/ 3 February 2012

Spare the rod, raise a brat

My housemate and I went to watch a movie last week titled We Need to Talk about Kevin at Cinema ­Nouveau. We had no idea that the film was an adaptation of a book of the same title, about a malicious little boy whose parents are­ ­incapable of instilling any form of discipline in their child.

The result is an infuriating series of events that left us shocked and irritated, but also conjured up good childhood memories of ukutywatyushwa ngoswazi in other words, being beaten with a stick by our ever-ready-to-discipline parents whenever we expressed insolence.

Now that I am older, I see the value of their no-nonsense approach to child-rearing, an approach that is slowly petering out the more nonWestern cultures become assimilated into a Western perspective. In that world, children are treated like precious angels over whom one must constantly fuss. My friend recalls that, at Woolworths recently, she ­witnessed a young black mother repeatedly pleading with her two-year-old son not to run into the street. “Please my boy, the cars are going to bump you,” she said, which only encouraged the child to run about more wildly.

We knew we were loved, but we were never fussed over and we could not avoid discipline. If we crossed a certain boundary, we knew the consequence was a swollen hand.

There is a scene in the movie in which the mother, played by Tilda Swinton, knocks on the door of her eight-year-old son’s bedroom, to which he angrily responds: “Not now!” My housemate and I almost fell out of our chairs. Everyone else sat complacently. By the standards of our upbringing, the notion of a mother knocking on a child’s door would be simply ­ridiculous.

As an adult, privacy is something I cannot live without, but it is something I have had to earn. I have not always had it. Despite the hand-drawn sign on the door of the room I shared with my sister — “Milisa and Singalakha’s room: knock before entering” — my parents had the liberty to enter our room at all hours. We were simply emulating what we saw on American sitcoms. We also picked up expressions such as “It’s not fair” and “I hate you”, but we only imagined saying these things and then slamming the door.

There is something in the English language that affords liberties: other languages just do not allow for such loss of respect. My housemate recalls saying to her mother at the age of 15 that she was living in a “fool’s paradise”, to which her mother responded “Khawuyiphinde ngesiXhosa mntanam” (Say that again in isiXhosa, my child).

Of course, she could not say it because she knew that she would be throwing herself into the lion’s den.

I am sure I will understand, once I am a parent, that there is no right or wrong formula for raising a child.

But it is also important to remember that it is unwise to forget the old ways.