[ cw: exerting power over children and taking away their sense of agency ]
Laypeople talk about spanking and corporal punishment when they discuss child abuse. But when it comes down to it, for me, spanking was only a mechanism for enforcing The Real Abuse.
[ Continued from my post on Consent and Locus of Control ]
The actual bad thing my parents, particularly my mom, did to me was:
They acted as though, almost as a property of the Universe, I didn't have any meaningful preferences or desires. This was the frame they imposed on me.
In other words, they behaved as though I either didn't deserve or didn't have an internal locus of control. The kid I was didn't get to make choices or shape her identity or actively want things outside the scope of what her parents were okay with.
What this looked like in practice:
- Her parents decided her schooling, extracurricular activities, vacations, and who she spent time around without consulting her. (Some of these decisions would result in negative, sometimes traumatic, experiences.)
- Once, she did express a preference (trying tae-kwon-do), but when she found out she didn't like it, her mom did not let her quit and dragged her to it.
- Corporal punishment was used to enforce the power dynamic via fear. She learned to not raise objections and often didn't think to raise objections.
- Her mom would verbally criticize behaviors that she didn't like but couldn't control in her daughter—like posture and grooming habits.
- Her parents behaved as though they didn't want to see who she was, so it became easy—even permissible—to lie and omit. She presented a blank face, a lack of desire, because on some level her parents wanted her "erased". They rarely pushed for information.
My parents were overall happy with me (I performed well in elementary school), and I consistently got compliments from relatives for being well-behaved (of course, they also said that about all the kids as far as I could tell). I got the impression Asians (Koreans in this case) valued obedience from their children in general. I didn't get much evidence to the contrary. The rituals, language, and norms all reflected this.
[ Aside: When Asian parents want their kids to be "smart", I think what they might mean is they want their kids to perform well within the existing structures of society—whatever that may be. So if we lived in some kind of dystopia where school was for getting good at ... I dunno ... making the most paperclips (and this paid well in society and was what a 'successful' person did), I think they'd want their kids to get really good at making paperclips. Like, not actually, but kinda. ]
OK, so is The Real Abuse just that my parents tried to impose a frame on me where I was not an 'agent'—an entity who could make her own decisions and wanted things and such?
Well, kinda, but it's not the whole picture.
There's more context to this.
If I had grown up in a more dangerous world—say Korea right after the Korean War or something—it seems plausible that imposing a frame where I don't have an internal locus of control isn't that far from the truth. Like, in fact, there are areas of the planet where I could die at any moment, where powerful people could just decide to start wars in my general vicinity, where everyone's poor and the government is decidedly corrupt.
These places just exist. And if I were in one, it might save my life to quietly bow my head and obey. It might be the correct mindset to believe I don't really have that much control and to erase myself, in the face of such a hostile world.
But, in sharp contrast to the way my parents grew up, I was never wanting for food or safety. I grew up upper-middle-class, in a large house, in a suburb where kids played unsupervised in the street. I had TV and video games and government-protected freedom of speech and chocolate and privacy and really just a bunch of neat stuff. It seemed unlikely I'd get bombed. Fantastic, really.
And so my parents imposing that particular frame on me was bad, in part, because of how much of a mismatch it was to my reality. A reality where 5-year-olds are actually pretty safe. And a system where individualism tended to be more rewarded than being a follower (at least for the upper classes).
It felt painful that my parents wanted to erase me—because as far as I could tell, there was no imperative to do so. Like, why?
They never explained any of their reasons to me. They never tried to explain anything to me.
As a result, it became impossible to trust them.
And so I kind of grew up without people as parents. They treated me like an NPC, and I treated them the same way. My desires got buried deep in my psyche. I didn't learn to develop a locus of control, until later. As a teen, I became suicidal and an atheist, and I never told them.
The Real Abuse was that my parents imposed a reality-warping and dissonant frame on me that I shouldn't and didn't have an internal locus of control.
So why do people talk as though child abuse == spanking?
Wellll, it's really hard to tell when parents are doing the other thing. So forbidding spanking at least ensures parents don't use physical punishment as a way to get kids to flinch away from truths their parents don't want them to see.
But, it doesn't stop all abuse from happening. Fucking up a kid isn't, like, super hard, even if all you have is your words and an ability to reject bids for attention and affection.
And as soon as you become a parent, you're facing a lot of incentive pressure to believe you're a good parent.
It's one of the most bucket error prone jobs in existence.
So it is ill-advised to trust parents' self-reports on their own parenting.
But it is easier to track specific behaviors, like spanking.
There might, in fact, be a way to spank a kid without any lasting harm, but—I don't trust you when you say you're managing to pull it off. Developed, modern, mobile society shouldn't trust your say-so. So just no.