The Effects of Punishment

STOMP reports, “Two primary school pupils in China were forced by their teacher to slap each other more than 150 times as punishment for being late to board the bus for a school trip while another, frustrated with a group of talkative boys, punished them by making them run around the track with their pants around their ankles”.  It then asks, “What forms of unusual punishment did you experience during your school days?”

I remember lots of punishment.  I was not naughty, I think.  I was just “stupid”.  I definitely remember the taping of the mouth.  One of my teachers hit me with a metal ruler, which resulted in a cut that needed medical attention.  I was also hit on my open palm very, very often for every Chinese word or do you call it character, that I could not spell.  So it was 10 whacks (for 10 words) for every week for years!!!  I was also hit for talking too fast (really?!) or running to fast, hit on the head for not knowing math, whack on the behind by my principal for failing again, and again, and again.

I was made to stand in front of the class, at the back of the class, outside the class, on the chair, on the table, in the sun, with a ruler balanced on my head (woe to me if the ruler dropped because I would have to balance it on my head for the length of the given time all over again).  I had to pick weeds.  They probably did not need a full time gardener then because of me.  I was made to run round the field (thank goodness, it was only a hockey field), and clean the principal’s office (they too probably didn’t need a full time cleaner because I was usually there to help out).

These punishments (and I am not including the emotional abuse) that I can recall, and the varied forms, occurred on a daily serving for years till I graduated from my secondary school.  You see, I attended the same school from primary to secondary, so the modus operandi of punishment remained quite consistent.

My punishments were hardly ever as a result of misbehavior, as I mentioned.  It was always a result of my not being able to do something academically.  None of my teachers, except one, in my 10 years of studying in a local school, ever attempted to reach out to me and help me, to give me some form of individualised help.

Did my teachers really think that all those activities of running round the field and picking weeds, standing in the sun, and standing with a ruler on my head was going to increase brain activity?  That somehow by hitting me 10 times for every ten words that I could not spell, the neurons in my head were going to make better connections?  Or did they think that making me stand on the table for a period of time was good because putting me on “higher ground” was helping oxygen flow throw my brain?  Maybe they thought putting me outside the class, in front of the class, at the back of the class, on the chair, on the table was teaching me prepositions.  Could they have thought that they were trying to make me more socially aware?  I got to stand around different groups of peers and also see them from different angles.

The mentality of punishing children as one of the means to “discipline” and educate our children continues even as Singapore moved from third to first world status in just mere 30 years.  One of the dangers and a very serious one, is that, for some adults, the concepts of  punishment and abuse can become nebulous.

Some cases in point.

Recently, a childcare teacher dragged a 3 year-old child across a room before roughly shoving him the floor, causing a hairline fracture.  Her actions were caught on video from one of the cameras installed in the centre that she worked for.

A teacher in a PAP Community Foundation Kindergarten was charged in court for abusing a 5-year old child in 2011.  The charges include making the child stand naked in front of her class and causing physical injuries by pushing her twice and once when she swung the child’s head against a whiteboard.

Police and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) are looking into a case in which, a nanny who also doubled as a tutor, is alleged to have committed “long-term” abuse of two brothers, aged 9 and 10.   The 10 year-old boy is said to now suffer from spinal problems as well as “mental” problems, no doubt as a result of the psychological trauma that he went through.  The boy’s younger brother described the abuse.  “”They’d make us eat chilli. When we eat and spit it out, they’d make us eat it again. They’d rub medicated oil on our face. They’d make us do squats, 1,000 times and walk like a duck. I never said I didn’t want to because I was scared they’d scold me.”

The same news report continued to state that there were investigations into 248 reports of child abuse in 2012.  7 of these turned out to be false and 94 “had evidence of abuse.”  The report did not explain what happened to the other investigations of the other 147 cases of child abuse that were reported.

Here’s the thing.  Research.  Research, upon research do not support punishments in helping children’s academic ability and do not increase academic success.  Punishments decrease academic ability and success.  Punishments demotivate a child.  A child who is punished and demotivated does not want to learn.  A child humiliated becomes less confident.

Punishments not only diminish a child’s cognitive ability, punishments corrode all the domains of the child’s development; physical, cognitive, social, emotional, psychological).  Punishments make a child defiant especially when the punishment is deemed as unfair and the child perceives the punisher as a bully.

If the punishment is constant enough, the effects of corrosion in the child’s sense of self-concept are devastating.  A positive or negative self-concept plays a pivotal role in a child’s outlook in life.  It sets the course of his or her attitude in life.

A person with a positive self-concept will have a positive outlook.  He is also more resilient.  This person will view tasks as challenges to be conquered, life as an adventure, and a journey to be enjoyed.  A person with a positive self-concept believes, “I can do it”.  A person with a positive self-concept has a higher degree of “sticktoitiveness”.   He perseveres with a task even when he meets with obstacles and challenges along the way.  He is not afraid to volunteer to perform tasks or activities.  He is not afraid to try.  In fact, he wants and cannot wait to try.

A person with negative self-concept, on the other hand, is daunted by challenges.  He believes he is unable to manage a task even before he commences on attempting it.  He sees himself as a failure, constantly!  This person is not resilient and little things easily discourage, demotivate, stress, and frustrate him.  He is less unlikely to persevere with a task when he meets with an obstacle or a challenge.  He will rarely volunteer himself for anything.  His mind is set to, “I cannot do it”.  He does not believe in himself and he does not believe others believe in him.

Self-concept includes 4 other very important processes.  They include, self-recognition, self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-definition.  These components interact with one another and each affect one another.  Therefore, self-concept can affect

▪                How the child recognizes himself?

▪                How realistic he is of his abilities and inabilities?

▪                How accepting is he of his abilities and abilities?

Children need to be helped to understand that everyone has strength and weaknesses and while we may be better than others at certain skills, there will be others who will be better than us at certain skills and be perfectly fine with that.

▪                How a child defines himself, “Who am I?” in his eyes and the eyes of the people    in his social world, from his perspective?

A child with a poor self-concept usually perceives himself as someone of little value and ability. A person can tell that child, “I can see that you have been practicing very hard.  You are really hitting the targets” and he will find it very hard to believe you.  He will think that you are just saying that because you are his mommy or a significant someone who loves him, or someone who is being kind to him.

These effects will follow a person through to adulthood if there is no intervention.  It is said that by 5 years of age, children’s outlook in life, whether positive or negative would be pretty much determined by about 50%, influenced mainly by their social experiences, especially interactions with significant adults in their world.  The next most influential phase is 6 to 12 years.  The early years are what educators would term as “windows of opportunities”.  During this time, children’s maturation across all developmental domains is most rapid and neurological pathways in the brain are build and strengthen.

Punishment, be it emotional, physical, psychological, etc, must never be supported, must never be given a voice.  Punishment, along with those who use it on those helpless under them must be silenced.  Too often we give chance upon chance to teachers and adults who use punishment on children.  We know how severe the effects of punishment are but we do not stand up against it.  We sometimes even attempt to justify the actions of those who abuse and punish harshly.  If those responsible for children cannot educate, parent, or care for children with love and kindness, if they cannot be around children responsibly, then it is time we make a stand for the children. We must stop with the excuses and justifications.  Adults have the means to learn the best techniques and ways of responding to children.  There are courses that they can pursue or talks that they can attend.  If they do not have the time, then these strategies are just a few appropriate words and a few clicks away, on the internet  The internet is rich with information about the best ways of responding to children, there are support online groups for parents, forums that parents can join to discuss and get ideas from.  Punishing children is bullying and ignorance is not an excuse.  Not in this day and age when information are literally at your fingertips.

We have had generations of children gone by, put through an education system, which subscribed and continues to subscribe to forms of punishment, humiliation, praises, and rewards.  Singapore teachers from preschool level on. praised and rewarded the “smarter ones” while they punished those who were not as academically proficient.  These children were considered “lazy”, “stupid”, “numbskull”, “naughty”, “worthless”, “useless”, and the list of derogatory terms were limited only to the teachers’ or parents’ imagination or vocabulary.  Children who needed helping hands, kinder words, less judgment were instead often ridiculed and punished by their teachers.  Generations of teachers and adults punished children with little understanding of child development and what a system of punishments and humiliation or/and praise and rewards can do to generations of children who go on to be adults.

We can see the consequences of punishment by looking at our society today.  Forgive me but for the longest time I have said that we have become “emotionally and socially retarded”.  Our society is too inward looking to care much for looking out to see who among our society is unhappy, is depressed, and needs a listening ear.  We care little for those beyond our immediate family.  We care little for the marginalized, the poor, the challenged, the elderly, the homeless, or the disadvantaged.  We allow the abuse of other people in our society to exist as long as we think we are safe, we have food on the table, our lives are comfortable, as long as we are not affected.  We care only about bread and butter issues.  Human rights issues have been more often than not, deemed as lofty ideas or western concepts.  The act of speaking out against the system for those more disadvantaged than us was perceived as lunacy or social depravation and those who did the speaking out were casted as lunatics and even psychopaths. We became an apathetic society, until some of the burdens of the abused became our burdens and we too became part of the disadvantaged.

As the population increased and continues to increase through our government’s open foreign policies, on our little island, our world has become more complex, more competitive, and our living conditions, more stressful.  Singaporeans now have to struggle more to get a job and to retain that job.  Inflation as a result of the increasing population has made it very much harder for those who provide for the family.  Breadwinners now have to work harder or even work at more than one job to put food on the table, to put their children through school, to have enough to see to medical needs, and so on.  The dramatic growth in our population has also caused prices of property to surge.  Even prices for public housing intended for the middle to lower income groups have escalate to preposterous levels.  This in turn made it increasingly difficult for more Singaporeans to continue financing the mortgage payments and causing some to lose their homes because of an inability to continue financing the mortgage of their homes.

Then, look at our suicide rates. Singapore has reportedly at least one suicide a day (

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide was Singapore’s top 12 causes of death with 472 people committing suicide in 2011 (

That number has since increased to 487 in 2012, “The highest rate of suicide in 20 years.” (

What do these statistics indicate?

Many of our people who were educated, raised, and now governed by a system of punishment and rewards, are not resilient, not capable of persevering, unable to figure out alternatives, and who see death as the only ultimatum, the only way out.

If we want a generation of truly happy people, people who are not just cognitively capable but also socially aware, emotionally intelligent, psychological sound, and even people who are physically healthy, we must take a very firm stand against punishment.  Punishment is like cancer against society.  It wrecks a child.  It wrecks a society.

Punishing a child is honestly a lazy way of “teaching” your child.  There are now a multitude of techniques and positive discipline strategies that you can find available here on “I Am A Human Being Too” online, and on so many blogs!  You will find a happier person in your child and a happier you.  And do not ever allow your child’s teachers to touch your child or to shame him or her.  Your child does not deserve that kind of treatment. Your child does not deserve to be bullied, in school or anywhere else!

Be a Voice for our children.  Be the Agents of Change. Stop Child Abuse.  Advocate against Punishment.  Advocate against Child Abuse.


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