Smacking has lost its appeal but what of responsibility?

Corporal punishment was widely allowed in schools until more recent times. While most states, Queensland being the exception, have now banned the practice it is still legal (within reason) in the home across Australia.

Many parents refuse to smack their children because they believe it’s “not the right thing to do” and besides, there’s a wealth of information available on better ways to discipline your kids.

While most people would agree that corporal punishment should be consigned to the history books, disciplining children in the modern world has its complications. There has been so much change over the past 40 years that governments, schools and families have struggled to keep up.

Carmel Wynne writes that with modern technologies at their fingertips, many children seem to have the upper hand but, she believes the answer lies in giving young people more responsibility.

At one time there was a widespread belief that age brings wisdom. The assumption was that the older we get the more we know. This is no longer the case. In our modern world children of all ages have access to a world of information that few parents and even fewer grandparents know how to source.

Mum and dad may have a good level of competence in using smart phones, computers and iPads. Curious children frequently learn about all the capabilities of these technical devices because they have no fear of pressing buttons. In many families it’s the children who have the knowledge to teach adults how to use smart technology.

Younger people grow up with the expectation that they will need to adapt to change. They are motivated to keep abreast of global changes. Older people have the benefits of having experienced how life changes. They also have the wisdom to recognise that it is important that some things never really change.

Language can change. The fear of unwittingly using words that give offence limits our freedom to be outspoken. Modern technology has given new meanings to words such as text, twitter and tweet. Political correctness has also had an impact on the way we use language.

It was with great delight that I found on Facebook an outspoken post written with the clear unambiguous prescriptive language that we once used freely. In his school newsletter, a New Zealand school principal named John Tapene featured the advice of a judge who regularly dealt with young people in the 1950s.

“Always we hear the cry from teenagers, ‘what can we do, where can we go?’ My answer is this; Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons and after you’re finished read a book. Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun.

The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in sickness and lonely again. In other words grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It’s too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you.”

It’s hardly surprising that comments on the feature were varied. Some parents really liked the article and planned to print it out and post it on their refrigerator. Others disapproved; their complaint was that it was far too harsh. They believed it smacked of old-school authoritarian attitudes that society has left behind.

Calling someone a cry baby is politically incorrect and some would consider it offensive. But the powerful message behind the suggestions for teenagers holds a cross-generational appeal. Despite the prescriptive language of Judge Phillip B Gilliam of Denver, Colorado, the popular message is seen as a wake-up call for young people to act responsibly.

 It’s also a wake-up call for loving parents who have a role to play in ‘training’ children to feel good about taking on responsibility for their own wellbeing. Children who are given responsibility for chores learn that by helping with tasks they can do, they make a contribution to the well-being of the family.

Having a job to do allows a child to feel important and needed. This builds self-esteem, a sense of self-worth and the self-belief that one is competent. Is it possible that irresponsible teenagers who expect their parents or society to provide recreational facilities have missed out on this life lesson?

Knowing the pressure teens are under to study and get homework assignments completed, some parents unwittingly deprive children of important learning experiences. When they take on full responsibility for meals, chores and travel arrangements, it allows the young person to fully focus on their own needs and wants.

Encouraging them to devote their energies to study is important but not as important as giving them the opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility and accountability. One thing that will never change is that children can only learn to become responsible adults if they are given responsibility. To encourage children to do chores is important for society as well as family life.

The important message of John F Kennedy still resonates, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”


Reprinted with permission

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