Whacketty Whack (Don’t Talk Back) – Is It A Good Idea For Parents To Smack Their Children?

Corporal punishment teaches kids a lesson, there’s no doubt about that. The question is, what lesson does it teach them? The argument for corporal punishment often uses the example of the mother bear gently cuffing its cub around the head when it strays to close to danger. Though mother bears are known to eat their young so I’m not sure the example of ursine motherhood is a particularly valid one in term of general nurturing.

The argument against corporal punishment states that “Yes, hitting children when they are naughty does teach them a lesson. It teaches them that, when things aren’t going their way, it’s ok to employ physical violence.”

The problem is that children have an innate sense of what is fair and what is unfair. When they whine “That’s so unfair!” they’re usually bang on the money of we’re being honest with ourselves. It is unfair for them to have to sit in a stuffy classroom wrestling with algebra on a lovely sunny day. It is unfair that parents send them to bed when they’re wide awake and they’re just getting into the swing of their evening’s entertainment. It is unfair that parents wake them up for school when all they want to do is sleep. Not that they have that problem at the weekend of course. The unfairness of them bouncing up and down on your head demanding breakfast at five o clock on a Saturday morning seems to evade them.

My parents didn’t lift a finger to me when I was a kid. Not even a clip around the ear or a slap on the legs. I did go to a school that exercised corporal punishment, however. And one day, when I was 12, I ended up on the receiving end of that policy.

I was playing football in the schoolyard and one of the lads on my team signalled me to pass the ball to him. I did this, but I toe-punted it and it hit him in the nuts. Really hard. He took exception to this and, when he’d recovered, we a little bit of a set to. It was a half-hearted fight, but one of the dinner ladies broke it up. I was sent to see the Headmaster.  And being sent to the headmaster meant only one thing. You were going to get punished. Physically.

It’s a shame our PE Teacher, Mr Wade, wasn’t in school that day. He would have vouched for the fact that under no circumstances was I capable of deliberately aiming a football at someone’s knackers. Or indeed of successfully aiming a football at a barn door. He would have questioned the accusation directed at me by pointing out that most of the time I was incapable of even getting my boot to make contact with the ball at all and he would have been highly suspicious of the premise that I had managed to gain possession of the ball in the first place. Sadly, he wasn’t there that day, so off I was marched to receive my corporal punishment.

There were three main methods of corporal punishment in British schools back then. The cane, which I’m sure you’re probably familiar with. The slipper, which tended to be reserved for pupils at the likes of Eaton or Harrow, and I can only assume was more of a ritual humiliation than a painful reprimand. I mean, how much is being hit with a slipper going to hurt? Not much, unless it’s some sort of specially made clown slipper.

Our school went in for method number three, a leather strap called a tawse. Here is a headmaster’s eye view if the punishment I received :


   Note the bifurcation on the leather strap to counteract the braking effect of air resistance. And the supporting hand under the punishment receiving hand in order to minimize vertical movement and make the strapping hurt more. It was under these circumstances that I was given six of the best to the palm of the hand. The left hand in my case, so I would have no excuse not to be able to write during the subsequent, and some would say far more savage punishment, of Double Geography.

Getting “The Strap” had an unexpected consequence from my point of view. I was the school swot at the time, but due to the strapping I was a bad boy for a day. For the rest of that day, all the girls were fussing around me. This had never happened before. Getting “The Strap” taught me this : bad boys get lots of feminine attention.

It’s maybe due to this fact that I found myself in the Headmaster’s office again a few months later. I hadn’t kicked anything at anyone’s balls or got into a fight this time. This time, I had constructed and ignited an incendiary device. It didn’t set fire to the school but it did set fire to the shoe of a boy who tried to stamp it out with his feet when it became obvious that the school caretaker had seen the whole incident. I had lit the fuse and so it was me who ended up in the Headmaster’s office.

As I was waiting outside the Headmaster’s office, I was thinking to myself: “I got six strokes of the strap last time just for kicking a football. How many am I going to get for setting fire to someone’s foot?” The answer to that turned out to be, rather surprisingly, none whatsoever.

The Headmaster invited me in and all he seemed to want to know was how I had constructed my incendiary device. I told him all about it and he nodded thoughtfully as I did so.  Then he said:

“So you didn’t steal any of the ingredients for your bomb from the school chemistry lab?”

I told him I hadn’t and he said I was free to go about my lessons, though he did this final caveat:

“I’m all for scientific experiments Michael, but next time make sure they are not of the pyrotechnic variety.”

I had got away with it. The lads were all very impressed by this. But I hadn’t got “The Strap” so there was none of the previous and highly enjoyable female attention.

This taught me that if you are going to do something reckless, dress it up as a science and you’ll probably get away with it. It also taught me that girls, as a rule, don’t go for geeks. Even geeks who are happy to go around setting fire to other people’s shoes. That’s not being a bad boy. That’s just a romantically toxic combination of being nerdy and mental. (This was back in 1982. There weren’t any Emo chicks back then. I gather nerdy and mental is quite a popular choice with them nowadays.)

That’s just my experience of being on the receiving end of corporal punishment. I don’t have any kids of my own so I’m in no position to lecture anyone as to the merits or otherwise of dishing out corporal punishment. I will say this though. If you have kids and you use the odd clip around the ear or slap on the legs to keep them in line, remember one thing :

When you are old and infirm, they will be making the decision whether to look after you or put you in a care home. Either way, you will be at their mercy. Just hope they have grown out of being the vindictive little bastards that children undoubtedly are.

© Copyright Michael Grimes 2015


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About thedailygrime

At that awkward age - too young to be a grumpy old man, but just acerbic and downtrodden enough to have an opinion. Read it here.

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