Chakra Discussions

What Constitutes Actual Child Abuse?

Name withheld

Posted February 14, 2005

THE PROBLEM

Most people, including most devotees, seem very confused about what constitutes actual child abuse. Failure to protect the children from sexual predators is the worst form of child abuse, but failure to train them properly is also child abuse. The Bible says, "Spare the rod; spoil the child.", and Srila Prabhupada also prescribed corporal punishment for ISKCON's children. If this instruction is not followed, then the children could suffer, and therefore, not administering corporal punishment could be the real child abuse, not the other way around!

I'm not sure what the actual statistics are, but I wouldn't be surprised if most of the world's population still views corporal punishment as an appropriate method of training children to have good character, and therefore to be as successful and productive as possible when they reach adulthood.

Last summer, when my brother-in-law came to visit, I asked his opinion about something which relates to the present situation that Western society in general, and ISKCON in particular, finds itself in. Ever since my brother-in-law graduated from college, right up to his retirement, he worked either as a high school teacher, a high school principal, or a grade/middle/high school superintendent, so, I said to him, "If you punish a child by making him or her write something over and over again, then you run the risk of causing the child to develop an aversion to writing in general.", and he agreed with me completely.

If you make children do extra homework, then they could develop an aversion to doing homework, and end up doing even less homework in the long run. If you keep them after school, then they could come to regard being in school as something undesirable. If you "ground them", then they could end up spending less time at home in the long run, because "Being at home is a punishment."

Even the U.S. military has adopted a policy of "no corporal punishment". If you do something wrong while standing in formation, you might be made to do 50 push-ups, which could cause an aversion to doing exercise! One summer, while undergoing Naval officer training, I received a punishment of having to march in formation carrying an M1 rifle (very heavy), for 2 solid hours in the hot Pensacola, Florida sun on a Saturday afternoon when I normally had time off. This definitely caused me to be more averse to marching than I was previously--not a good thing for a military officer to be averse to! When a military man meets the enemy on the front line, his training might make the difference between whether or not he's crippled for the rest of his life, or even between life and death! Could this "no corporal punishment" policy be actually doing more harm than good?

Is this pressure to no longer use corporal punishment the result of the demoniac influence of Kaliyuga--lazy, self-motivated parents, teachers, administrators and leaders who simply want an easy life of sense gratification even at the expense of the children?

THE SOLUTION

In any case and for whatever reason, corporal punishment is no longer in vogue, and this trend is likely to continue. Therefore, effective non-corporal punishments must be made available to parents and teachers.

One such punishment, which has proven to be effective over the years, is to have the child "do nothing". At my childhood grade school, one of my teachers would punish a misbehaving child by making him or her sit on a stool in the corner, facing the corner, with "the dunce cap" on.

A few years ago, I came up with another system of "non-corporal punishment". I was put in charge of disciplining a couple of ex-gurukuli teenagers whom I was living with. The system was to give them a liberal weekly monetary "allowance", but to deduct a set amount from the allowance each time that they misbehaved at home or in school. Using a computer program called "Microsoft Excel", I created two charts, one for each of them. Each chart contained days of the week across the top and a list of possible infractions on the left, forming a grid. I kept this chart on the refrigerator, and I placed a check mark on the chart whenever one of the children did something wrong. At the end of each week they were given their allowance minus small deductions for each infraction. The two teenagers soon realized that "It pays to be good." The same sort of system could be used for younger children using food treats instead of money.

The bottom line is that the children, instead of growing up to be obnoxious, duplicitous liars, who blame everyone but themselves for their problems, should be trained to have the best possible character so that they can grow up to be the actual "Vaikuntha children" that present day society so desperately needs.