I’ll never forget the day I went to one of my friend’s house for tea in primary school. It was a chilly September afternoon, perfect for forcing 8 year olds to play netball in the drizzling rain, with no jumpers to insulate them from practically sub-Artic temperatures. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure this was child abuse and a violation of my human rights. But moving on. Becky was the model pupil – conscientious, happy, rosy cheeked, brown hair cut in the standard bob. A generally inoffensive private school specimen; the type of person they put on the front page of prospectus next to the token Asian child, playing happily under a tree wearing their pretentious bottle green boater hats and blazers. But this isn’t about the ridiculous uniform stipulations in private schools across the UK (I had regulation green knickers in reception. Yes. Regulation. Green. Knickers.)
No, this is about discipline.
Now, being a 1st generation Jamaican child, I had an extensive knowledge of various forms of discipline, how to avoid them, damage minimisation, escape tactics etc. I knew that if you cried too hard at the beginning of a round of licks (spanking), you would be spanked harder for overreacting (my parents didn’t do this by the way, but I know people who had this happen to them). I knew (from personal experience), that grabbing onto the belt as it came through the air and then refusing to let go, would not end well for you, or your rear end. I knew that attempting to run was futile, because Jamaican mothers and Usain Bolt are pretty much clones of each other. I knew that wearing two pairs of tracksuit bottoms was a good idea, but 3 would be too much cushion, your parents would cotton on, and you would be told to remove them. I knew that Nigerian parents were even worse than West Indian parents, and so I better thank my lucky stars that our diluted Africanness had also diluted the intensity of punishment.
What I did not know, was that it was possible to threaten your parents with something called Childline. I thank Becky for the information she gave me that day. We were sitting, playing with some kind of 8 year old amusement, reading Mizz magazine or whatever nonsense that was banned from my house but Becky was allowed to read. The topic of discipline came up. Or in 8 year old speak “what happens when you are naaaughty”. We shared battle scars while trying on lipgloss, and somehow I let it slip that my Dad occasionally used a belt to punish me. Becky gasped. “He’s not allowed to do that! You can call Childline!” I knew what Childline was, it was the number children called who were being abused. I was confused though. I didn’t feel abused. I just felt Jamaican. In fact, I’m pretty sure Kesh (who’s (whose?) parents were Sri Lankan), had regaled me with tales of derring do involving some sort of implement that had been used to hit him.
So I did what any stupid 1st generation child does. The next time I got spanked for some misdemeanor, mid bawl I screamed out “You’re not allowed to do this, I’m gonna call Chiiillddllliiine!!”. All action stopped. There was a chill in the air. The smell of burnt rice and peas wafting from the kitchen caused my eyes to water even more. If either of your parents are from any country below the equator, I don’t need to tell you how that worked out for me. For my more melanin challenged friends, I’ll just let you know that I didn’t get to make that phone call.
Despite my run ins with the law, I think I turned out alright. I don’t feel any deep emotional scars from being physically disciplined. That could be because my Mum usually grounded me, and my Dad only occasionally hit me (which is why I remember most of them). Having said that, I don’t think I’ll hit my kids. I still don’t agree with children being allowed to talk back, assert themselves unnecessarily – I don’t believe in human rights for children; if you’re living in my house, you have the right to eat, sleep and give thanks. When David Cameron starts feeding you, he can start telling me how to deal with you…No, seriously, I do believe that children probably learn more from having to think about what they’ve done ,be isolated from their friends for a few days, have their reading books confiscated (this always happened to me :-() than associating anger with physical punishment. I think English culture has a ridiculous attitude towards children – I see kids kicking their parents, screaming at them, all sorts. I also think the traditional Caribbean mode of parenting can be somewhat ridiculous as well. We shouldn’t normalise child abuse. It’s not normal to hit your children with your shoes. Or (correct me if I’m wrong African peeps), insert ginger or pepper into your child’s orifices. I don’t know what sort of person I’ll end up marrying, or what culture/race they’ll be from, but I think it will be interesting to see how we discipline our kids. What do you guys think?