Cultural Incompatibility: Hitting Children

I hesitate even calling this a cultural incompatibility because this is a behavior, or dare I say, a parenting style that cuts across all cultures. It’s not like machismo, which is widespread throughout Latin America, but male chauvinism varies from place to place.

I’m pretty sure that in all of Scandinavia hitting children is illegal. It was in Denmark anyway. In other places it seems like kids aren’t hit very often. But when I got to South Asia I started to see it more and more often. And I hated it.

The first instance was in Kathmandu, Nepal. I remember it clearly because I was so shocked I started yelling at the mom without even thinking.

The mom and her 5ish-year-old kid were walking down the street. In Kathmandu this means walking on the street since sidewalks don’t really exist. The mom was on the outside, meaning the child was between her and the traffic. I’d call that bad parenting, but what do I know?

All of a sudden a car came very close to the child. The side mirror may have even hit him. I don’t remember. But what happened next left me flabbergasted. The mom started hitting her son to punish him!

Again, what did he do wrong besides walk down the unsafe road next to his mom? It’s the driver’s fault for hitting the child so he could get to the next traffic jam up ahead a fraction of a second faster.

I basically said as much out loud to the mom in an angry voice. Even if she spoke English, I’m sure my passion-fueled angry speech would have been too fast for her to understand. If nothing else she stopped hitting him.

I understand the need to teach kids what is right and wrong, but I would think love is a better teacher in these situations than hitting and anger.

This brings us to something I witnessed in Hyderabad, India. I was at Golconda Fort, a gigantic, historical fort that lays in ruins today. I was about to go up some stairs, but a big crowd of people were coming down. I just stood back and let them come while I waited to go up.

All of a sudden, a little girl of about three or four years old fell down the steps. She was on the third to last step when she fell, but she kind of ended up with her face on the first step. It wasn’t pretty, but it could have been worse. No bones broke and there was no bleeding.

What was the mom’s first reaction? It wasn’t to ask if she was ok; no, it was to start slapping her. The kid never cried. That’s a toughness I never had, and a toughness I have rarely seen. In the West the child would have been comforted and loved after such a traumatic incident. Here, the child was scolded for not paying attention and crying wasn’t an option since further punishment was on its way.

This time I didn’t say anything. India is teaching me patience and acceptance. I could do nothing to change the parenting behavior of this mother, and who am I to tell her what’s best for her child as a childless 30-year-old foreigner?

I’d like to reiterate that this is not an Indian problem, per se. This happens everywhere. And here in India, it’s not like a typical day out around town involves seeing kids being beaten. Not at all. Being humble is something I’ve learned on the Happy Nomad Tour since I’ve learned there is so much more out there I don’t know along the way.

Maybe moms have to use tough love in the East since kids need to be much more self-reliant at a young age here. Kids in the West, by comparison, can generally live much more worry-free lives for much longer than here, where simple things like walking down the street can be dangerous, drinking water can be deadly, and people with inhumane motives lurk in the shadows. Maybe it is fear that drives this attitude of tough love. I don’t know.

Still, hitting an innocent child seems like the lazy way out of parenting. There must be a better way. Love must speak and teach louder than violence.

4 replies
  1. Owen Lipsett
    Owen Lipsett says:

    Wow, it’s disturbing enough (to me as a Westerner) that the mothers were hitting their children, but even more amazing that they were doing so after the kids had already been hurt. Letting children learn from mistakes like these would seem to be tough love. Hitting them seem to be adding insult to injury (or maybe injury to injury.)

  2. PasserBy
    PasserBy says:

    Hey Adam, hope your well.
    Re your statement
    ‘Love must speak and teach louder than violence.’

    Having grown up in Nigeria, and experienced the culture of disciplining your children with a stick and it’s general impact in guiding the behavior of both me and the general behavioral trend of those my age.

    On coming to this country, I recall being incredibly set aback by the behavior and ethic-ate of children in the west towards their parents and other elders. The thought of ever raising your voice to your parents, saying to them ‘Be quiet’, in the extreme; swearing or even walking out on them talking, would not have in my wildest spur of rebelliousness come to mind – yet it seems rampant and ‘normal’ in the west, treatable by often ‘grounding’ the child – I still haven’t understood the point of that.

    At the time I hated the cane, and certainly I recall seeing situations where it was overused – but within my family, whenever It was used, looking back I could see a justification, even go so far as to confirm it was done out of love and in moderation to fit my action.

    My conclusion, seeing the behavior of many teenagers in the west, and comparing this to their counterparts in developing countries, I would say the western way in ‘loving’ discipline have very much lowered the defining line over what a well behaved child should be, while the developing world is often prone to mus-appropriating a firm way of lovingly disciplining children.

    • Adam Pervez
      Adam Pervez says:

      I understand what you’ve written and don’t disagree entirely, but I still think you can be a parent and discipline kids without hitting them. It’s a more difficult way, but it’s possible. But again, I’m not a parent so it’s easy for me to say these things 🙂


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