African Parents

If like me you grew up in Nigeria when the military was in power, you would understand when I say the first set of corporal punishment we experienced was meted on us by our own Nigerian soldiers parents. You mess up one inch? No time abeg! Is it those knocks, or the slaps? In fact, canes had different names ranging from pankere, koboko to bulala, and some families even had pet names for them – Mr White, Friendly Stick– and so on. We also had the naughty corner and face the wall in posher families or sometimes for girls. In some families, concentrated caustic abuses could come, either alone or together with beating, and harsh words were freely given like souvenirs at a Nigerian Owambe. African parents, or at least Nigerian parents are top military officials when it comes to corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment
This is a multi-purpose tool in a Nigerian household. It is used for sweeping, spanking and depending on political affiliations, used at political rallies

In those days, if your mother is in the sitting room and she hears you break a plate in the kitchen, just start crying already, and start wondering if that will be the day she will make good the threat of using pieces of the broken plate to give you tribal marks. We really suffered oh. Can you remember that particular neighbour that could never escape beating because he was so stubborn? Or that girl who just lacked discretion and could not read her mother’s eyes, so receiving slaps was a regular thing for her. What of those auto-reset knocks? They said they were trying to straighten us out.

I remember many years ago, I was in a commercial bus somewhere in Ibadan. I was sitting to the right of a young girl and her mother was on her left side.

Mother: Bimpe, bag mi da? (Bimpe, where is my bag).

Bimpe: *looking confused* Mummy, it is not with me.

Mother: Where is it? You left my bag at the bus stop?

Bimpe: *looking flustered* Erm, you didn’t ….

*kpam*

The first slap landed on the girl’s face

Mother: you left my bag at the bus stop! Mo daran (I am in trouble).

*woolah*

The second slap landed o.

cool african parent
The relationship you wish you had with your Nigerian parent. Ha! In your dreams. Rotfl.

It felt like I was the one being slapped. I felt the vibrations. In fact, if I remember correctly, my cheeks tingled for the rest of the bus ride. I pitied poor Bimpe. Passengers in the bus started apologising on her behalf. Anyway, the driver stopped the bus for them to get down and find their way back to the very first bus stop to look for this precious bag. As I watched the mother and child through the bus window, with the young girl still receiving slaps, a question dropped into my mind “Is this punishment, correction or revenge?”

Think about the many times you were flogged as a child, how many of those times was the flogging done in a calm state? If you could recollect the most serious beatings you ever received, were your parents trying to correct you or were they just so angry at you? This is the why corporal punishment or physical discipline has been banned in many countries of the world. For example, the American Academy of Paediatricians notes that “Parents are more likely to use aversive techniques of discipline when they are angry or irritable, depressed, fatigued and stressed.”

Punishment has been used in ages past as a method of discipline and instilling morals into a person and into the society. It is the imposition of a penalty as retribution for a wrongdoing. It can come in many forms in a family. One example could be the seizing a game you love; another could be forfeiting the right to sit in the front seat (I think we firstborns had the right, and it was a big deal). Yelling at a child is another form and of course, corporal punishment is one.

Punishment is not without its problems, though, which tend to increase as the severity of the form of punishment increases. I will highlight some of them

  • First, the behaviour you are being punished for has already occurred and many times, it cannot be reversed, so punishment “comes too late”.
  • Often times, punishment gets the subject to stop an action without teaching a more appropriate alternative. So it tells you what you should not do; it never tells you what you should do and how to go about it. So you are flogged for being 38th out of a class of 40 students but that wouldn’t teach you how to be 1st or 2nd.
  • The third problem with punishment is that it has the propensity to cause unnecessary generalisation of stimulus. This can be seen in a child who was beaten by his maths teacher for failing a question and the student starts to hate maths and may even start to hate school.
  • Punishment has also been seen to cause physical harm or damage to people. You know those marks our parents promised that we will show our grandchildren? LOL. Or the slap you received that damaged your tympanic membrane.
  • It has been noticed that likelihood to engage in domestic violence increases with people who inflict corporal punishment on their children, people who support it and people who themselves were physically disciplined as children.
  • Psychologists have noticed that children who underwent measures of severe punishment turn out to be more aggressive adolescents and adults.

So am I campaigning for punishment to be eradicated from our families? No, I am not. I am saying punishment would not train your child for you. A relationship with your child is more valuable than all the canes in this world. It is easier and faster to slap the child but it is more effective to model your life for the child to see. Instilling discipline and morals into a child is a proactive process while punishment is a reactive act. When a child has done something wrong, if the decision to punish is taken when the parents are calmer, the frequency of physical punishment will actually reduce. The child is also more likely to receive a punishment well and change when an atmosphere of love is obvious to the child as against an atmosphere of anger or frustration.

Anyway, can you recollect the most serious beating you ever received in this your life? Share your experience with us. What was the wrongdoing that caused it and would you say it was pure correction or out of anger? Also, will you train your children using manual resetting or will you dialogue with them?

About The Author

“Tiwatayo Lasebikan (code name “Dr Lash”) is a medical doctor with training and experience in psychiatry, psychology and counselling. His goal is to help people lead emotionally and mentally healthier lives.

“In Your Mind” is where Dr Lash uses his experience to help people dealing with mental health and other emotional issues. Dr Lash has recognised that there’s a dearth of information on the importance of mental health and he shall use this medium to educate us about mental health issues and how our attitudes, behaviours and thinking affect our emotional well-being.

Dr Lash offers a range of online mental health and counselling services which include relationship counselling, self-esteem and confidence building, stress management, career and work-related counselling, critical events management amongst others. Dr Lash can be reached by email at talktodrlash@gmail.com or via twitter @LashSupport.”

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting post, Dr Lash. I suspect that the younger generation might have a more liberal approach to parenting, but does this approach “spare the rod and spoil the child?”

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