opinion : Alwyn Lau

Why parents should cane their kids (and bad reasons not to)

Alwyn Lau

DECEMBER 4 — The other day I smacked my kid in front of my colleagues. Surprise, surprise (given our PC culture), I was met with looks ranging from obligatory disapproval to stares which had “I’m Gonna Hire A Hitman To Take Care Of You” written all over them.

You know we’re in the midst of a power-shift when kids act like brats and parents respond like they have to appease or — worse — apologise to the under-aged guilty parties. 

Lay but a finger on a child today and you could be arrested and imprisoned without trial under the Anti-Use-Of-Force Snowflake Act. Pick your culprit, but I blame Obama and Disney for their be-nice-or-die-tryin’ mindsets.

Of course, it doesn’t help when hyper-conservative school wardens go berserk on kids until amputation and death occurs; like food and holidays, anything excessive is bad and this includes caning, spanking, etc.

Nevertheless, below are some straight-forward pro-caning arguments (or anti-anti-caning ones) so parents will no longer hesitate in using corporal punishment when it’s called for. 

But first, hear me well, this is NOT an article encouraging you to go Mike Tyson on your seven-year-old whenever you feel like it. 

It’s just that almost every published news article today is against using the cane. 

Either a) every writer is against caning or b) those in favour are scared of saying they are. Knowing us Malaysians, most likely (b).

Secondly, as I see it, banning corporal punishment to raise better children is like outlawing Dumb & Dumber to produce smarter adults. If only life was so simple. 

So let’s roll. What is the primary benefit of smacking kids when they misbehave? Everybody now: To punish and discipline. Spare the rod, mess up the child. 

If kids go through life acting like mini-versions of The Joker and Daddy Batman doesn’t engage the Bat-Whip, we’ll get spoilt-ass punks who believe the world is their toy room to thrash up and not clean.

But, my oh my, there are objections to this time-honoured train of thought; some parents today feel that caning and spanking ain’t the way. 

What follows are some of the reasons given for stopping the use of the cane, followed by my responses:

1. ”Caning children is wrong because we do not cane adults if they miss deadlines, so how can it be acceptable to hit children for misconduct?”

This sounds intuitively persuasive, but there is a wrong analogy embedded here. The sheer difference between adults and children is simply, uh, smacked away?

We don’t ask adults to hold hands when they visit the Science Centre — does that mean we shouldn’t ask children to do so as well? We seek to control children’s ice cream intake (e.g. not more than two scoops at any meal), does this mean we should do the same for adults?

This is almost like saying that since we have toilets for men and women, why not have malls exclusively for Chinese, Indians or Malays?

The truth is even adults get punished or disciplined when they go off-track at work. But just as children cannot be “cold storaged” or fired, adults don’t usually get a ruler tap on their palms. Not quite rocket science, right? 

The key issue is whether or not caning children helps them with internalising right and wrong. My straight-forward answer is: Sure it does. 

But not all agree, as per below…

2. ”Caning children is not an effective disciplinary tool—if it doesn’t always work, why keep doing it?”

My instinctive response was, where in the name of Rotan can we find a method which produces immediate 110 per cent compliance on the spot for all cases? 

Are the anti-caners suggesting that if a method doesn’t work the first few times, we should dump it? 

In that case, why not do away entirely with reading, with forgiveness, with sales calls, with marriage, with cooking, etc.?

Every parent on earth and out of earth will tell you that speaking gently to a child doesn’t always produce the results hoped for either — what then? Stop speaking gently?

There is also the concern that caning makes the child feel like a bad and lousy person. Well, gee, for some children simply being TOLD not to do something or being REFUSED a brand-new toy makes them feel like a “bad and lousy person.” 

Should we simply give in to what the kids want every time? I mean, since it’s such a tragedy if our kids don’t feel like “great and fabulous” people all the time?

Discipline itself is unpleasant. The problem isn’t the disciplining — it’s the one being disciplined. Duh.

3. ”Caning children is wrong because violence begets violence; children will grow up to become abusive adults”

True but irrelevant, especially if a) the caning isn’t gratuitous i.e. the parent doesn’t wall-slam the kid a dozen times a day for the sheer bleedin’ joy of it (see Note 1), b) the caning is accompanied by firm instructions and explanation of why Daddy is smacking your butt and c) children are likewise reprimanded for using violence on other children, etc.

This kind of objection effectively ignores how millions of adults who have been caned when they were young do NOT go around thumping their colleagues on the head. 

I’m reminded of the backlash against “violent” video games i.e. if I spend five hours blowing up virtual buildings with my birtual fire-bombs then, gasp, maybe I’m more prone to become the next Unabomber. C’mon, seriously?

4. ”Caning children can scar them emotionally for life”

Sure. And so can school exams, unfaithful boyfriends, watching Liverpool concede last-minute goals, and being laughed at because we forgot to put gel on our hair. 

Nevertheless, we don’t stop going to school, we don’t refuse to fall in love, we don’t quit enjoying football and we don’t adopt Einstein’s hair-style simply because there is a risk of being very disappointed. 

Neither do we question the virtue of family and friendships simply because those who love us are also the ones who can hurt us the most.

Indeed, a popular technique of the anti-caning school is to employ rhetoric and worst-case scenarios to paint corporal punishment is the worst possible light. But such arguments make the critical mistake of conflating caned children with abused children. 

This is the classic fallacy of “cats have tails, therefore all animals with tails must be cats.” In our caning context, just because abused children were punished physically, the false inference is that physical punishment is always a bad thing.

The fundamental question is: Is there any value in caning? I think an honest tradition-respecting answer will be: Yes, there is. Notwithstanding abuse and cruelty, caning can lead to higher levels of discipline and character formation than not. 

And this is a practice that has been applied with love and care by millions of families across time and space. Furthermore, at least two world religions sanction it.

Life is not at all about living from one pleasant feeling to another, neither should it be about running away from risky psychological events. I fully understand if parents wish to protect their kids from emotional scars, sure, but over-protection is also a danger.

Indeed, there is a growing consensus that the occasional stressor is necessary to build character, strength and so on. 

Caning can provide this hiatus from the comfy life of nothing but You’re-So-Awesome, ‘Atta-Boy!’ 24/7 encouragement and painless living. 

Conclusion: If we wish to outlaw corporal punishment, we should have a lot more evidence and much better arguments than presently supplied.

So, parents, get that cane today. Better yet, take your kid to the store and let him have first pick. S/he doesn’t want to go? Tell him to move that butt… or else.

Note 1: The recent tragedy of the boy who was caned in a religious boarding school until he died is precisely the kind of BS we must never tolerate. As per point #4, there is a world of difference between abused kids and kids who get the rotan every now and then for doing stupid s***.

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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