Kool Kanya News / Speaking Out

UNICEF Study Reveals The Gendered Ways Parents Discipline Children

. 3 min read . Written by Sanjana Bhagwat
UNICEF Study Reveals The Gendered Ways Parents Discipline Children

A study released by UNICEF reveals that there are over 30 different forms of physical, emotional and verbal abuse that parents subject their children to – under the justification of necessary disciplining.

Trigger Warning – Sensitive details of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse 

Abuse Directed At Children In The Guise Of Disciplining

Children bear the brunt of their parents’ anger displayed in the form of physical violence. This includes such acts of aggression as burning, pinching, pushing, shaking, slapping with hands, beating with stick, twisting of ears, hitting with an object, and beating with other implements like belts or rods etc.

Parents can also be verbally abusive towards their children – constantly criticising, blaming, shouting, calling children hurtful names, and subjecting them to bad or abusive language.

The forms of punishment can get increasingly toxic and emotionally abusive , from denying them food, restricting their movement, ridiculing or mocking them, ignoring them, creating fear, discriminating, comparing, bullying, sending them away from home, secluding or leaving children unattended, to threatening them with bodily harm.

The research shows that these forms of abusive “disciplining” and punishment were used on the children for behaviour as minor as watching TV or playing for too long, not taking up household chores voluntarily or refusing to do them, or not completing their homework.

How The Reasons For Punishment, And Response To It, Differs Between Boys and Girls

The research found that boys were usually punished for refusing to work, or disrespecting and abusing elders.

Girls on the other hand, were subjected to “disciplining” for infractions such as leaving their hair open, making “unnecessary demands”, losing money, or not finishing their household chores.

This response is in sync with the gendered socialisation that the study found parents expose their daughters to, at as young as 3 or 6 years-old.

Mothers teach female children that they must be mindful of what they wear, sit ‘properly’, be polite, and obey their elders. Fathers instruct daughters that they need to voluntarily engage in household chores. Grandparents advice female children to keep their eyes down and walk slowly in front of elders.

These values and instructions are rarely, if ever, imparted to male children.

Male and female children also respond differently to display of violence towards themselves by a parent, or between family members in the house.

While male children tend to develop feelings of anger towards the aggressor – especially if the aggressor is the father – female children tend to blame themselves for the violence, and isolate themselves out of fear.

The Way We Raise Our Children Determines The Way They Interact With The World

Our desi parenting culture has been steeped in traditions of raising the child with “strict values” and “a stern hand”. The result isn’t just long-lasting tense and toxic relationships between the parent and child, but also long-term harmful impacts on the child’s psyche and behaviour.

UNICEF has stated, “The early years in a child’s life build the foundation for their growth and development. Positive parenting is critical in early childhood. A lack of positive relationships, and inadequate supervision and involvement with children are strongly associated with a child’s increased risk for behavioural and emotional problems. They also affect brain development, with a long-term impact on children.”

Mothers instill the same harmful conditioning and fears in their daughter that were instilled in them. Fathers display the same violent behaviour that they witnessed being displayed by the men in their family as children.

Abusive behaviour in the name of “this is how my parents did it and I turned out just fine” is never okay. Parents have the power to nurture and shape the next generation – a power that must be used to help them, not hold over them.

We need to de-normalise violence, the instilling of gendered fear and discrimination in children, and emotionally abusive parenting.  Positive parenting can have far-reaching impacts not only on the children, but through them, also the world.

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