“Charity begins from home” is a global, timeless classic that often gets lost in truism.
The family, regarded as the smallest unit of any society, is the setting where individuals are intricately moulded, trait by trait. This naturally draws the relationship between an individual as the offspring and their parents to the fore as a crucial influence on the individual’s eventual out-turn as a member of the larger community.
In the evolving Nigerian society, the role of parents in child-raising or “home training,” more resonantly, has remained widely perceived as pivotal and sometimes divine. This belief in parents as the deiform guardians of their children has pedestalised the former, not necessarily to the detriment of the latter – but there are tendencies for extremities.
It all begins with the all-consuming fear of “spoiling the child” by “sparing the rod.” To many a Nigerian parent, the rod is as literal as it gets, used to inflict physical pain on the errant child, and introduced from as early as toddlerhood.
For generations, this method of parenting, along with verbal abuse, has been upheld as the most potent deterrent and the ultimate recipe for producing responsible and well-mannered children for a healthy society. However, the bigger picture presents a striking opposite of what is intended, and this demands introspective reconsideration.
Violence is a thematic hydra-headed culture that eats deep into the micro-threads of the Nigerian societal fabric, manifesting in the prevalence of police brutality, domestic violence, political violence, tribal and religious terrorism.
The increasing tempo of these vices is typically ascribed to factors such as the colonial aftermath, power trips by individuals, political apathy, religious differences and tribal tensions – but hardly to the elephant in the room: individual upbringing.
A report by the World Health Organisation establishes the link between corporal punishment and aggression in children, as well as the tendency for them to perpetrate violent, antisocial, and criminal behaviour as adults.
Therefore, if the average Nigerian child is brought up with the literal rod unspared, and yet, violence and corruption in every sphere are killing millions, crippling the economy and impacting the country’s global reputation – what can be deduced?
Proponents of corporal punishment as a form of child discipline vehemently argue that it is divergent from societal violence by virtue of motive. One purportedly serves to correct children, while the others are destructive violent acts against humanity.
Despite the veracity of this claim on the surface, a slightly closer look reveals an inherent similarity: to enforce compliance. Actions taken to achieve this are left almost entirely at the discretion of the enforcer, which weaves into the next overlooked similarity; the power dynamic at play.
In the family setting, the parent or guardian holds legal and traditional authority over the child, in addition to being physically and emotionally stronger; and this translates to immense advantage. This can be likened to the advantage that the licensed policeman holds over regular citizens, an authorised government over its people, and armed persons over the unarmed. These circumstances all put the less advantaged at the mercy of the more powerful.
Thus, resorting to corporal punishment or verbal abuse for child discipline by advantaged parents or guardians stems from knowledge of their power, as well as the assurance of no immediate or eventual consequence for abusing it.
In recent years, corporal punishments and verbal abuse have been identified as toxic parenting methods, and this directly confronts an age-long child-raising tradition in Nigeria. While the status quo is seemingly undisrupted, social awareness initiatives such as The Wholesome Parent Project, that shed light on healthier, more efficient approaches to child upbringing, are on the rise.
These include respecting the agency of children, regardless of age; having healthy conversations to foster trust, and holding them accountable for misdeeds without the use of physical harm or verbal abuse. The potency of these methods is evidenced in the successful raising of responsible individuals in other parts of the world where corporal punishments are illegal and socially unacceptable.
With the spiralling trajectory of violence in Nigeria, it is imperative to evaluate the impact of existing child-raising methods and reform the socialisation culture in family units.
This represents a clarion call to reflect on how the surge of systematic violence as a compliance weapon in our larger society, is a ripple effect of the normalised physical and verbal abuse meted out to children in family units.
After all, if charity begins from home; violence also does.
Victoria Owolabi writes from Lagos:
For The Wholesome Parents Project (TWP), an initiative of MSc Media & Communication Students of Pan-Atlantic University, Nigeria (FT-16)