Corporal punishment does more harm than good – public caning, especially, should be banned.

To cane or not to cane – that is the question…

…As a child born with brittle bones, I thought I would be safe from being whacked. I was wrong.

My father is a strong believer in two proverbs: You have to be cruel to be kind and spare the rod, spoil the child.

Neither saying was good for my butt. My father revealed that he chose to hit the fleshy part because it would not do much “damage”. However, he must have forgotten the searing pain that coursed through my bottom.

Anyway, the pain has worn off long ago. I can no longer recall how it felt to be caned or what I have ever done to deserve it. However, images of the stripes of “dishonour” on my arms and thighs – which say a lot about his aim – remain etched in my mind.

My father decided to quit the bad habit of “whipping” me when I was in Primary 5. I do not know if I was considered too old for the cane but I suspect he could not take the emotional stress. After all, I was and remain his precious “pumpkin pie”.

Was it right for my father to inflict physical pain on me just to change my behaviour? I would not think so if he had not given me an adequate explanation along with sufficient warning and time to repent. He did. Therefore, I feel that I deserved the punishment.

Although it made me distressed, I believe I was the better for it. Hold it!

Don’t go for the cane yet.

I don’t think you can justify hitting your child, especially if it is done in anger.

Here is a scenario. After a bad day at the office, you return home with a short fuse. Your innocent child irritates you. You spank him.

Is that fair? How was your child to know you were on edge and ready to explode? It is easy for you to say: “He should know.” The fact is he does not know. Have some compassion for the little fellow, will you?

Children need to be understood, guided and counselled by their parents. When it comes to disciplining your children, caning is the easy way out.

If they don’t toe the line, cane them. If they dare to talk back to you, cane them. If they don’t do well in their examinations, cane them.

Believe me, your children don’t misbehave to irritate you. Most of the time, they don’t even know why they did what they did. Don’t just give them a whack, tell them what they did wrong.

They don’t argue with you to feel good or to defy your authority. They do it because they don’t understand. They see things from a different perspective. Teach them calmly and patiently.

If they fail to make the grade, it is not because they want to hurt you or because they are, as some would label them, “stupid”, “lazy” or “hopeless”. They simply need more help. If you have not helped them to behave correctly, shouldn’t you cane yourself for their failure?

I cannot dispute the effectiveness of corporal punishment in changing behaviour. But before you reach for the rod, think of the distress, confusion and resentment you may cause.

So, please understand your children. Think of creative ways to manage them. Avoid caning them. Remember, you don’t have to be harsh to be firm with your children.

That goes for schools, too. Corporal punishment should be banned – especially public caning. I was outraged by a public caning that occurred less than a month ago at a school in Jurong.

If my memory serves me well, an errant Primary 1 pupil was given a stroke of the cane in front of nearly 1,000 students from Primary 1 to 3. He was joined in disgrace by two Primary 3 students who were given two strokes each. Apparently, they were guilty of a “serious offence”.

To me, they were too young to be subjected to such cruel treatment. Imagine the emotional scar they will carry for the rest of their lives. This includes shame and the feeling of being ostracised by their peers.

I hope they are not old enough to harbour resentment, which may result in more serious misbehaviour.

Are there no better ways to deal with “problem children” than to treat them like animals and control their behaviour with a rod? There are experts who are capable of handling them more effectively than principals and teachers.

When pupils misbehave repeatedly or commit serious offences, they are actually crying out for help. They have problems they cannot manage. They,need professional assistance.

Therefore, leave them with the specialists who can help them and make corporal punishment a thing of the past.

While I am on the subject of discipline, I wonder if there are standard guidelines to ensure uniform disciplinary action in schools.

I have noticed that the same offence can result in different punishments. Sometimes, offenders are let off scot-free.

It is quite confusing as pupils do not know if an act is an offence or not.

I think it is good to have standard disciplinary guidelines for teachers to apply. These guidelines must also be made available to students so that they are aware of the boundaries and what to expect when they cross them.

However, there should be no caning – let alone, public caning. Corporal punishment does more harm than good.

(This journal entry is published in TODAY on 6 October 2004)