When our fathers desired to impress a child with the importance of doing good they threatened him with hell. Bad little children were supposed to go to hell in those days. Children were supposed to do right through fear of hell. To supplement this, they were promised heaven if they were good.
But children were not afraid of hell--at least, not enough to prevent them from occasionally doing wrong; nor could they be bribed with heaven. So our fathers added corporal punishment. It was a costly effort to build character on fear of punishment and on bribery. It did not work very well.
Critics of modern youth exault the youth of yesteryear But they do so without thinking. Youth has always been the same. It will always be the same. Youth was ever daring and impetuous. It was ever in need of guidance and instruction. It needed sympathy and understanding. Youth never liked correction and instruction. It always wanted its own way--and had it. Each generation has to learn for itself. Knowledge is never ours until we have lived it.
There are better reasons for being and doing good than few of Lucifer and his sulphur baths. There are better reasons for being and doing good than the hope of an eternal residence in Jeovah's Rest Resort. These reasons relate to the present life, not to a hoped-for future existence.
Teach your children that anything is wrong that lessens their mental and physical powers and lowers self-respect. The conservation and improvement of life is the highest aim of Nature. Anything that conflicts with this purpose is wrong. Anything that accords with it is. We receive our rewards and punishments now. We are punished by our sins, not for them. Virtue is its own reward. If we do as we should--if we think and act uprightly--a long life of health, strength, youth, beauty, joy and efficiency will be ours. If we live the contrary way, a shortened life, full of disease, weakness, misery and inefficiency will be our punishment. We should do nothing that weakens the powers of life.
Prince Kropotkin tells us that the barbarians were our superiors not only in refusing to work their children, but also in scorning to beat them. He quotes them as saying:
"THE BODY OF THE CHILD REDDENS FROM THE STROKE, BUT THE FACE OF HIM WHO STRIKES REDDENS FROM SHAME."
Indeed it should bring a blush of shame to the face of him who strikes a child. The pain is greater than an adult realizes. The tender flesh of the child is more sensitive than that of an adult.
But the physical pain, which does not last long, anyway, is the least of the evil effects of this cruelty. Consider, says Alice Park, the "difference between a parent and a young child. If a giant ten or twelve feet tall stood over a man or woman and dealt out blows for infractions of giant-made rules, the parent might realize what he now does to his children. He probably does not know either the pain, the physical injury, the nervous shock the mental effects, nor the effects upon the other children of the family. The effect upon the mother or father is another subject"--but by no means an unimportant one. Beating a child builds brutality in the parent and actually lessens his or her love for the child.
The injury to the 'heart" of a child is often permanent. Feelings of bitterness, hatred and revenge rankle in his bread.
His self-respect is destroyed. No child can ever amount to any-thing when his self-respect is gone. The fear created in the child is hopelessly bad. "Children who have been asked how they felt," says Alice Park, "after being spanked or whipped, have said that it made them want to hit somebody, anybody. Since they didn't dare hit their mothers and fathers, they had a strong impulse to hit other children, or to kick the dog or the cat. One boy said: 'it made me feel ugly all day'." Think of the influence, on the nervous system, it must have had to create this last effect.
A child is such a tender thing! A harsh word, deed, or look wounds it more than we are wont to imagine. A harsh word to a sensitive horse will increase his pulse ten beats a minute. A child is more sensitive than the most sensitive horse, until persistent harsh treatment has hardened him and made him callous.
Never strike or scold children. The blow injures and bruises the spirit even more than it does the flesh.
Beating children is not a savage practice. No savage race is known that has descended so low in the moral and social scale that it beats its children. Among the American Indians, if an angered parent (and very seldom does a parent strike a child unless he or she is angry) struck a child, the parent was punished by some of his or her own kin. Tehan, the "White Indian," who fifty years ago, was leader of a band of Indian "bandits" in Texas and Oklahoma, tells of seeing his mother, in a fit of anger, strike her child. The child's father then chastized the mother.