The Changing Face Of Discipline: How The Rod Softened

By Jean Issacs

Discipline means different things to different people. Ideally, discipline works towards the improvement of the mental faculty and moral character of an individual. Distinct trends of discipline emerge as we trace its pattern down the years from post colonial times.

Discipline In The Post-Independence Era

To parents of the fifties and sixties, discipline generally had a negative connotation. Such parents assumed ‘control’ by demanding unquestioning obedience, often through threat of punishment.

The joint family was the norm. Children had to contend with censure from the extended family too. Families were large and older siblings disciplined the younger ones. Sensitive children wilted under the pressure, but most got by without a scar on their psyche. (The fact that they had more hiding places in those sprawling family houses into which to ‘escape’ probably helped.)

Parent-child relationships were pretty formal, not meaning that there was less love involved. Both parents and kids back then simply didn’t know HOW to show their love. They were embarrassed by displays of affection or felt it would undermine their authority.

Other hallmarks of those ‘Dark Ages’:

•    What the neighbors thought was important. A blot on the family name was unthinkable!
•    Discipline was often the cause rather than the cure of ‘undesirable behavior’.
•    Gender differences were accentuated. Chores were gender specific. Girls had to be ‘prim and proper’ and learn the social graces with a view to marrying ‘well’.
•    Most schools still believed in corporal punishment. Parents didn’t interfere and children didn’t complain, fearing greater wrath at home.

Discipline In The 70s, 80s and 90s

Though products of moralistic upbringing, parents of this era tried to find a balance. Control was still the watchword, but they tried to address the generation gap by being friends to their children. Independence was granted to a point, and discipline was carried out through dialogue. Good behavior was rewarded. Punishment was meted out, but not without explanation for it. Physical punishment was on the wane.

This was the era in which the nuclear family evolved, and times tended to be difficult financially and emotionally. Being better educated than their counterparts of the previous generation, women took up jobs to help augment the family income and to find fulfillment. The number of children in an average household was two.

Parental visits to school were restricted to PTA meetings. Parents didn’t question the method of discipline carried out. The importance of education was emphasized for both boys and girls. The hold society had on the previous generation was loosening. Having broken the shackles of the uncompromising discipline of the previous generation, parents of this period laid the foundation that today’s generation build on.

Discipline in the 21st Century

People with high self-esteem levels usually feel that their parents did a fine job of parenting. The tendency to adopt the same style of disciplining is tempting, but the present day parent is alive to the current context, in which there are no absolutes.

Previously, adults were trained to stay in the same job till they retired. Today, they train for flexibility since the jobs they are training for may not exist a few years from now. There is greater emphasis on adaptation, even in the realm of disciplining children. Today’s parents are increasingly aware that the solution has to come from within the child.

Discipline has acquired a new connotation. Children are allowed to pick up social graces by examples along life’s way. Parents are conscious of the need for ‘quality time’ with their kids. The focus is on allowing the child to grow without crushing his/her ‘spirit’. Boys and girls are treated alike. However…

Spare the rod is the new mantra for disciplining kids in the 21st century

Too Much Of A Good Thing?

This age’s competitiveness and our own busy schedules often make us overambitious for our kids.

•    Some of us draw up schedules for them that intentionally fill their every waking moment, including math classes, personality development workshops and so on. (Are we, perhaps, using a subtle way of administering discipline by keeping our children too busy to indulge in ‘mischief’?)
•    Sports and games must be learned ‘by the book’, be it swimming, tennis or cricket, since this imparts self-discipline.
•    Holidays are filled with supervised activities – painting, pottery, and rock climbing to name a few. Holidays spent in simpler activities like climbing trees and eating mangoes off them are getting rarer (perhaps because there are no mango trees to climb or open spaces to cycle in left?)

Yet, We Have Evolved

Democratic discussions, with children expressing their opinions, are now increasingly accepted. Parents lay down what is allowed and what is not, but trust their kids to make the right choices, believing that discipline comes from self-motivation, peers and role models. Well-versed with today’s progressive laws, we complain about errant teachers to the school board. Of course, some of us go overboard with this by becoming overprotective.

Of course, there are still parents who continue to exercise the discipline model of the fifties – just as there were parents in the fifties using progressive techniques. There is no such thing as a ‘right method’. We must simply remember that discipline doesn’t mean enforcing our will on the child. It is not the end but the means towards helping our kids in becoming well adjusted, happy human beings.

Copyright © Jean Isaacs
With expert inputs from:
Ms. Daisy Pradeep, Counselling Consultant
S 7, (old no. S 84), 17th Street, S Block, Annanagar, Chennai 600 040
Phone: 9940314337
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Additional resources:
  • Positive .Discipline Tools For Parents – Positive Discipline is a program designed to teach young people to become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their communities. Based on the best selling Positive Discipline books  by Dr. Jane Nelsen and co-authors, it teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.
  • Positive Discipline. In The. Classroom: Teacher’s Package – Hundreds of schools use these amazingly effective strategies for restoring order and civility to today’s turbulent classrooms. Now you too can use this philosophy as a foundation for fostering cooperation, problem-solving skills, and mutual respect in children. Imagine, instead of controlling behavior, you can be teaching; instead of confronting apathy, you will enjoy motivated, eager students!
  • Ruling The Roost: Toddler Discipline Guide – Establishing a sound routine is essential for creating a positive and nurturing environment for your infant and toddler to grow and develop. An easy to understand guide that helps any level of parent create a sound and nurturing discipline routine starting as early as 6 months!

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  1. Loving Your Child May 18, 2010