Neil McNicholas: Children need discipline to become responsible adults

EVERYONE has heard stories about the “good old days” when a bobby could give miscreant kids a clip round the ear and with impunity because if the child went home and told their dad what had happened he’d clip their ear (or worse) as well. It was a time when people knew right from wrong and if you chose to do wrong you could expect the consequences if you were caught. Nowadays there are no consequences, one reason why the coalition is now abolishing anti-social behaviour orders.

Things started to go wrong with the “do-gooders” of the 1970s and 80s and we now have perhaps two generations of adults many of whom have never learned the meaning of the word “no”. Parents have been stopped from physically chastising their children; discipline at school has been taken out of the hands of teachers; and pity help the police officer who resorts to force in enforcing the law. Children are ruling our streets and adults are powerless not only to defend themselves but to do anything about restoring law and order or enjoying the peace and security that should be their right.

Our society is unravelling at the seams and it is fairly obvious to most people just when and how the process began and how it could and should be stopped.

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I make no apologies for the fact that I firmly believe in the right of parents to discipline their children in the way they choose. I’m not for a moment advocating violence or abuse in the sense that those words are normally understood – and I believe that most people know the difference. If someone is likely to use excessive force in disciplining a child, legislation won’t make any difference.

As long as parents are restricted in the disciplining of their children, then those children are at risk in other ways by not learning valuable lessons and this could do them, and society, even more harm in the long-term. Even animals know better than we seem to. A lioness, for example, will put up with the unacceptable behaviour of her cub for just so long and then she will give it a swat with her paw. The one swat is usually all it takes – the point is made and the lesson learned.

I remember once hearing some “expert” claim that slapping a child’s legs was a degrading experience that caused the child pain and embarrassment. Well yes it is, and so it does, and if the child doesn’t want to go through the experience again, then he or she learns not to do whatever it was that got them into trouble in the first place. That’s the learning process – it used to work very well, but look at where we are today. So-called experts and professionals now advocate negotiating with children as if they were adults, but that’s the whole problem. They aren’t adults. They are children, and most children, especially at an early age, simply don’t have the cognitive development or the life experience an adult does to be able rationalise or to interiorise things the way the experts claim.

It goes without saying, of course, that parents know their children best and whether talking to them will work. And precisely because they know their children, I think it’s wrong to remove from them other options that might be necessary and effective. All credit to those parents who never have to resort to physical discipline because the ways in which they have consistently influenced their children’s behaviour never make it necessary.

However, too many children nowadays never hear the word “no” or, if they do, nothing ever happens if they ignore it. How often do we hear a parent say to their child, “I’m not going to tell you again” but then they do, over and over, instead of there being an immediate sanction or consequence for the child not doing as they are told. Or we hear, “If you don’t stop that…” followed by some veiled threat that never happens and so the child learns that the threat means nothing.

The word discipline means “learning a desired pattern of behaviour” but what the undisciplined child learns is that it doesn’t matter what they do because there are no sanctions or punishments.

A very important part of a child’s social development – learning about right and wrong and the difference between the two – is missed, just as surely as if they had never been taught the alphabet, or how to fasten their shoes, or how to cross the street safely.

If such knowledge is never imparted then there will always be a deficit and children who have never been made to understand and accept the word “no” grow up to be adults who ignore it also. And if they have never learned to do as they’re told, they become adults who do as they like.