NBC's miniseries, The Slap, premiered February 12 and is generating important conversations about parental attitudes and appropriate discipline. The trailer to The Slap features family and friends enjoying themselves at a barbecue when a misbehaving boy swings a bat at another child. Because the boy's parents do nothing to correct his behavior, the father of the other child rushes over, grabs the boy and verbally reprimands him for not listening to adults. The boy then kicks his shin which leads to a forcefully administered slap from the other parent.
As a child abuse prevention agency, it is important for us to raise awareness about the science behind positive parenting practices and encourage informed dialogue about the most important job anyone will ever have. Research has demonstrated the powerful effects of both harsh and positive parenting. A child's experiences literally shape the brain and developing body, creating a biological foundation for lifelong health and wellness. Decades of research have demonstrated that corporal punishment, such as the slap featured in the show, are correlated with poor adult outcomes including depression, addiction, and other mental health disorders. Furthermore, while this form of discipline may result in immediate compliance, it does not develop a durable change in behavior. Advances in brain science now help us understand why negative consequences are associated with corporal punishment. Grey matter in the areas of the brain related to self-control are significantly less developed in children who receive regular corporal punishment. Ironically, spanking our child to improve self-control actually weakens it.
The true meaning of the word "discipline" is to guide or teach. Children need continual guidance from adults to learn how to behave and interact in our world in order to become safe, productive and responsible citizens. Brain science shows that children learn best from adults that model appropriate behavior and, conversely, they don't learn when they are in a state of fear. We want to equip our children to learn meaningful lessons and to develop skills that will serve them well as adults. Hitting and yelling are behaviors we don't condone in adulthood...in fact, hitting another adult is considered assault. A more valuable strategy is learning how to recognize intense emotions and use skills to calm down and respond rationally. This not only helps children understand how to maintain self-control the next time, but also for the rest of their lives.
In The Slap, the lack of involvement from the child's parents was also problematic. Children need appropriate limits, boundaries and consistent guidance to reinforce appropriate behavior. In this situation, an adult needed to intervene and redirect the boy so that the safety of the other child wasn't compromised. Lack of discipline also robs children of the skills needed to navigate life's challenges.
It is the culmination of our seemingly small, moment to moment interactions with our children that largely shape who they will become. As parents, we have the responsibility to continually ask ourselves if we are modeling behaviors and interactions of a person we would want our child to develop into. When we know better, we do better. It is our hope that by sharing information about effective parenting practices, we can give parents knowledge, strategies, and skills to empower them to be the healthiest parent they can be.