Monday, August 17, 2009

Why do people slap kids?


In a classroom.
"What is the square root of 4?"
"16, ma'am"
"16?! You moron, this is what I have taught you? Hand forward."

On a railway station.
"Hey you, come back here, stop wandering off."
"Okay, ma."
Two minutes down.
"There you go again."
Catches the kid. Smack!
"I've told you so many times not to wander off."

In school.
"Call your father here. Let him know of your activities."
"Ma'am, I doubt that if I call out from here, he would be able to hear all the way in his office."
"Don't act smart with me, you understand."

In school once again.
General commotion. Teacher not in class. Children unsettled, roaming around in class. The principal comes in. She sees the hum-drum.
"This doesn't befit a classroom." She thinks to herself.
Slap! The nearest kid gets it. All realign themselves wherever they can.

On the street.
Big guys.
"Hey look at that kid. Look at his glasses. Hey glassy, where's your sister glassy?"
Little guy.
"Leave me alone."
"Or else? What will you do, eh?"
Smack! (i.e. big guy to small guy)

These are pretty much everyday events. One need not present a record of acts committed to ascertain their truth. One may do well to look back in his or her own past, or of someone known, to see if sometimes, somewhere, there was such use of violence. One may even look at kids around oneself to know. This essay starts off from such an acceptance- kids are hit specially by older people, in comparison with other older people.

Let us first examine an act of hitting: the child does something, someone elder sees that act, disapproves of it, hits. Considering such originating violence for our question, why does this happen? Why does someone's, esp. a child's, behaviour invoke slaps? The most common justification given is reform- "so that he may not do it again". Let us examine this claim.


One believes that something should be reformed when it acts wrongly or badly. Just so with the child. Further, to reform behaviour, it is argued, one must set clear to the child what is right behaviour. In effect, people argue that hitting would make the child realize how wrong his actions are, and would 'set him straight'. This is our next question: what does hitting have to do with inducing right behaviour?

Nothing by its own. If we ask the question 'how does hitting bring about good behaviour?' we would find it difficult to answer. In fact, if it were true that hitting induces good behaviour, most of the world would be encouraging their children to take up boxing as a sport! On the contrary, violence is culpable as 'bad behaviour' both socially and individually. So one can say that those who hit with authority (e.g. parents, teachers) are inducing bad behaviour by virtue of their being example givers. Then why does it so happen that such a notion of violence being reformist is so commonly held?

Apologetics say- it works. Children give up bad behaviour. Why do they 'give up' bad behaviour? This is how the system works- the person hits, and then justifies to the victim why he has hit, what would have prevented the victim from being hit, and what would save him in future from such punishments. "You won't do this again, no? Promise?" Sounds familiar? In effect, the child comes to know the rules of power: to be safe, you respect power, and since we want to be safe, what power says must be true. In effect, the child doesn't give up 'bad behaviour'; he simply stops doing that which power prohibits. Later on, if that same power in the parent or the teacher tells the child to 'take help' in a competition strictly meant for the child, the child won't bother to ask- "isn't this meant only for me?"- because it is power that says so.

This means that there is no real connection between hitting and 'good behaviour'. It is just that the power that, by default, lies in the hands of certain people defines what is good behaviour and exhorts the child to stick to it perforce.


In many scenarios, one would observe, an act of hitting spills out of this garb of reform. One can make out pretty certainly (as in the case of the incident on the street mentioned above) that power simply means to assert itself, to even express itself. This is the most elemental form of violence- naked, ostensible without the clothes of various justifications. Many a drunk men are reported to beat their wives and children. Many among such drop out of school due to such frustrations, probably due to inability to cope up with both school and home. Many develop anti-social tendencies.

This form of violence helps us understand violence better, even behind the facades of reformist concern- violence is essentially an imposition of will. One wishes the other to act in a certain way, and makes him do so by force. As an experiment, try applying mild force on a child (gently, without letting him know you are hitting him)- you'll notice that the child resists. Now imagine (or see when you can) the child being hit with overwhelming force, on a magnitude impossible for him to reach- how does he resist? He cannot, the power is so strong. Thus, he cries most often. The child cries because he is being wronged against, and because he can't do anything to prevent it. Or any person for that matter. There is something biological, I guess, behind resisting force: even when you can't think about it, your body retaliates. Meddling with such a system results in cries and tears. The connection between despair and inability, thus, is most evident.


On a simple level, those who put forward the reformist argument for use of violence against children have already been refuted. But then, this wouldn't solve our next problem- how to tell the child what is not permissible action? I think reasoning is the most obvious (and effective) solution. Those children who are given the help and leisure to think out 'things' in general are ethically most critical. In fact, the reformist arguments completely reflect the unreasonable, emotionalist tendencies in child care. They show a certain impatience with children, a certain refusal to use one's brain whatsoever, to speak nothing of how they provoke such tendencies in children. On the contrary, making children think would induce patience both in the parent and the child.

On a more macro level, there is an inherent problem we face: by default, children are one of the most vulnerable groups of society. They are left in the care of older people, who by default hold more power. Many of us older people, sometime or the other, misuse this power. Using our own argument, one could persecute the 'bad-doers' massively (jails, torture, etc.)! But this would be of no use. In fact, many of those who bluntly make sharp remarks about the depravity of hitting children get the obvious reply- "my child, my wish!" The more subtle solution, I think, lies in mass education, from childhood itself. But herein come the other variables that affect behaviour- underprivileged environment, forced child labour, sham education, wrong manipulation by lumpen elements (hoochery, gambling, molestation), encouragement to harmful 'values' (e.g. celebrating the birth of a nuclear weapon). The problem goes a long way to be solved; a start somewhere is, nonetheless, indispensable.


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