The times we live in demand involvement and support to parents. A large number of research studies tackled Filipino parents’ discipline practices that tend to be abusive. In the parents’ minds, the cultural values of respect for parental authority demands children’s obedience and involves disciplining the child to behave and internalize good values. These are also reflected in the Family Code and in the Child and Youth Welfare Code (Presidential Decree 603). However, empirical research, conceptual papers, and mass media have reported abusive discipline practices of many Filipino parents. Some anti-corporal punishment bills and bills promoting the positive discipline of children have been proposed in both the Congress and the Senate, but not one to date has been made into law. The problem is that parents rarely distinguish between discipline and punishment in their practices, which often fall more into punishment.
A survey done in 1998–1999 on mothers from a randomly selected urban community in Manila (n = 1000) showed mothers used the following types of disciplinary practices:
Nonviolent means (explained why, told to stop) were the most common (98%), followed by yelling or screaming (85%), then spanking with bare hands (76%). Children age 7–11 years old experienced all forms of discipline the most, followed by the 12–17 years old, then 2–6 years old. What is alarming is that those less than two years old also experienced high levels of physical and psychological violence like shaking which can lead to neurological problems for the child. Thirty-two parents interviewed in our parenting program last year admitted verbal and physical abuse and uncontrolled anger (68.8%).
A study of high school students highlighted also the shame-based culture of Filipinos as parents used put-downs, unfair comparisons, fault exaggerating, blaming, regret and rejection in their repertoire of disciplinary practices. A significant number of the psychological and physical discipline practices seemed to be generally practiced in the country, as found in seven other studies. I think many of us have memories of the physical discipline we experienced growing up.
Causes and triggers for the use of physical discipline such as spanking or other violent means were parents’ endorsement of and belief in corporal punishment, parents’ difficulty in managing stressful life events, stress due to economic challenges, lack of knowledge about parenting, and depression. Research also reveals that abusive practices are not limited to families in low socioeconomic status communities but are true among higher-income families.
Parental discipline practices have varied impacts on children. A few studies reported that when children perceive parents’ discipline as normative and culturally accepted, then there was not much adverse outcome on children. However, although children saw the value of the discipline they received, they also voiced the emotional pain and sadness they felt and the tendency for the discipline to become abusive. Harsh physical discipline and use of verbal punishment, even though perceived as common, was associated with more negative outcomes such as higher levels of youth self-reported aggression, externalizing behaviors, and low self-esteem. In our interviews of children who suffered abusive discipline practices, it contributed to the children feeling unloved, afraid, or to become even more stubborn and disobedient.
Research on Filipino discipline practices is helpful as these studies show what happens in many homes in the country. It raises the need to address parents’ thinking and practice of arbitrary and abusive disciplinary measures. There is a definite need for parents to learn what discipline, which has the positive root word of “disciple,” really means and how it differs from punishment. There is a need to uphold the Filipino cultural value of respect and obedience to parents as part of children’s socialization processes in ways that also communicate respect and uphold the value and worth of the child made in God’s image. Parents who cannot handle stress, faced with financial struggles to provide and do not have time to adequately deal with children’s misbehavior, or parents who have problems dealing with uncontrolled anger, need to be advised against the use of corporal punishment. Parents instead need to be trained in positive and alternative ways of disciplining their children that are appropriate to children’s ages, according to the offense made, and to accomplish specific developmental objectives. Parenting classes, as we found in our P4S program, greatly help to lessen if not entirely replace harmful and abusive discipline practices.
Raising children, shaping their character, while attending to their physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs is a full time job that requires wisdom, herculean patience and character. In our religiously dominant culture, the use of the rod in disciplining children has been appealed to and many times misapplied in the context of discipline. I will tackle this and other disciplinary tools next week.