DR Mike Neville is a forensic psychiatrist who has spent 40 years – mostly in the Bahamas – working in the hospitals, courts and prisons at close quarters with offenders. The father of a recently murdered son, he is bringing his experience and expertise to bear in a series in The Tribune designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the rising levels of crime here.
Week by week Dr Neville examines the causes, effects and potential remedies of crime, from the cradle to the grave, looking at the reasons behind the increasing catalogue of murders, shootings, armed robberies and sexual assaults.
And we want you to be involved. Every Tuesday, you can comment on his articles in The Tribune and call in to an hour’s live phone-in on KISS FM96.1 from 3pm on 677-0961. Dr Neville will welcome views – unconventional, challenging and supportive – from everyone. Join the discussions via comments on tribune242.com, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or listen and ring into the radio today.
By Dr Mike Neville
MANY of our emotions can lead to violence if we have not learnt some sort of coping mechanism so it is important to look at what is actually being taught in the Bahamas.
I have written about how difficult it is to navigate the trials and tribulations of adolescence, but how about trying your luck as a parent? Isn’t it amazing that no one bothers to tell you how difficult it is! Parenting is not easy, but it is a crucial role in the development of society and yet everyone just assumes that we all know how to do it. There are no classes at school or college and often only minimal advice from health services and our churches.
So where to look?
Our mothers and friends maybe, or perhaps we can look to the “good book”. There are certainly some oft-quoted texts in the Bible, particularly Proverbs: “He that spareth the rod hateth his son.”
This is perhaps one of the most quoted scripture and one that I really struggle with. The need to inflict physical pain to demonstrate love goes against all my natural instincts. I can also find no passage or image depicting Jesus with a rod beating children; in fact Jesus seems to have favoured nurturing and respecting children and developing internal moral values.
Where else to look? Who do we all respect?
Mahatma Gandhi says “Power is of two kinds. One is gained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and more permanent than the one derived from the fear of punishment.”
Martin Luther King Jr said “I am sick and tired of violence ... I’m tired of war and conflict in the world. I’m tired of shooting. I’m tired of hatred. I’m tired of selfishness. I’m tired of evil. I’m not going to use violence, no matter who says it.”
It remains difficult to push aside Proverbs, but even though the fundamentalist belief is that the Old Testament is absolute, there are now other recommendations that we must look at very seriously.
What does clinical research show that works in bringing up children and what does not?
There are many studies that have shown that corporal punishment is associated with increases in violence during later life, including violence against spouses and their own children; it is also associated with approval of violence. It seems to work against the ethical development of children as it teaches violence as an appropriate response to problem-solving and restricts opportunities to learn non-violent methods of conflict resolution.
The problem is that it does work as a temporary solution and so the use of fear and pain can be tempting; even Pope Francis joined the debate recently, stating that it was all right to smack a child as long as their dignity was maintained. There was a great deal of objection from child abuse experts and it has been argued that his comments were taken out of context and he was not actually supporting corporal punishment.
The new world of instant media and sound bites makes context a rare luxury.
The research is clear: it creates immediate compliance but only teaches children to behave out of fear and they do not develop understanding or a moral compass to steer them through life. There are simply better ways to teach discipline that have lasting effects.
I am often told that it is a cultural issue that I and other Europeans could not understand. Maybe that is so, but there is an increasing body of research that suggests otherwise. In Tanzania, where corporal punishment is still legal at home and in schools, it is used frequently. The research states that the use of physical punishment may be reinforced by the belief of many parents that their children intentionally misbehave and need to learn to respect the parents’ authority to avoid long term behavioural problems.
There are conservative religious and sociopolitical beliefs that sound similar to views in the Bahamas. The problem is that the research has demonstrated that corporal punishment is not linked with positive outcomes: in fact the research showed that, just as the results in European countries, it is linked to increased childhood aggression, increases in child delinquent and anti-social behaviour along with criminal and anti-social behaviour in adulthood.
The researchers conclude that the commonly-held assumption that corporal punishment does no or less harm in countries or groups where it is the norm rather than the exception. They also feel the need to warn and inform caregivers, governmental organisations and the population at large of the damaging effects of corporal punishment.
“Violence begets violence” was a phrase often used by Dr King and the exposure to violence growing up in the Bahamas can be extreme. What effect will it have on your development if you see your parents fighting, what does it teach you?
Perhaps you will learn that this is the coping strategy for when things are difficult. It is teaching that violence is an appropriate response, that it is acceptable for powerful people to be violent towards the weak and that conflict should be resolved by violence.
At the moment the road to success, money and power is not open to all. This leads many young men and women to look for shortcuts to reach this much desired pinnacle, without the hard work, patience and abilities required. It sadly can be achieved by aggression and violence; the same fear and power they learned as children can be easily replaced with knives or guns as they also achieve temporary compliance – or if the person is not suitably afraid, they just kill them to scare others.
The rising inequality within society is creating more and more vulnerable groups within the Bahamas and the whole Caribbean and the only solution so far seems to be that society needs to be more violent than the criminals.
Like most wars, that approach never ends.
It may well be that we have a significant group of young men and women which will not respond to any initiatives that we may devise; they must be arrested, charged, convicted and locked away for an extremely long time.
The research, however, now can help us reduce the risks of violence in the future. There seems to be a lack of non-violent parental and caregiving skills, excessive demands due to large families with little outside assistance and helplessness due to unemployment and poverty. Could parents and teachers benefit from learning improved non-violent disciplinary and parenting skills and is it possible to create such a large cultural shift?
There will never be peace in the Bahamas as long as we continue to teach children that violence is the only way to solve conflicts. The lesson that they have learnt is not the one intended and this violence is now haunting the nation.
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