Corrective actions easily cross the line

There’s a story by 60 Minutes New Zealand that has resurfaced recently about a Samoan woman who ran a home for troubled boys in that country. The video (which I refuse to repost here because I know that my sons and their friends read my blog and I don’t want them to view it) has been recirculating on YouTube in the past month.

To be direct, it is one of the most graphic, horrifying displays of physical and psychological abuse I have ever seen in my life. And trust me, I have seen a lot of abuse in my time. After the report the woman was prosecuted, found guilty of and sentenced to prison for her extreme physical abuse and her program was shut down.

It is a prime example of how one can misuse authority. It is an example of blatant disregard for the law and it is by far the most obtuse excuse I’ve ever heard anyone give for brutalizing another human being.

I am appalled by this womans actions. As a Polynesian, I’m furious that this woman and anyone like her for generations have ‘taught’ children and youths that sometimes the only way to teach a Polynesian is to bash the living hell out of him or her and beat them into submission.

Growing up among my people there was a saying that was often quoted when someone was getting the snot beat out of them. Simply put, they were told that “the only way to make you smarter is to beat you until all of the stupid blood runs out of your veins.”

I once sat in a man’s house in the village of Alamagoto, which overlooks the capital Apia, listening to him recount the harrowing tale of how he would beat his son repeatedly for disobeying him or neglecting to fulfill his daily chores and duties. For eighteen long years that kid endured his father’s physical and emotional abuse until he could no longer stand it and took his own life. That father was absolutely and utterly devastated as he shared his story with me and a friend. The father seemed remorseful enough and as he said so himself, “my son did not suddenly take his own life. I took his life one day at a time for eighteen years.”

Confession: When my sons were tiny I spanked them every now and then after warning them repeatedly that something that they did was wrong. I wonder now if I was ever excessive in my discipline. Maybe there are family members or friends who may have seen me spank my sons on the rump and think, “Man, that guy is an abusive tyrant and he should go to jail for that.”

But I honestly don’t recall a time when my discipline was harsh or extreme. I felt horrible for even raising my voice to my sons and still do when I feel like they are not meeting what they often feel are unreasonable expectations. But what parent doesn’t get a little bent out of shape when their kid doesn’t take out the trash after you’ve asked them over and over again for three straight days?

When do you think discipline is crossing the line? Do you think kids should be disciplined at all? I know that when I was a kid I got some really good hidings because I was, well a horrible kid. And I apologize to my Polynesian people who think that this woman’s actions were warranted but I adamantly disagree that this is the Samoan way. The physical and psychological trauma inflicted on a child does nothing more than teach that child that resolving issues through a clenched fist is the only acceptable way to settle conflicts and solve disputes.

My parents weren’t perfect, but they figured out in time that the best way to deal with your kids is to be reasonable and let cool heads prevail. I’ve come to the realization that when doling out discipline, I’m much more judicious when I’ve had a moment to step back, breathe and assess the situation first. That lesson didn’t come easy because it wasn’t that way growing up and that’s the only parenting skill I knew when I became a father.

For some in our communities, abusing kids may be the only way you know, just like I did as a first-time father. But I just don’t think that physical punishment works and I will never agree that beating your kid to a pulp is the smart, sane or best way to teach your child.

I’m restating it again for the record – I abhor the notion that some people believe that the Samoan way is to deal harshly with your child and that physical abuse is acceptable and expected. On the contrary. It is despicable and reprehensible.

You can be stern; you can take away privileges, assign them additional chores and be very direct about the consequences. But when you put your hands on your child, you better know where the fine line is between discipline and abuse because you cross over into the latter you stand the risk of losing a whole lot more than just your temper.

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