One topic that is always controversial amongst the social work force is the idea of “licks,” or beatings that parents give to children as a form of discipline. Even in the United States, the effectiveness of this form of punishment is much debated- with pundits on both sides of the aisle for and against it (read more about it here). In the States, people refer to it as “spanking”- and there’s a thin line that civil servants draw between spanking and corporal punishment, which is considered a legal offense. Spanking can usually be interpreted as a light hit to a child’s bottom, but does not extend to the acceptance of any weapons used to strike the child; spanking certainly does not leave marks on the child.
In Guyana, “licks” are not illegal and can extend to various forms of corporal punishment. Social workers may hear cases where parents punish their parents by hitting them across their bottom or by striking them in front of others with large umbrellas as forms of punishment for acting out. Whether or not this form of punishment is inhumane is one topic that should be debated within both the nonprofit and legislative landscapes in the Caribbean, particularly with regards to organizations that seek to provide solutions to individuals who are survivors of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. What is often overlooked by these organizations’ counselors, however, is the education of parents that is need in order to prevent them from mis-educating their children about violence. The truth is that any form of violence is almost always unhealthy; and children who learn that violence corrects bad behavior from an early age onward are more likely to repeat this behavior as adults.
If parents believe that “licks” are only necessary for young children and should not be replicated as a form of punishment for adults, that is their prerogative. However, it is their responsibility, if taking that stance, to educate their children about the difference between punishing a child and the act of expressing disagreement amongst adults. An adult may be reprimanded and have to face the negative consequences of their actions in order to correct them for the future, but physically “teaching” them- as many men who beat their wives often claim to be doing- seems to mimic many parents’ desire to “teach” their children through beating. It teaches them fear, self-loathing, and victimization. Whether or not a parent believes this phenomenon also results from beating a child is subjective, but if they do in fact believe in beating their children as a form of discipline, it is necessary for them to make the distinction clear to their children that methods of punishment and expression of anger do not follow the same rubric across all age groups. Until organizations make efforts to educate parents as well as children about this distinction- and until parents start educating their children on their own about this distinction, they are, in many cases, inadvertently perpetuating an understanding that violence is the best form of expressing disapproval. When violence takes the place of discussion, individuals will inevitably pay forward an unhealthy perception of violence.