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“Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, . . .[and] to teach them to love and serve one another” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, ¶ 6). This statement by The Proclamation proclaimed to the world of the responsibility parent have for their children – to teach them right from wrong. In today’s world less and less parents are the principal caregiver and teacher in a child’s life. The Proclamation firmly places this responsibility squarely on the heads of the parents. Yet even with this knowledge, the application of how to “rear their children in love and righteousness” could be debated. Many parents (even amongst members) have differing opinions on how children should be disciplined and taught. Is spanking considered abuse? Or is it excusable under certain circumstances? Should time out, or bribery be used to coerce kids to obey, or is it a combination of both? Many people have questioned what types of punishments are “righteous” and which ones are not. Here I want to discuss these things and find out what is the most popular belief among college students. Then we can go to our text, “Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family”, and discover what General Authorities and scholars in the field of Sociology and Child Development teach. In this way we can talk to others and inform them on, and maybe call them to reflection about their opinion and on the teachings of the leaders of the church.
When I was growing up, my parents believed in punishing a child who had severely disobeyed with spanking. Learning quickly at a young age that I did not like this, I was only spanked two or three times after which I built up the determination never to do anything deserving of spanking again. It scared me half to death and I despised it as a child. I have seen my older sisters, as they are currently raising their children, use spanking as a mode of punishment – sometimes it works, other times it seem to have little affect. I decided to ask my roommates and friends how their parents had disciplined them and what they thought they would do with their future children.
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While talking to D, (one of my current roommates), she attested to not only being spanked but also sent to her room for punishment. Being sent to her room, she felt, was a good solution, however spanking was not something she wanted to implement in her home. Stating examples, D explained how she felt she would probably use the isolation of the children to their room as a common form of punishment. Using time-out was also mentioned as a form of chastisement she would use on her kids. While we were enjoying discussion and the exchange of ideas, I took the opportunity to share with her some quotes from our textbook. Under the title heading “The Value of Prevention” in chapter eight, we learn to start thinking of ways to prevent bad behavior rather than think of good punishments. “It seems that the Lord favors teaching over punishment”(Dollahite, 129). With this she readily agreed but had never thought of it from that angle. So many people thank about ways they will punish their kids, (either like or different from their parents) and often don’t take time to think of ways to prevent punishment instead of look for it. We discussed further her idea about sending children to their room and I warned her against the over use of that as it can be seen as “love withdrawal” (Dollahite, 126) and if done in anger it could end up being “delivered with a coldness that confirms the child’s sense of isolation and desperation”(Dollahite, 129). Each of these bring horrible consequences in the parent-child relationship – affirming to the child that they are unloved and unwanted, and sometimes unaware of what they did wrong. Making sure the child has been kindly spoken to about the reason behind the punishment before the punishment is given is an important issue. We also read under the heading of “Love Withdrawal” and found that it is important to be careful with time-out, for it can be seen by the child if the “parent wants nothing to do with the child” (Dollahite, 126). Nevertheless time-out can be a beneficial thing if it is used as a “cooling off” period of both the parent and the child. Cambria earnestly agreed with these principles and was grateful to receive insight from LDS leaders in this field.
Another intriguing conversation occurred with another roommate B – an-------------- major who loves children and discussing anything about them. Interestingly enough, she was the one roommate who agreed with spanking. She had been spanked, (though she could only recall a few actual events of it), and thought that it was a good way to keep kids obedient. Excessive spanking, B stated, was not right, but a swat for a direct disobedience was probably good for the kids to teach them to mind their parents. Defending one of the main points in the chapter, (ch. 8), I spoke to her of never punishing in anger. Too many times parents punish in anger, which can lead to overly harsh penalty then the act required. Once again I opened my textbook to share some insight. Teaching about the spirit of parenting, the text states that, “the irony of using harshness to compel good behavior is evident (Dollahite, 127). We invite Satan into our homes when we use anger and we harm our relationships with our children. Another result of spanking we came up we talked about was a child’s fear of the parents. If a parent hurts a child physically, it will create an emotional distance, and they are going to be less inclined to confide in them later in life. I told her a story of my friend whose parents began disciplining their young ones with spanking and then quickly changed their mind. The mother was watching her daughter and some neighborhood children when, to her surprise, she witnessed her daughter hitting another little girl. She quickly grabbed the young girl, took her to her room, and began spanking her saying, “We don not hit people!” Immediately the young mother stopped in her tracts, and realized what she was doing. From that moment on she never resulted to spanking.
Turning to another source, I looked to find some possible alternatives and ways of lessening or getting rid of physical punishment. Randall Day, a researcher and teacher in the field of MFHD, wrote a book on the research done by him as he has observed families, called Introduction to Family Processes. In it he discusses the atmosphere in the home and teaches a principle known as the “benign assumption.” What the basis of this principle suggests is that families with a benign, or compassionate and caring tone develop a much more strong and loving family than those with a “malignant attitude” (Day, 157). Day gives an example of families that assume that every problem caused, even if by accident, is because the child is trying to cause trouble for the parents. The parents with this attitude will be caught saying, “Look at what you did, you are always trying to make trouble, aren’t you!?”. This tells the child that he is a bad person and is only a difficulty in the parent’s life. This can result in depression and anger in the child, (especially when the action was accidental), and can be called emotional abuse. Each incident like this will further distance the child from the parent, and leave the parent wondering why the child never talks to them or desires to be close to the family. Even small things can cause us unknowingly to have a “malignant attitude”, without us even realizing it. On the flip side, a family with a “benign assumption”, will not immediately assume that with each incident that the child meant to do it on purpose. They express their feelings to the child in sadness that the problem happened and offer assistance to fix it while listening to the child explain how he feels. It is through implementing the “benign assumption” every day in our families that we will “combat the potential effects of negativity and chronic anxiety in families” (Day, 157).
While still talking with Alicia I explained that in my family growing up, the “benign assumption” was not always used. Many times when I would spill milk or accidentally break something in the kitchen my dad would immediately exclaim, “Sheryl! What did you do that for!? Weren’t you watching what you were doing?” This would make me feel horrible – like he thought it was done on purpose and he didn’t much care to listen to my side of the story. Sometimes even after trying to explain and saying I was sorry, I would get a response like, “well sorry isn’t going to change what happened now is it?” Though this was a rare occurrence, and usually only happened when my dad really had a stressful day or was too busy to help fix the mess, it still had a profound affect on me. It is so important that we watch our words with our children and make sure we treat them as we would want to be treated.
My last roommate, Julie, also enjoyed discussing this topic with me. But with her our discussion went a little different direction. She also was spanked when she was a child but decided that she didn’t think she would use this as a form of chastisement on her children. I began asking how she thought the parenting ideals changed from our parents’ generation to ours. As we conversed, we discovered that quite a few people confessed to have been spanked as a child, but thought they wouldn’t apply it in their future family. Why is this? It seems that all of our parents used coercion in some form or another. We couldn’t think of a single friend that we knew who said they had never been grounded. We sat down and read out of the textbook some of the effects of coercion on children. Coercion sometime resulted in children who “lack social ability, are withdrawn, lack spontaneity, are more aggressive, and have an underdeveloped conscience”(Dollahite, 125). It also shocked us that it “violates the principle of agency” and how it can be seen as incorrect use of the priesthood. Yet it is so easy to fall into without even realizing it. We discussed how many people we know use types of coercion commonly and consider it righteousness. I watch my sister send her children to their room as punishment over and over again, and I also see my nephew, of age 7, with the most violent temper I have ever seen in a little kid. Never before had I made this connection until after I had read this chapter from Strengthening our Families.
So, back to the question, why has the thought of parenting changed in our generation, or has it? It seems amongst young adults at BYU, many have turned away from their parent’s way of rebuking children (at least in word – time will tell what really comes out in their parenting), and decided to move away from spanking and more towards time-outs and talking to their children. We concluded that, for one, this might be isolated to BYU simply due to the fact of many child development and family focused classes. Also, much research as been done, just within the last few years, to advance our knowledge of the family and what, in theory, seems to be the best for families. Though these researches we have learned about coercion, love withdrawal, and induction. Just by simply giving youth this knowledge background before they begin their family will greatly enhance the possibility that they will use other forms of punishment besides coercion, moving closer to induction and spirit-guided parenting everyday.
I love the scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants section 121 verses 43-44, which is mentioned in the textbook as speaking almost directly to parenting. Reprove, I found, means to correct or make right and true, betimes seems to mean “when necessary” and sharpness means “quickly” not harshly. Many people take the word sharply to mean strictly or cruelly – and that is simply not the case. We are to do everything in our power to show love as we correct our children, and do so with gentleness. Many people stop there in reading this scripture and kind of skip the rest. But the most important part is the next line, which tells us when to do this things, saying only “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” This can be so hard for some people. In the heat of anger or rage they bellow criticisms at the child, only reducing their self-esteem, and probably doing little good to really correct the action. More parents, in and out of the church, need to be taught the principle of only punishing when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, and doing so with meekness and kindness, with the child’s growth in mind.
Before I began taking this class I thought spanking could be fairly good tool, every once in awhile, to teach the child a lesson. But after reading this text, and the evidence from research in other texts, I have now changed my opinion. I desire my children to see me as someone they can trust, look up to, and talk to when life gets ruff. Punishing with coercive actions like spanking, only makes the child fear you, and emotionally distance himself from you, making it hard to have a family based on understanding and love. Though most church members have read the Proclamation, too few really know all the in-depth principles taught in this book that are backed by scriptures and general authorities. Every class period we have had, has left me thinking of how I can prepare better to create my family, and has dug deep into the desire of my heart and sculpted them to become a little more Christ-like. I have seen these principle of parenting work for both good and evil within a family, namely my own, and testify that they truly come as a counsel form the Lord on how to treat his little ones. As I work on bringing myself, my family, and potentially my future family closer to Christ, I know that it is by following these principles outlined in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, that will give me the most fulfillment and joy in my life and the life to come.
Day, Randall, Introduction to Family Processes, Ogden Ut: 2000.
Dollahite, David C., Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth Look at the Proclamation on the Family, Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, 2000.