Child discipline and abuse was in the headlines recently. The momentary media spotlight was the result of an American football issue, where one player was videotaped cold-cocking his partner unconscious in a public elevator, while another player was discovered to have beaten his four-year-old child with a tree branch as a means of discipline. I followed it from a distance.
I raise my child and write from Canada, which finds itself in a peculiar position. We’re jammed up against the United States and consume so much of its popular culture that in some ways we’re now indistinguishable countries. And yet our distinct Canadian history and notion of what it means to be a citizen allows Canadians the breathing room to express ourselves differently. So on one hand our political, cultural and civic consciousness is more aligned to Commonwealth, Northern and Western European nations; but on the other we can’t help but be hugely influenced by Americans. It’s a difficult position.
We are bombarded by the normalized extreme violence of American culture, and yet we do manage — to our credit — to resist aping that violence. We don’t carry guns or glorify gun culture; our children aren’t killed each day through gun violence; our media culture is calmer than that of our southern neighbours; and our justice system no longer includes a death penalty. Do our violent children fare better than their southern counterparts? is there a “better than…” for any violent child, anywhere?
I considered all of this when the issue of the NFL violence arose. I read thoughtful pieces in the New York Times and read the reader comments. And I was surprised at how many readers from an above-average-educated demographic were unified against violence against women, yet still supported and rationalized violence against children as a means to control/discipline them.
America didn’t invent patriarchy, misogyny, everyday violence or the death penalty; but as a nation it continues to argue for it, rationalize its use or excuse it when long ago most Commonwealth, and Northern and Western European nations began to try and excise it from their societies. This brings me back to children who act out violently because they are developmentally behind. What treatment can this most vulnerable group hope to have, either in the U.S. or in more developed nations?
I think nothing much can be expected of the U.S. because it’s an exceptionally violent society. And further, it has exceptionally powerful pharmaceutical firms that wield enormous power. As a result, simple logic dictates that a child who is violent, and who has no strong personal advocate, is going to either be treated with counter-violence or drugs. These are the only tools available and that are actively promoted. And this is heartbreaking, since both of those non-remedies abnegate any possibility for a child to develop and grow positively. A child will be beaten back with force or with drugs. No child can win.
There may be a little more room for nonviolent and non-pharmaceutical alternatives in developed nations outside the U.S., simply because the use of violence and drugs isn’t quite as entrenched and widely accepted. Ross Greene, whose ideas gave me a framework for raising my son, is indeed American, but his paradigm seems to take root as much outside the U.S. as inside it! I know that I was already committed to nonviolent parenting before I read his book, so his nonpunitive, collaborative approach was not a far reach from where I already was. My son was lucky.
So a child already struggling with developmental issues in the areas of tolerance, flexibility and problem-solving will be made to submit to through violence or chemicals almost certainly in the U.S. and very often elsewhere, too. Oases of alternative treatment paradigms anywhere in the developed world are few and far between, whether institutionally, in private treatment, or at home. Woe be the children!