Article Title

Student Essay: In the Name of “Love”

Discipline in Myanmar culture is an ambiguous concept that parents and caregivers have refined, with much gaslighting. There is a renowned traditional Myanmar metaphor, "Beat the clay pot hard for better shape," and parents will associate it with discipline eight times out of ten. Some parents have failed to take from the metaphor because clay is inanimate, but children are capable of emotions. 

Some might argue how "not all parents" would go to such extremes, but the intangibility of these cultural practices does not mean children are not being terrorized every day. Maybe your neighbor next door occasionally locks his child up in the dark bathroom for hours despite the child's severe fear of the dark. Who knows?

Myanmar parents tend to underestimate and often fail to grasp that everything children are exposed to will impact the family as a whole is a primary exposure to everything related to a child's development: emotions, behavior, communication, etc. It is undeniable that Asians, especially Myanmar parents, hold collective we/our values, with fathers as heads of households who wield unquestioned authority. Influenced by these patriarchal values, families become a risk for children.

We were born into a transparent box of values and traditions that have been passed down for generations. The box brings us closer to the family, and the family, in turn, shelters us from external threats. But at the same time, we are also locked inside. No family member has questioned why the box is there, and we are not meant to either. Perhaps, it is because Myanmar has lived in fear under monarchies and military rule for so long that practices of instilling fear and weaponizing pain are now reflected in families.

Authoritarian Myanmar parents typically grant themselves automatic control of the lives of their offspring; they become game makers demanding absolute perfection and obedience. The leash of control and its length can vary with the offspring's gender, socio-economical, and parents' educational background. Deviants who are maladjusted are likely to face corporal punishment, including but not limited to being shamed into compliance or beaten until submission. Parents become children's first bullies and likely their first exposure to contempt and violence. 

Why, then, do parents continue to shame or hit their children in the name of discipline? Have you met some parents who claim they were "raised like this"; the exact way their children are now subjected to?

Edwards (1996) [4] explained that one reason is its long tradition—the corporal punishment of children has occurred throughout the entirety of recorded history. It is a part of the tradition that has been handed down through generations. Holden (1997) [3] mentioned that adults' support for corporal punishment is significantly related to whether they believe their own parents were supportive of the practice. Keeping the practice is, in a way, a debauched attachment to parents who passed it down. 

Some might expect such harsh disciplines to eventually fade because generations have suffered, but the weight we carry every day is proof of its perseverance. Most have not questioned their parents' moral discipline, or psychological nature by default, because they were unaware of its questionable nature. 

Not only laying a hand on children, but emotional torments bring trauma all the same. Garbarino et al. (1986) [2] proposed five categories of emotional abuse on children; 

  • rejecting (abandonment)
  • isolating (prevents the child from participating in social activities)
  • terrorizing (threatening with severe punishment)
  • ignoring (being psychologically unavailable to the child)
  • corrupting (encouraging criminal behavior).

Imagine a scenario of a three or four-year-old throwing a tantrum at the mall, and his mother is desperately consoling him by either shushing or threatening to beat him. The scene will undoubtedly be familiar for some; you have either lived through this or happened to someone else in the same situation. 

The mother has short-term goals here: stop the child from misbehaving, take control of the situation, and not lose face in front of strangers. These contexts reflect how Myanmar parents avoid disrupting the shared community peace and take pride in children's obedience. The ultimate long-term goal is to prevent such undisciplined behavior from happening again. The communication will be one-dimensional, the child cannot express himself well yet, but the embarrassed mother will look past his speech (verbal signals) or gestures (non-verbal signals). 

The tantrum will only stop for the time being, and there is no guarantee that such an incident will not occur again in the future. The child will be quiet now but at what cost? It deprived the child of his wish to be expressed, and both mother and child failed to communicate in their time of emotional distress.

Some parents tend to think comforting children after conflicts is a display of affection from their end, often dubbed as "tough love," and assume that all will be well in the end because such measures are "necessary" for betterment. This is why, when these children become adults, they are more likely to develop a sense of loyalty to the family values they grew up with and apply the same methods of parenting all over again, and forming an unhealthy trauma bond. Hence, the intergenerational cycle of violence taking root, the term as suggested by Van de Wiejer, Bijleveld, & Blokland (2014) [5]. 

After such emotional and physical damage has been done, after violating a child's trust and sense of safety, will it be enough to claim that it was "in the name of love?" If we do not start acting now, if parents do not start to regulate their temper, our children will have trouble identifying, managing, and expressing their emotions, just like us. After all, bigger questions will be raised in adulthood when the collective trauma comes into fruition, resulting in complications. To parents who deem this impossible, congratulations, your child has won a one-way trip to therapy within 20 years. 

Myanmar is currently undergoing a revolutionary period, and young generations are actively participating in abolishing bigoted norms. What we can now do as adults is to obliterate such damaging disciplinary practices because we battled monsters living under the same roof with us in the day and sobbed into our tear-stained pillows at night, because we had to walk on eggshells around temperamental adults, because our trauma developed unhealthy coping mechanisms, and because we are now relying on medications and hopping from one therapist to another when in truth, only our parents should have sought professional help years ago. 

Who we are, what we are, which community we belong to, and our social roles do not matter when prioritizing the safety and well-being of children. Beating and belittling children till they submit, taking children's rights away to express themselves, and emotional manipulation will not raise more obedient children. Denying affection so that children would not walk all over their parents is not "tough love" but emotional neglect. 

In conclusion, discipline is enigmatic, and there are no mandates to raise children except addressing the relationship between parental affection and discipline. But at the same time, whether we are as emotionally unavailable as our parents and whether we are fit to raise the next generation without passing down our nightmares are questions yet to be answered. 

This essay is written by Aye Shweyi Cho, a student from the 2021 Parami summer course, Writing for Social Change, taught by Dr. Frances O’Morchoe, a Faculty in Humanities at Parami Institute of Continuing Education (PICE). 

References 

(1) Baumrind, D. (1966). Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behavior. Child Development, 37(4), 887-907. doi:10.2307/1126611 

(2) Garbarino, J., Guttmann, E., & Seeley, J. W. (1986). The psychologically battered child (p. 8). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

(3) George W. Holden et al., Child Effects as a Source of Change in Maternal Attitudes Toward Corporal Punishment, 14 J. SOC. & PERS. RELATIONSHIPS 481 (1997).

(4) Leonard P. Edwards, Corporal Punishment and the Legal System, 36 SANTA CLARA L. REV.983, 984 (1996). 

(5) Van de Weijer, S. G. A., Bijleveld, C. C. J. H., & Blokland, A. A. J. (2014). The intergeneration transmission of violent offending. Journal of Family Violence, 29, 109–118.

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