Maybe some of you reading this caught that brief video clip on the news showing a sheriff’s deputy shackling a young boy’s biceps (because his wrists were too small to be held by the cuffs) behind his back. He cried out in pain, and told the deputy it hurt. That did not faze the deputy. The cuffs stayed on the 52-pound boy. The video did not show the deputy cuffing another student as well — a little girl.
(If you put your arms in that position — to be cuffed on your biceps — and leave them there as though restrained for even a short while — you will feel the pain even without the cuffs!)
To be somewhat fair to the deputy, as I write this I do not know the details of what led up to that moment. But let’s imagine something very discipline-worthy, to say the least, such as the boy lashing out in a physical way, perhaps coupled with spewing some totally unacceptable remarks toward his teacher or fellow students or the officer himself, possibly interspersed with threats to do bodily harm to one or all concerned. What adult wouldn’t be inclined to contain this situation before it got totally out of control and resulted in such bodily harm?
Outside of this particular boy having been diagnosed with a condition known as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), what I described above could sound very similar in some ways to what many parents might hear in their own homes while raising their own children in a loving way. And of course, it’s at that first discovery of that child’s inability to express himself in a more acceptable way — a way that will even likely bring the child closer to the results he wants — that the parent or person in charge of him at that time has an opportunity to turn the situation into a teaching moment.
If indeed said child normally does not react that way, getting to the cause of it so that the child knows you are aware of the “why” behind it is vitally important. Imagine how you, as an adult, would feel if you were to be judged and then “punished” on the spot for what others perceive you did without ever bothering to know all the facts. I think this has happened many times, and the public knows such situations by many names, not the least of which is “lynching.”
As normal-minded adults, we know that not everyone who is judged on the spot and punished on the spot is guilty; we also know that while some are guilty, we still feel that going through the process to get at all the facts and let the law or the authorities handle it is usually the best thing to do. So if adults would choose to have their behavior seen in a different light, allowing for circumstances to possibly mitigate what they did, and for any action taken against them to diffuse the situation and hopefully bring it down and make it better for all concerned, how much more ought we to consider these points in dealing with the behavior of a child?
The impressionable child, who is every day learning what the world is like and what he can expect from adults, can be easily sent down the wrong path in his developmental years when he is shackled and hurt — and even shamed and embarrassed — by an authority figure, especially one in law-enforcement. And hitch that trauma to an already behaviorally-challenged child with ADHD (even though many people out there do not want to acknowledge that it is a condition that needs specialized handling, as opposed to “just give ‘em a good old-fashioned spanking” or “I can take care of that the way my father disciplined me,” or the like), and you are on your way to contributing to future adults who might well lash out in whatever way it takes to overcome the authority figures holding them back, and get at those they feel have harmed them in some way. (According to experts, behavior typical of ADHD occurs more commonly in children who have experienced violence and emotional abuse.)
Punishment, if we must use that word, is more or less meant to be a period at the end of a sentence. You did THAT, now you must pay by experiencing THIS. End of story. Unfortunately, often the only thing the child will remember is the punishment — how it felt and who did it to him. The deed for which the punishment was “earned” may well disappear, along with the lesson that needed to be taught or the correction that needed to take place, whether through counseling, therapy or medication.
Punishment itself is very common and often useless. If “punishment” worked, as employed in our prisons, why is there so much recidivism?
Of course, in prison, they always ask the person about to be let out on parole if they feel they’ve been “rehabilitated.” How they’ve been treated while “in” makes a big difference in how they’ll feel at the moment of being judged ready to get out (The Shawshank Redemption is the perfect example of that, as spoken by actor Morgan Freeman at his parole hearing in that movie).
So-called “rehabilitation” ostensibly is the goal to society’s ongoing use of the current prison system. In they go, rehabilitated they get, then back out to society as a new and improved man is the plan, so to speak. Yet every single act of unjust violence, unnecessary unkindness, and inhumane treatment while incarcerated all contribute to that person’s “rehabilitated” pattern of behavior, just as such treatment toward a child can build up within him or her.
The goal of any “punishment” for a child ought to be to call attention to why what was done was not socially or personally acceptable, and will never be a good way to act as one goes along. The goal, therefore, is to change the desire for that unacceptable behavior by showing that it will not work and will never be allowed, to say nothing of not being moral or kind, or in keeping with the golden rule, and each new infraction will bring about a stronger reminder of that lesson. At some point, if the child does not learn, or cannot learn, those in charge of the child must turn to the professionals before that behavior becomes carved in stone.
Shackling our children, in or out of school, shows us who we are more than what our children did to “deserve” it. Beating our children — and other people’s children (as we also recently saw in a video on the news) — is another little thing we can do to help traumatize our children and help them to pass on that “lesson” to others.
It’s hard enough to live in this world. Children see it and experience it at their own level, which can be traumatic enough sometimes without the help of strangers or authority figures. Can’t we all help make the child’s journey to adulthood a little easier — and maybe throw in some genuine caring and love to replace the trauma?
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email her at email@example.com.