I had a rather unsavoury encounter hanging on to a pole (the steel kind as opposed to the Eastern European kind) on the London underground train system this December. As the train pulled off, I became aware of a commotion moving towards me, hidden in a sea of people. The commotion swore a lot and got many angry responses from the people it bumped into.
It finally emerged from the tightly packed, newspaper-clutching commuters and revealed itself as a belligerent ensemble of three scruffy British teenagers roughly between the ages of 15 and 17, at my best guess. They had pushed through the people, using their elbows and swearing at anybody that did not get out of their way. They came to a halt right next to me and gave me a sulky glance before turning their backs and chatting inanely about some school friend they were all going to “poonch in the nooz ciz heez a fooking wunker”.
Somewhere between stations, the obnoxious little louts pulled handfuls of restaurant sugar sachets out of their pockets and started ripping the ends off and throwing them at each other. As I looked on, the sugar fight intensified and I started getting caught in the crossfire. Initially I moved slightly out of the way to avoid the flak, but miraculously it now seemed to follow me. There was nowhere else to move on the crowded train and soon it became obvious that I was one of the targets. I ignored it for as long as I could, being in a foreign country and all, but eventually grabbed the sleeve of the closest snivelling teenage sucrose artist and told him to cool it and aim at his friends and not at me.
Now when I grew up in Benoni, should I have gotten as far as throwing sugar on a train full of people, a strange grown man telling me to stop doing what I clearly knew to be wrong would have been enough for me to slink away and stop at once. I was no angel, but I knew the limits. Not these spawn of the dark lord. As I was turning away, said teenager took a sachet, ripped it open and threw the contents directly at my face.
I grabbed him by the throat and rammed him a few times with some force against the door of the train. Realising I was in the UK and not Benoni any more, I managed with quite some restraint not to slap the little bastard and opted for what I thought would be a simultaneously terrifying and civilised punishment. I whipped out my new cellphone, flicked on the camera and snapped a picture and growled that I would be emailing it to the Tube authorities after reporting them at the next station. I was studiously ignored by everyone else around me.
Now had the kid noticed that the phone-camera lens was actually on the reverse of the phone and that I had just taken a picture of my own red, indignant face by mistake, instead of his, I would probably have had to slap him simply to save face — only kidding, concerned parents and human rights lawyers. As it turned out, he did not and they all pulled little hoods over their heads and literally shoved off, shouting obscenities at me that would make a hooker blush.
When I told this story to people I know in London, each of them had 10 stories worse than mine. Kids stoning cars while their parents apathetically looked on; young teenage girls on buses swearing at and verbally abusing octogenarian war veterans that fought in trenches and lost eyes, limbs and comrades for the rights and freedoms that the same ungrateful miscreants enjoy today; teenagers stabbing and beating up lone people to within inches of their lives and in one case blinding a guy with a broken bottle. Am I the only person here that thinks something has gone horrible wrong with this little experiment?
In a country that in some ways could be called the epicentre of manners and politeness, these kinds of events now occur daily. You see, kids and teenagers in Britain know that you literally can’t touch them. They know their rights and they know that they don’t have to show respect or common decency to anyone. That list includes their parents, their teachers, policemen, officials of any kind and, right at the bottom of the barrel, total strangers. When negotiations fail and the kids are simply just beyond control, pushing boundaries and revelling in their new-found power like Bob Mugabe on a land-grab spree, not even their own parents can lift a hand to them in an effort to reign them in. There is literally nothing they can do except beg politely for compliance from diddums in a vain hope that he or she will listen.
I can already see the indignant parents posting comments below where they berate me for my behaviour in this incident, imploring me to use the modern techniques of negotiation and talking through the problem and probably to grow up as well. I should no doubt have just stood there and taken the abuse. Children are just little people who can be negotiated with like any adult as long as you give them the respect they deserve, right? Wrong. A layman’s survey of British teenagers is all the proof you need that a nation producing kids without boundaries is a nation with a growing social time bomb. America and its dysfunctional, gun-toting high-school students simply adds additional weight to the argument. Ask any South African teacher how the kids they teach today compare with those of 10 or 20 years ago, and your picture will be complete.
My argument is this: it is neither my job nor my desire to discipline somebody else’s brat. Frankly, I just don’t care to negotiate with anyone who openly shows me no respect. I am simply not responsible for their training on how to fit into society. I give and expect socially acceptable forms of respect from every human being I meet and will react accordingly. That means acting negatively and, if necessary, violently to threatening aggression and disrespect.
All normal humans behave this way in general, whether we think so or not. That is how we are genetically programmed to respond — respectful in the face of respect but aggressive in retaliation to aggression. It is called a retaliator strategy, first proposed by J Maynard Smith. The retaliator strategy has been proven to be the only stable evolutionary survival strategy for humans and, in fact, most species over the past few million years, and hence that is how we are. Read Professor Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene if you think I making this up.
So, by all means, let your kids be aggressive, ill-disciplined brats and think that you are giving them the tools to succeed. You are actually exposing them to an increased likelihood of aggression and retaliation if they go around provoking other people. There is always a bigger brat lurking somewhere whose parents were even less able to negotiate than you were, and that bigger brat will probably inflict harm on your smaller brat way in excess of your spanking.
“Child abuse, child abuse,” I hear you say in a shocked and disapproving tone. Well, that means you are effectively calling my parents (and probably yours too) child abusers. They should rightly be horrified at your accusations and you should really examine the weight and implication of your label.
My parents, like all good parents, talked and negotiated first, but when I did not listen and repeatedly crossed the boundary of what they considered acceptable social behaviour, they gave naughty Grantie a little slap. The first one I ever got apparently broke my rather suicidal habit of putting my fingers into plug sockets — child abuse, my arse! It potentially saved my life. I was probably smacked a total of about 10 times by my parents in the time I spent under their watchful eye. I was never physically harmed in any way, but it was the language of choice when repeated negotiation failed and there were still important lessons to learn. I understood that language as you did and as every child does.
It is sadly no mystery why so many countries have legislation banning all adults, including parents and teachers, from even touching a child with the open hand. Regrettably, there exists a bunch of insecure, compensating, warped psychos who abuse children and prey on their innocence. These people hit and punch instead of spank. They lash out to injure, hurt and maim, and laws to protect children subjected to such horrible abuse are absolutely necessary. In between these small pockets of violent, abusive trolls there are the masses who love their children and for whom a spank is a last but sometimes necessary resort.
The question is: Has the pendulum swung too far in the protection of naughty children? It would not seem so when faced with the horrors we read about in our daily newspapers, but I believe it has indeed swung too far. We are targeting and legislating against the innocent to save our children instead of the guilty. We are using a battering ram to open the door instead of the key. It is also no mystery why the current generation is loud, rude and disrespectful while our grandparents all had impeccable manners and interacted in a calm, pleasant and civilised way with each other. They were all brought up properly, understanding the concept of respect with crystal clarity, while large swathes of the current generation were not.
Now the question you want to be asking yourself, dear horrified non-spanker, is if I fail to teach my kids the boundaries at home, where I can control the smack-smack, the loving but firm paddy-whack, the ancient language of enough-is-enough, and some nasty foreign man on a Tube loses his cool (I hear this happens from time to time from a friend of a friend!) and administers a solid, face-reconfiguring thumping to my fat, precocious, pimply-bottomed yet much-beloved son, a) which one is more damaging to the kid and b) who is actually to blame for the situation? Were you not first and foremost amiss in your duty as parent to teach your kid adequate survival skills suitable for our increasingly hostile world and show the little tyke his or her social boundaries?
You see, respect is not just a nice-to-have. It may save your precious little ankle-biter’s life one day. Show disrespect to the wrong mammals and they will not necessarily behave as meekly as your damp, liberated, negotiable parents did. You will learn the lesson from someone who couldn’t care a damn about you or your psychological health instead of from someone who cares greatly. Embrace the measured and well-applied spank; it’s good for you and for all of us!