BitDepth#934 - April 29

Licks, spreading like fire
934-Belt
One belt to rule them all? Photograph by Mark Lyndersay

By now, there’s unlikely to be a single person in T&T who’s on Facebook who hasn’t had that video of a 12-year-old child pop up in their newsfeed.
That’s just the way that Facebook’s viral algorithms work.

It also means that nearly everyone in this country who’s on the social media service, and that’s almost everyone who is connected to the Internet locally, has had an opportunity to play the clip.
I have.

Some have taken the moral high ground, refusing to view it and urging others not to repost it. Others have stopped the clip, unable to continue. I understand that response.
Others have offered comments, which in turn has sparked further discussion, as alarm grows over the widespread endorsement of the beating of a child as a valid system of punishment.

Even writing it that way seems to editorialise on the action, and I’ve recast that sentence multiple times to seek to make it neutral.
Here are some things that I am clear about.
I am not that child. I am not that child’s mother. I am completely unaware of the circumstances of their lives beyond what is visible and audible in the video clip and what the child and her sister revealed in a subsequent video in which they sought to offer more clarity to the situation.

In my life, however, I have twice been called on to be the caregiver for the child of other parents. I have brought to this challenge my own experiences as a young person and the things I have learned from growing up.
So let us be clear. I was hit as a child. I clearly remember my last licking, as such punishment interludes were called. I was in my mid-teens, and my wrists were bound. My mother, my only parent, beat me until she was sweating and winded.

I looked up when she seemed to be done and asked, “Are you finished?”
“That’s it,” came the response. “No more strap for you.”
My punishment the next time I ran off the rails was far worse.

I had been cultivating a particularly beautiful, if rather fluffy afro, and I was taken to Spike, the family barber in Belmont whom I’d been avoiding in the name of hipness to have it all trimmed off.
I am told that I stared at the mirror grimly throughout the buzzing of his clippers and failed to contain only a single tear.

I am a big person and I was large from quite young. Tall at first, then beefier as my body shape reasserted itself after an astonishing growth spurt in adolescence.
While getting a licking was considered part of the menu for discipline in my childhood, and caning in schools was part of the learning process, coming to terms with the effect of my physicality was a far more surprising and chastening process.

The first time I held a girl and pulled her to me for a kiss, part of her response was a frisson of fear at the effortlessness of my grip.
That occasioned a lifelong apprehension on seeking my first kiss with a new romance and at least one occasion when I was brought up short by a young lady who was, frankly, miffed that I hadn’t tried.

Couple that understanding with a particularly foul and mind-altering temper and you have brew that can only be made public governed by careful self-discipline.
I learned, early on, that hitting in anger and embarrassment is all about the person doing the hitting, not the incident.

Serious punishment for a child, like revenge, is best served cold and parents must be ready to put their responses in a chiller until the situation can be handled with a suitable mix of good sense and tough love.
Here are some absolute truths about parenting.
You cannot teach what you do not know.
You cannot influence positively by behaving negatively.
You cannot inspire in an environment of despair.
You cannot guide by an example you do not set.

That filmed beating is an uncomfortable six minutes. Despite my own experience with licks, I am hard put to suggest that it be treated as a neutral matter or one that should be ignored when it happens in the privacy of the home.
If anyone saw a parent trying to keep a crying child quiet with chloroform or morphine, they would take action, but commercial baby pacificier solutions sold in the early 20th century were made from those drugs and more.

Just because something appears to work doesn’t mean it should be done that way, particularly when there is compelling information in favour of other methods.
If we can let go of lobotomy and trepanation, it’s really not so hard to consider setting aside the cut-arse as an attitude adjustment tool.

What this has sparked is a kneejerk reaction to legislate punishment in the home. This is such a spectacularly bad idea that I cannot begin to understand how sensible people, taking a considered position against corporal punishment, can back it.
Despite the maternal bearing of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the State, and not just in T&T, does a terrible job of caring for children. It is an engine designed for governance, not rearing and a visit to any of the institutions designed by our Government to care for the young should make that clear.

While these waystations for the young unquestionably strive to do their best, they are not families and what children need is a family, even when a mother and father are absent.

If the State is to be moved to act in this matter, it should do so by gathering and sharing useful information about modern parenting, tailored for local use and making coaching freely available for parents in appropriately respectful and private circumstances.
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