Having children is a privilege many of us take for granted. As wonderful and rewarding as it is, by no means is it easy. One of the hardest parts of bringing up children is the discipline aspect and it has been a hotly debated topic for years. For many of us, cultural differences in parenting style and discipline are things we struggle with.
For older Asian/Arab parents’ harsh discipline was seen as a must for a good upbringing. Most from that generation believed, and still believe, that harsh discipline and physical punishment is the only way to teach children right from wrong. They took an authoritarian approach, in which parents in which choice for a child was removed and control emphasised. This strictness was seen as a way to protect children from harm. Fear was a way to achieve better behaviour, good exam results and to learn respect. This was their way to bring up children ‘properly’ and more often than not, something they learned from their parents.
As the daughter of Shia-Arab immigrant parents, I was more in fear of the threat then the action itself. Did it actually serve any meaningful purpose, improve my behaviour or exam grades? Not for me.
Imam Ali (A.S.) said:
“The intelligent person gets guidance through politeness; it is only the animals that cannot be corrected without beatings.” Gharar al hukm, p. 236 (Shia source)
Studies, on smacking and hitting as a form of discipline, confirmed that they not only harmed the child at the time this form of discipline was used but also impacted their behaviour in the future. It often leads to the child having anger issues and bullying other kids. As a mum, I know my kids don’t always do what I tell them to do, rather they do what they see me doing. So, if they have a violent environment at home, then they are likely to replicate at school or when they are older. The parents end up being seen as the role model for everything the children want to avoid in their life. What’s more, they will resent their parents and feel the need to establish a distance from them.
Now I am not saying that children don’t need discipline, far from it. Children thrive and do much better in households where they have clear set forms of discipline and boundaries. My issue is that this never needs to be in any physical form or through manipulative control. Alhamdulillah attitudes have really changed for the better in the last decade and our communities have really turned away from such forms of discipline. It is seen as shameful, unnecessary and dangerous.
Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said:
“Use love and affection in education and upbringing and don’t have access to cruelty because a wise mentor is better than a cruel one.” Bihar al-anwar, v 77, p. 175 (Shia source)
In the United Kingdom, it is against the law for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this amounts to “reasonable punishment”. This defence is laid down in section 58 of the Children Act 2004, but it is not defined in this legislation. Whether a ‘smack’ amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the reason for the punishment.
There are strict guidelines covering the use of reasonable punishment and a parent could be charged under Actual Bodily Harm if they cause physical harm to their child. This could inevitably result in a prison sentence. If the violence you use is severe enough to leave a mark, for example a scratch or a bruise, you can be prosecuted for assault or the child can be taken into local authority care.
Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: “As your father has a right over you, so does your progeny have a similar right.” Majma al zawaid, v 8, p. 146
“As are the children disinherited for their disobedience so also it is possible that the parents may be disowned by the children for not fulfilling their bonding duties.”Bihar al-anwar, v 19, p. 93
“Allah’s curse on such parents who become the cause of disinheriting their children.” Makarim al akhlaq, p 518 (Shia source)
From my point of view, there is never a place for physical punishments for children in any circumstance. Allah teaches us to show compassion, mercy and love to them. They are a precious gift to us from Allah and should be treated as that. We all need to be a shining example to them and lead them on the right path by example not violence.
What were your experiences growing up? What do you do differently with your own children? Let us know in the comments.
Disclaimer: Islamic references made above are from the Shia perspective of the author and referenced accordingly.
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