretty good despite some hippy sensibilities (especially re the musick) and despite the fact that Joan Plowright as Viola in men’s clothing looks like Frodo Baggins.  Guinness as Malvolio and Ralph Richardson as Sir Toby, both of them playing to the hilt, are worth the price of admission just by themselves.

I see where the old spanking debate has broken out again on the heals of a new study that suggests spanked kids are more likely to be aggressive themselves down the road.

Sigh.  Once again (judging by some of the articles and comment threads I’ve seen), it’s a polarized battle of all or nothing between the sanctimonious “I would never touch my precious angel” types and the defensive “Hey, it knocked some sense into me” gang.

Look, setting and enforcing structures and boundaries for the little darlings is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of any parent, maybe the most fundamental.  How one goes about doing that is not an all or nothing, either-or proposition.  Instead, it’s a continuum, a matter of proportionate response, as military theorists like to call it.  And since every kid is different, it’s not a one-size-fits-all formula, either.  So yes, all the alternatives suggested – praise for good behavior, time outs and the like – have their uses, and in fact are probably sufficient to keep little Liam and Dakota in line most of the time.  And I heartily agree with those who say that consistency is critical.

But.

The truth of the matter, although it makes the “I want my child to be my friend” crowd cringe, is that the relationship between parent and offspring is one of dominance and subordination.  We’re mature.  They’re not.  We have wisdom and experience.  They don’t.  We see the big picture.  They want that candy bar.  We teach.  They learn.  We instruct.  They obey.  Equality, in short, is out of the question.  And every once in a while (more or less often, depending on the kid’s temperament), Brianna or Geoffrey is going to try and challenge Mom and Dad’s authoritah, pushing and probing, whether out of curiosity, frustration or just plain cussedness.  And that’s where I think corporal punishment, or the threat thereof, has its place, because for the sake of maintaining one’s own sanity as much as anything else, the ultimate message when such a challenge is made has to be “Within clearly set boundaries I’ll give you your head, kid, but cross that line and I’ll break your legs.”  Anything less, in my experience, actually encourages more of the kind of aggressiveness being fretted about here.

I say “the threat thereof” because once a child gets it into his or her nut that such threat is credible, that a spank will be the consequence of crossing the line, that threat is usually deterrent enough in and of itself.  (By way of example, it’s been some years since I have needed to raise a hand against any of the gels – which I never did much anyway – because they are all perfectly well aware of the implied warning behind Dad’s glare when they’ve gone too far.)  And no, when properly handled, I don’t believe such a disciplinary tactic leads either to heightened aggressiveness or to alienation down the road.  Instead, I believe it helps the child internalize the concept of law and order, as well as providing a basis for the development of parental respect.

Actually, disciplining a child isn’t really all that different than training a puppy or riding a horse.  It sometimes occurs to me that people thinking of having children ought to take up one of these other activities first, by way of getting some experience.

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