After being bombarded for weeks by parents, teachers, readers of this column, family members, friends and my Criminology and Criminal Justice students, to author a piece on the importance of parental discipline as a precursor to children’s discipline, I decided to oblige.
It is a paradox that being a parent is one of the most rewarding, yet difficult jobs ever known to mankind. This paradox is based on the notion that while humans usually require some form of qualification and/or preparation for the world of work, little or no such preparation is required to become a parent.
In fact, it is generally expected that parents, sometimes children themselves, automatically know how to rear their offspring. However, this is a myth as successful parents are made, not born.
It’s clear that parenting, discipline and/or indiscipline are separate but interrelated and their intended or unintended inculcation begin as soon as children are born. These factors play a role in whom the children become as they are an essential part of their upbringing.
While it is important to discipline children and instil in them virtues such as respect, good manners, trust, honour and honesty, it is of paramount importance that parents also demonstrate similar qualities.
Generally, discipline refers to any form of positive learning experience that sets behavioural limits and guidelines aimed at guiding and mentoring young children through the impressionable years of childhood then into and throughout adulthood.
This form of discipline is premised on the notion children must be initially guided by parental discipline and then onto self-discipline.
While the first and foremost job of a parent is to provide a measure of disciplinary guidance to children, parents themselves are often ill-disciplined.
In fact, while effective parenting and disciplinary techniques aimed at raising well-trained children can be learned, a most important and often overlooked aspect of effective parenting is parental indiscipline. This indiscipline is often manifested in children’s misbehaviour at school and on the streets.
Though trite, the cliché that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ was quite apt to early Trinidadian and Tobagonian communities, as villagers took pride in ensuring that all children walked the straight and narrow path.
Even when two villagers were not on speaking terms, children were obligated to respect both sets of villagers as “children were not supposed to get involved in the big people business.”
At present and to a large extent, this has waned as I have witnessed first-hand, as well as heard about children of primary and secondary age engaging in verbal altercations with adults, using some of the foulest language known to man.
The age-old adage ‘what monkey see, monkey do’ should not be discounted as children learn by observation (Social Learning Theory). Therefore, parents in Trinidad and Tobago who barge into school compounds to confront, curse, malign and abuse teachers in the presence of their children should be mindful that their children are likely to repeat these actions to teachers, students and other authority figures. Eventually, parents become their children’s target.
It is therefore critical that parents conduct themselves with respect and professionalism, especially when dealing with educators. They must also be mindful of the need to engage in age-appropriate conversations with their children in the comfort of their homes.
We simply cannot allow parental indiscipline to continue unabated to the extent that it becomes the new normal on the educational and social landscapes in Trinidad and Tobago.
Dr Wendell C. Wallace is a barrister, criminologist and university lecturer.