Violence toward children breeds defiance


Growing up in a single-parent household my mother had ample reason to give me a whack every now and then. She never did.

All of those moments where I mouthed off, gave her that “look,” or just straight up dis-respected her and she never hit me once. “Thanks Mom.” I bet you  know this already, but it wouldn’t have worked anyway.

You see my mother had her way of getting me to behave. It was subtle, it wasn’t violent and it was effective. She found what I cared about the most, whether it be playing baseball, shooting hoops, playing with my buddies, riding my bike, listening to Bill King on the radio (yeah, I was a strange kid) and she would take it away. She didn’t just give this punishment lip service. She took it away. When she said two weeks, she meant two weeks. When she said “no game,” damn, I knew there would be “no game.” There was no negotiation when it came to consequence if her beloved little Michael was acting-a-fool. This is what kept me in line, she didn’t need to hit me. And, it’s a good thing,  because I will tell you why it would have back-fired.

Growing up in catholic school was a great experience. To this day I am still friends and at least acquaintances with most of my classmates from St. Joseph’s in Alameda. There was basically a core of 30 students that went from 1st grade to 8th grade. We spent so much time together that in an odd kind of way I feel they will always be part of my family. We grew up together.

Many of my teachers at St. Joseph’s  were not “of the cloth,” but many were. I was hit twice in my life for disciplinary reasons. In those instances the punishment was levied by a nun. Yes, NUNS.

Let me start by saying I had some teachers who were saints. They had to put up with a rambunctious young lad who was constantly talking, constantly. I just never stopped. They never hit me, but they befriended me and made me want to behave better so I wouldn’t disappoint them. It took some time, but I thank them for their patience in dealing with me.

The first time I was hit was by a miserable old woman named Sister Bernice. She had to be in her late 60’s or early 70’s. Prim and proper in appearance, she was a stern task-master. The problem is she didn’t appear to have a kind bone in her body. She was just mean, all the time. Now I am sure she did kind works, fed the poor, administered to the sick, loved God and worked hard, but she was damn cold.

One day as this 6th grader was once again being disruptive, she called me out, made me stand up in front of the class and slapped me. I will never forget it. It was not an ordinary soft slap, there was some force in the right arm of that grey haired old woman. I’ll never forget the look of anger in her face as she stared me down as I retreated a few steps. I looked back at her in fear. I knew my classmates were in shock. I know I was embarrassed. Not only was my face red from the “smack,” but I was thoroughly embarrassed by being the center of ridicule. Not to say I didn’t deserve some measure of punishment for my antics, but I didn’t deserve THAT.

Sister Bernice got the desired effect in THAT very moment. But, for the rest of the day I sat sullen and quiet. I didn’t make a sound. In fact, I was probably down-trodden during lunch and recess when I should have been playing with my friends. It was a horrible experience. Then something happened internally that is hard to put into words and is hard to quantify.

I became defiant.

I reasoned mentally that I had taken what she had to offer and she wasn’t going to get away with that. “Screw her” is what I thought.  I made it my life’s goal to be as disruptive and as much of a nuisance as I possibly could in her class. I didn’t care if she hit me again. She had already taken something from me. I had nothing to lose. I was a mere annoyance before she hit me. I was a terror AFTER she hit me. I openly mocked her. I challenged her. I verbally shot back at her, I baited her, goaded her into getting angry with me. I was hit on the shoulder, I was grabbed and I was sent to the principal’s office. I was defiant. The only way my behavior changed was when my mother got involved. Her solution, “well if you insist on embarrassing me with your insolent behavior. If you will not respect authority then maybe you don’t need to play in your team’s basketball game this weekend. Maybe we won’t go to the Warriors game next week. Maybe we won’t be going to the batting cages on Friday night.”

Problem solved.

I didn’t want to disappoint my mom. The thought of that was awful, the guilt, some would say, the catholic guilt was over-whelming. I wouldn’t change for the crotchety old nun that wanted to hit me, but I could change for the woman who raised me and loved me.

In closing, those that say violence is the only way or is the preferred way of disciplining a child must have issues themselves. They are either dysfunctional, were abused themselves and are continuing the cycle, or simply don’t care about their kids. There is another way. If you think there isn’t, then you are the problem.

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