Jamaican Child-Rearing Practices: The Role of Corporal Punishment

By Smith, Delores E.; Mosby, Gail | Adolescence, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Jamaican Child-Rearing Practices: The Role of Corporal Punishment


Smith, Delores E., Mosby, Gail, Adolescence


Parents in all societies grapple with how to raise their children in a way that prepares them for the complexities of life (Yorburg, 2002) and equips them to one day become parents themselves (Hamner & Turner, 2001). In order to accomplish this daunting task, parents rely on their own socialization into parenting, their intuitive sense of right and wrong, and their overall cultural beliefs (Hamner & Turner, 2001). The sanctions of these influences create a prerogative that confers upon parents the responsibility to guide their children to become competent, responsible, and fully functioning members of society.

Culture guides parents' beliefs about child discipline, behavior management, and control. In Jamaica, a small island nation of 2.5 million people, cultural beliefs have given rise to a parenting style that has been shown to negatively affect children's psychosocial outcomes, leading to serious concerns about the psychological adjustment of Jamaican children and adolescents (Crawford-Brown, 1999; Leo-Rhynie, 1997).

According to ecological theory, the overlapping influences of the various cultural environments impact the individual's development and overall well-being (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). Although there is no research specifically showing a causal link between problem behaviors and emotional well-being in Jamaica, the popular assumption is that the increase in antisocial behaviors in that society emanates from an impaired sense of self-worth and psychological maladjustment among youth. From that assumption arises speculation about the source of that impairment and its concomitant problem behaviors. The most forceful conjecture centers on cultural socialization practices, particularly child rearing (Evans & Davies, 1997; Leo-Rhynie, 1997; Sharpe, 1997).

The purpose of this article is to examine the plausibility of speculations regarding harsh child-rearing practices and the psychosocial adjustment of Jamaican children and adolescents. It reviews the research literature on the effects of harsh physical punishment and offers recommendations for addressing the issue of excessive and inappropriate discipline. Recommendations are also offered for preventing and, perhaps, reversing the trend of antisocial and destructive behaviors that are thought to be linked to Jamaican child-rearing practices.

JAMAICAN CHILD-REARING PRACTICES

The dominant Caribbean parenting style is authoritarian, an approach consistently found to thwart optimal child socioemotional outcomes in Western cultures (Baumrind, 1991). In keeping with this authoritarian style, Jamaican parenting has been characterized as highly repressive, severe, and abusive (Arnold, 1982; Leo-Rhynie, 1997; Sharpe, 1997) and the disciplining of children described as inconsistent and developmentally inappropriate (Sloley, 1999). In fact, the sparse literature on Jamaican family processes has attested to the pervasiveness of corporal punishment and other violent disciplinary measures meted out to children by adults (Phillips 1973; Evans & Davies, 1997; Walker, Grantham-McGregor, Himes, Williams, & Duff, 1998). Flogging, the most common response of adults to perceived misbehavior in Jamaican children (Leo-Rhynie, 1997; Smith, 1989), has been vividly described. Arnold (1982) has stated: "At times the 'beating' as it is commonly called can be severe and bears no relevance to the age of the child nor the stage of its development" (p. 141). The flogging of children "is carried out in such a way as to appear almost brutal. The hand, a stick, a belt, a shoe, or a tamarind switch are used to beat children to ensure compliance" (Leo-Rhynie, 1997, p. 44). Discipline 'becomes severely enforced through 'shouting' and 'flogging' or 'beating.' Children are punished in this way for lying, stealing, disobedience, impoliteness and not completing their chores. 'Playing in the house,' 'crying too much' and 'not eating the meal provided' also constitute misdemeanours which warrant a 'beating'" (Barrow, 1996, p. …

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