Modern society is constantly evolving. With every generation comes new ideals and boundaries to ensure every person can live their best life from beginning to end. One of these changing aspects is how parents discipline their children. What was acceptable fifty or even twenty years ago is not necessarily acceptable today. The line between discipline and abuse is not clear to everyone, and this knowledge gap can leave many children in unfavorable situations. The Chonnam Tribune asked three students and a graduate what they think about this issue.
How are children usually disciplined in your home country?
Emily Beier (Germany): Every family has different methods, but in my case, there was both verbal and physical discipline. My parents laid clear rules for me and my sister to follow, and if we broke those rules, our father would give us three warnings. If we continued to ignore him, he would take a stick and smack us on the back of the thighs.
Rakhimova Farzona (Uzbekistan): My parents always treated me like an adult. Rather than disciplining me physically, they would sit me down and explain to me if I had done something wrong. They let me know why I was being scolded and allowed me to decide to not do the bad thing again.
Have the boundaries of discipline changed since you were a child compared to today?
Kim Hae-lim (Korea): In the past, physical discipline was much more common. Punishments used to involve hitting the child’s calves or the palm of their hands with a stick. In Korea’s history, there have been schools called “seodang,” which were very strict and the teachers carried a stick meant for punishing misbehaving students. Now, however, physical punishment has become more criticized, so parents put more effort into communicating with their children instead.
Kyle Clyde (America): Absolutely. These days, physically punishing or reprimanding a child is considered abuse rather than discipline. For example, when I was young, I was physically reprimanded often, but neither of my two younger siblings were ever physically disciplined. That is how quickly the boundaries can change.
What would you say is the difference between discipline and abuse?
Hae-lim: It is hard to draw a clear line between the two, because everyone has different experiences and opinions. What is light discipline to one person can be extreme to another. In the case of discipline, the child should realize what he or she has done wrong. The whole process of discipline becomes meaningless if the child does not understand why they are being punished.
Emily: I think a big difference lies in the parents’ intention. If a parent hits their child out of anger or annoyance, it is abuse. All kinds of discipline, physical and verbal, are meant to educate the child, not scare or hurt them. If you lash out and strike the child without explaining what they did wrong or warning them first, then it is abuse.
To what degree do you think people who witness child abuse should get involved in the situation?
Kyle: If the abuse is taking place in public, I feel people should become involved if the child exhibits true signs of fear, or if the parent seems much out of line. If the abuse is evident, the community has an undeniable responsibility to protect the child.
Farzona: These days, a lot of people have the mindset of “Someone else will help,” and they end up not doing anything even if they witness a child being abused. This is a problem. It can be scary to get involved and the abuser can react very badly, but we have to think of the safety of the children. It would be much worse if we do nothing and the situation escalates to the point where the child is seriously hurt.
Do you think the measures implemented by your government to prevent child abuse are working?
Hae-lim: I think there is room for improvement. In Korea, there are counselors at schools that are available for children to talk to in case they need help, but with so many students, the counselors are overwhelmed. They simply don’t have enough time to pay attention to everyone and help them. We need more counselors with proper education to be available for children to turn to.
Kyle: In America, if a child is hit in public, the parent will be questioned by Child Protective Services. If a child comes to school scathed, or emotionally distant, teachers are trained to report it. If a teacher punishes a student inappropriately, it will most likely make the news and the teacher will be tried with prison time.
What kind of progress would you like to see in the fight against child abuse?
Farzona: As it is hard to see what happens inside every home, I think it would be very important to give children a space where they can speak with a counselor without their parents present. Children who are abused are usually too scared to talk about it, so from a young age, speaking openly with an outsider should be encouraged and normalized. Counseling should be available to both parents and children.
Emily: The most important thing to do is to educate parents on how to properly discipline their children without it becoming abusive. There might be parents who might think they are only teaching their children how to behave, but in reality, they are causing both physical and psychological damage. It is a matter of knowing what is right and wrong.
As we can see, the difference between discipline and abuse varies greatly from person to person, as well as culture to culture. It is a difficult definition to establish, but for the sake of the well-being of future generations, every society would surely benefit from learning how to better understand and communicate with children, and raise them in a safe way.
By Maja Elisabeth von Bruun, Student Editor
Emily Beier, Senior, Dept. of German Language and Literature, Germany
Kim Hae-lim, Senior, Faculty of Interdisciplinary Studies, South Korea
Rakhimova Farzona, Junior, Faculty of Business Administration, Uzbekistan
Kyle Clyde, Graduate, Dept. of English Language and Literature, United States of America