Inner City Diary
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Gvmts need parental authority to fight youth crime
April 13, 2003
A few nights ago, I ran into a friend doing night duty as a police officer in the neighbourhood.

First, we caught up on each other’s “news.” Then we moved to something I’d describe as a “crime forecast” for this summer. It sounded like a weather forecast on the evening news.

I’ll paraphrase our forecast. “There’s a new low moving in from Ottawa, creating a high pressure system and lots of instability on the streets of Winnipeg.” Translation? The “new low from Ottawa” is the Youth Criminal Justice Act. We figured its stormy effects will be felt throughout Winnipeg this summer. The law weakens a sense of accountability for crime, without strengthening supports for rehabilitation. And it adds babysitting & taxing offenders home to the responsibilities of law enforcement officers.

One friend commented, “Governments are just offloading their responsibilities. Instead of courts doing what they can to get help to troubled kids, the government tells cops to just drive young troublemakers home and tell them to behave better next time.”

“I think I know what they’re aiming for. Rehabilitation is better than incarceration. Our justice system is messed up. Most kids would do better with a little parental discipline than with months of remanded court appearances and a joke of a sentence at the end of the process.”

But the premise of parental discipline is only as solid as the parent administering the discipline.

And this becomes more problematic when our culture undermines the authority of parents to raise and discipline their kids. Here’s one example...

As young parents, Virginia and I wanted to do our best for our kids. Always willing to learn, we attended several parenting courses.

One such course was taught at a local school by a social worker from CFS. She admitted she didn’t have any kids of her own. But she had plenty of advice for a diverse audience of committed parents from different cultures.

When she got to the subject of discipline, she emphasized positive reinforcement and “time outs” as the discipline of choice for parents. She suggested that all spanking permanently damages kids and is wrong because it teaches kids that the use of force is okay to control another person.

Looking at the parents around the room, I knew many of them disagreed. But none would openly question her authority and risk the wrath of CFS. It sounded like she would interpret any spanking as child abuse.

Not thinking of the possible repercussions, I countered, “We spank our kids and I don’t think it’s damaged them – emotionally or physically.”

There was a sudden silence in the room. Immigrant parents were shocked that someone would publicly disagree with the agent of the state. They nervously awaited her reaction. I also wondered about the consequences of my public admission. Part of me wondered if the worker would rush from the parenting class to apprehend our kids.

I tried to explain. “Following your logic that spankings teach violence, ‘time outs’ must teach kids that forcible confinement is an approved means of control. And your notion of “positive reinforcement” could just as easily affirm extortion and bribery. Physical discipline via a swift swat to the rear is both an immediate consequence and physical reminder to avoid repeating the same mistakes.” 

Abuse is a horrible thing. I know that for some, discipline can get abusive. That can’t be excused. But it’s dangerous for authorities to scold parents for something when it’s not abusive. 

I had great parents. Excellent role models, diligent workers, loving parents. But when I caused enough trouble, I knew there was a chance I’d be the recipient of some old-fashioned discipline. I never got a spanking I didn’t deserve. And those who knew me figured I deserved many more than I got.

Spanking wasn’t their only form of discipline. I got lots of positive reinforcement. The supportive hand on the shoulder and hugs far outnumbered the spankings. They didn’t use physical discipline as physical coercion. Just as an object lesson in immediate consequences and discomfort for doing something wrong or dangerous.

I still rebelled. And they still disciplined. But their discipline was outweighed by their affection. Ultimately, their positive role modeling was my best incentive to live well and do good.

Before we get too critical of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it might be good to remember the days when bringing a kid home to face the music was an effective way to address youthful misdeeds.

Government can’t have it both ways. They should do their best to support families and not allow biased social workers to undermine or threaten legitimate and historically effective parenting styles and techniques.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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