The worst butt whooping I can remember ever getting is the day my father tore fire to my behind with a little pink belt. I was 6 and had gotten angry when my mom told me I couldn’t go outside until I cleaned the Barbies, barrettes and missing homework off my bottom bunk bed. I proceeded to sit at our nicely decorated dining room table and I took one of her candles, broke it in half and threw it across the room. All I remember is being chased into the garage and seeing that little pink belt fly through the air and slapping across my thigh. I wouldn’t say that I’m traumatized, scarred or have “Daddy issues”. In fact I really don’t remember any other time getting a butt whooping. But as an adult one thing I do realize is the importance of respecting the property of others regardless of how you’re feeling.
As I drove into work with my fiance the other day I heard the story about Young Jeezy facing assault charges for an alleged attack on his teenage son. Maybe it’s the old school parenting in me, but the first thought that came to my mind was, “Well what did he do to get Jeezy turned up?” In my work as a parenting educator I know that one of the reasons many parents resort to physical punishment is because they’re frustrated and uneducated about other forms of discipline. But are today’s kids mistaking some old-school butt whoopings for abuse or are we witnessing a break in the cycle of family violence as more and more awareness is raised about the negative consequences of corporal punishment?
I can sympathize with today’s parents feeling like prisoners in their own home when they have to worry that every time they lay a hand on their child, the police and Child Protective Services will be at the door. Parenting isn’t easy, and maintaining a healthy balance of discipline within the home is one of the issues that I see parents need the most support with. Our society doesn’t provide any kind of easily accessible support for parents until there’s a problem. We prioritize providing more tools for first-time home owners than first-time parents.
As a result, what I worry I’m beginning to witness is an unsettling trend of black and white parenting: you have parents doing entirely the most or nothing at all because they don’t want to be tomorrow’s news headline. Laws vary from state to state, but in Pennsylvania child abuse is defined as serious physical neglect, acts, or failures to act that cause serious non-accidental physical injury, mental impairment, sexual abuse or exploitation and/or impairs a child’s normal development and ability to function. Abuse is based on what results from the incident and not the incident itself, and unfortunately no one seems to advocate for families in unhealthy situations until someone is hurt.
I don’t believe any disagreement between parent and child should ever turn into a physical altercation. It’s an issue of respect that works both ways. There are boundaries that can become dangerously broken when a parent starts to look at their child like a random person they can swing on in the street or when a child looks at their parent as someone they need to protect themselves from. But there is large grey area when it comes to discipline that we keep trying to ignore. Corporal punishment should be avoided because it’s a slippery slope that all too easily turns into abuse, but I don’t believe every ass whooping results in trauma or should result in a criminal record. When we raise a generation of children who believe that they can manipulate household roles and levels of respect by recklessly inviting the law into the living room, it creates an environment that leaves parents powerless. More and more, kid’s today are confused about how mutual respect works and have an attitude of entitlement. Often our communities don’t want to be there for today’s parents until it’s too late and kids are going around flash mobbing and playing the knockout game with random strangers. They don’t respect consequences, they don’t respect authority, they don’t respect anyone because they never learned how to in their own homes. I could never picture laying a hand on my parents not because I feared them, but because I respected them. Respect doesn’t have to come courtesy of an open hand or a closed fist, but most parents are clueless about how to build it any other way which is why they need help.
If everything the headlines are revealing about the altercation between Young Jeezy is true then he most definitely needs to be held accountable for his actions. But while his case is rather extreme, I still refuse to believe every parent who has slapped their child upside the head is a criminal just like every child who has ever been beaten with a little pink belt isn’t a battered victim from a broken home. Parenting isn’t perfect. But boundaries, levels of respect and conflict resolution are all tools that don’t come in a diaper bag when you take your baby home from the hospital. Today’s parents more than likely came from a generation who lacked healthy parenting tools as well. They are raising their children in a society where the village no longer can nor wants to raise their children, which is why now, more than ever, parents need support more than punishment, and children need protection more than publicity.
Toya Sharee is a program associate for a Philadelphia non-profit that focuses on parenting education and building healthy relationships between parents, children and co-parents. She also has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog BulletsandBlessings.