Beating Video Sparks Discipline Debate

A video described as a dad hitting his 13-year-old daughter has gone viral, sparking a heated debate. Tell Me More's parenting panel discusses whether using physical punishment is ever appropriate.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms and dads in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice. Today, we want to talk about a new video that's making the rounds on social media. And, no, sadly, it has nothing to do with cute cats.

According to the caption on the video - and we confess, we have no way of knowing if this is true - the video is of a father hitting his 13-year-old daughter because she was gone from home for three days and her parents didn't know where she was. Now I need to play a short clip from the video so you'll know what we're talking about. But I also need to let you know that the clip may be very difficult for some people to listen to even though we're bleeping some of the language where someone, perhaps the person shooting the video, perhaps the mother, calls the girl the B-word and a slang word for prostitute. So with that being said, here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You 13 [bleep]. You want to be a woman? Put it on Facebook. Let them know [bleep]. Video (unintelligible) [bleep]. You know you ain't [bleep].

MARTIN: It goes on, but that's all we're going to play for now. And the video has received 4 million hits to date and thousands of comments, particularly on black social media. Some viewers express outrage while others, perhaps most actually, express support for the father. Now as we said, we cannot confirm the family relationships, but the debate it has sparked about physical discipline is very real. So we wanted to talk about that. And joining us to talk about this is Isaura Gonzalez (ph). She is a psychologist who works with children and families. She's also a mom of four. Dr. Gonzalez, thank you so much for joining us.

ISAURA GONZALEZ: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Also joining us, Lester Spence. He's one of our regular contributors. He's an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and a father of five. Lester, welcome back.

LESTER SPENCE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Also joining us once again, Owen Kibenge. He's a freelance journalist who was born and raised in Uganda. He's a dad of one and he has another on the way. Congratulations for that.

OWEN KIBENGE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you for joining us as well.

KIBENGE: Thanks.

MARTIN: So let's start with you, Lester, because we've talked with you about this before. The video was posted on the website WorldStarHipHop with the caption "Father Whips on His 13-Year-Old Daughter Dressed Like Beyonce After Missing for Three Days." And I wanted to ask you what you thought of it. And I do want to mention that you've told us before that you have physically disciplined or spanked your own children.

SPENCE: Yes. Yes, I have. I was spanked, and I've spanked my kids up until, probably - they were probably somewhere between 7 and 9. I think, first of all, this is something - this is like a public flogging, right? I mean, there is - there's disciplining your children - your child, and then there's, like, public humiliation that gets - I mean, 4 million hits. And you can just imagine the economy that's generated around it. I mean, when I looked at - tried to look at the video myself, I had to look through an ad before I actually watched the video.

And that's an economy there. So - and that's important because when you're talking about discipline, there are ways you can imagine - whatever you think about, whether physical discipline is right or not right for a child, bringing in the public aspect of it - literally, 4 million viewers. That's five times or six times the population of the city of Detroit. You're talking about a very different dynamic. And it's deeply, deeply problematic. Even as I - even as I kind of sympathize with the parents as far as having - you know, if the video clip is right - for having a kid missing for three days, right. I don't know what I'd do in that situation, but I know what I wouldn't do.

MARTIN: Owen, what about you? You were telling us that you grew up with physical punishment in Uganda. It's called caning there. We call it, you know, switching or spanking or using a switch. Tell us your thoughts about this.

KIBENGE: Yeah, the video was despicable, to say the least. It's very unfortunate that she's humiliated in public. And I think that's not - when you do it in anger, then it ceases to be effective. My thinking is that if I'm going to cane someone or my son or my daughter or my nephews or my nieces, it's a private matter. And I'm going layer it with an explanation as to why I'm doing it, and I'm going to do it in private. And I'm going to let them know that you've done something wrong, and this is why I have to take on this measure.

MARTIN: Why do you think you have to do that? You've told us that you do use physical discipline. You were caned as a child, and you...

KIBENGE: Right.

MARTIN: ...Occasionally - I assume occasionally - use this method herself. Why would you consider it necessary?

KIBENGE: Because I come from two cultures. I have seen the American way of trying to discipline a child - the timeout and the withdrawal of toys and things like that. And I grew up in a society where I'm walking the entire day, I'm looking for firewood or I'm going to graze the goats. And if you told me to have a timeout and go and to sit in the corner, I'm going to see that as, you know, I'm going to take a break. On that it's not going to be viewed as a punishment. So for me to employ the cane, it's, like - it's the highest that I have amongst my several options for punishing a child. I'm going to start, and it's going to be incremental. In a situation where I tell you to do something and you keep doing the same thing over and over again and I punish you and that doesn't work, I'm certainly going to employ the cane. And in this case, for me, I'll not employ the cane as it was employed on me. I'm going to use a slipper or a flip-flop because that's what I use. And I've used that on my son before, of course, against my parents' - my wife's advice. She's totally against it.

MARTIN: She's totally against it.

KIBENGE: Right. She's totally against it. And she thinks that you can talk to the child. And her position is now informed by her graduate studies in early childhood and special needs education. And we have these arguments back and forth, and I tell her now he has refused, what are we going to do about this? And she says, you keep talking to the child and give him time outs and deny him time on TV and video games. But it keeps going on. And when I raise the subject and I tell him, you know what? I'm going to spank you, then I see results. And when I do it, that hobby doesn't happen for a prolonged period of time.

MARTIN: Dr. Gonzalez, let's hear from you on this.

GONZALEZ: Well, I'm listening to both gentlemen, and you're bringing up some very valid points. You know, the speaker before me, what he's talking about, in psychological terms as you look at it, is power assertive or inductive. You know, and he tries to use a combination of both. Power assertive is where you employ some type of physical discipline or some harsh consequence for the behavior. And then inductive is where you set some limits. So he's actually combining the two. Most psychologists and most individuals in my field try to do more of the inductive. You set the limits. You set the parameters. You set the boundaries.

And then there's a consequence for failing those boundaries. Again, I saw the video as well, and that wasn't, you know - in any terms, that would have been an assault. If that wouldn't have been the father, it wouldn't have been looked at as, you know, physically punishing the person but rather an assault.

MARTIN: What stands out for you? For our guests, for Lester and for Owen, the thing that stood out to them was the public shaming. And so that was the thing that they see - they felt was kind of over-the-top. I think for other people it's the hitting and the wailing and the name-calling. And I wanted to ask you as a psychologist, you know, what stands out for you?

GONZALEZ: Well, what Owen said, which I thought was very interesting, what stood out for me is the lack of coping mechanism for the father because there are so many other avenues that you can actually take. You know, if he had a child who is out and about, you know - in the state of New York, we have the PINS petition, which is Person In Need of Supervision. You utilize that when the parent no longer can appropriately exercise control within the home. The issue of the anger for me, as an executive coach, you know, which I deal with a lot on anger and emotional intelligence, shows to me that this individual really needs a lot of help in order to manage himself so that he can manage the home.

MARTIN: It's interesting 'cause we're having a very kind of, you know, high-level conversation about this. And it isn't really capturing, like, the feelings that I know that everybody has about this. And this is an extremely emotional subject for a lot of people. I know that actually I'm personally struggling with my own emotions around this right now, to be really frank with you, because I'm just so upset to see a 13-year-old being hit this way. And I just - I have to just own that. I just don't see how this is civilized. And so, you know, I apologize for that. The debate on social media around this is extremely emotional, too.

And I just want to read some of the comments. And it's interesting, as I mentioned, that most people are supporting the father in this. I mean, while some people say, well, you know - and also people point out the gender issue. Some people say that the thread would be completely different if it were a black mother, particularly a single mother beating her sagging-pants son who'd been missing for three days. I don't know. What do you think about that? Owen, maybe you should take that.

KIBENGE: Yeah, I had the conflict - I said if that was my daughter, would I take the same route? And I can't resolve it. But I still can't do that to her. Now if it was my son - I don't know if I'd still accept it because it's still humiliating and it's going to have effects down the road. He's going to probably have issues with his self-confidence because that's what it created in me. I could not challenge authority because I've always thought that if I - whenever I challenged authority, I was beaten, especially in class, in school. So it has taken me time to outlearn and come out of that shell, where I could confront authority and be assertive. So - and if it's done in public, that's totally unacceptable because how is she going to go back into the community? And whenever she sees this video when she grows up, how is she going to feel about her parents?

MARTIN: Well, that's a question a lot of people raised. And in fact, let me just read a couple of the other comments that - they were on The Root - the website The Root, the online publication talked about this. One person wrote - this is slave mentality, this is a master beating his property to make them do what the master wants them to do. If the child is not violent now the odds are she will be in the future. But other people said, look, this may seem too far to people, but this is needed to keep kids in line - when I was young, I did not do a lot of things I wanted to do in fear of a beating, so it does work - I plan on doing the same to my kids, but it won't be on YouTube. So, Lester, why don't you pick up the thread here. I mean, there are people who argue that, look, this is just replicating an unhealthy relationship with authority. And, yes, it's terrifying and clearly there's something else going on in the home that a kid goes missing for three days, but so your thoughts about that?

SPENCE: Yeah, so there's actually - there's a dynamic with black sexuality here where there - I've seen a number of videos. And one of the reasons - and to be fair - one of the reasons why I'm responding more to the public showing than the beating itself is because, to be honest, I didn't look at all of it because I don't feel comfortable, I don't think it's right. I think it's very voyeuristic and I just - I can't do it.

MARTIN: You feel like in a way you're complicit by watching it?

SPENCE: Yes, yes. So I knew what it was, I knew the genre, I'm like, OK, I'm not going to look at it, right. But there is this black sexuality dynamic going on where whenever I see those clips, I have never seen a clip like that with a boy child being beaten. I've always seen public humiliation of black girls. Either they're being spanked or in this case being beaten or something else because they're performing their sexuality. Now it's complicated, right, because black boys and black girls are surveilled differently by the public, right. So we have to - so part of the reason why I used physical discipline - and I really appreciate what Owen said about anger and about explaining the consequences - that is exactly what I did.

But part of it was because, OK, if I don't show them what can potentially happen, then they're going to be treated a very different way than their white counterparts when they get into the world. But at the same time, quickly, it's also about giving them the space to actually explore themselves or explore so when they get into the world and they need to stand up for themselves, they're able to do so. And this kind of cuts both of those things.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, it's our weekly parenting conversation. We're talking about using physical discipline with children. This conversation was sparked by a video that's now gone viral. It's had more than 4 million hits to date. It's of a person who is believed to be a father hitting his 13-year-old girl who's believed to be his daughter because the caption says she was - went missing for three days and she comes home scantily clad. And we're talking about this with journalist Owen Kibenge, Professor Lester Spence and psychologist Isaura Gonzalez. And, you know, Isaura Gonzalez, let's talk a little bit about the culture question.

Lester, I do have to say one thing - we have seen some videos of boys being beaten by people who are supposed to be male family members because they were acting thuggish. So there is that piece, but I understand that what seems to really get the attention are these ones. But what about this cultural question centered at the heart of this? A lot of parents of color say, look, the consequences for my children misbehaving are more harsh than for white kids or for privileged kids so I have to be more strict and I have to be more physical. And that's just the unfortunate way it is. So what do you say to that?

GONZALEZ: Well, when you look at it, a lot of parents feel that they've lost control. You can raise your kid in your home and you know what you're delivering at home, but you don't know necessarily what you're delivering when you take them to school or who they're going with. So a lot of times, parents feel that they're out of control. And a lot of times they use, you know, in Spanish, la chancleta - the slipper - you know, or they threaten the spoon that's hanging on the kitchen wall, you know, the nice - that's suppose to be decorative. They'll say I'm going to take the spoon and I'm going to get you with the spoon. A lot of times parents don't mean that, but they have no other sense of control or coping mechanism. They don't know what else to do because everything around them is so powerful for these children, especially with social media. If you look at social media, you know, all the kids are on the phone. They've got the computer. They've got all these games. There's Facebook, there's Twitter. There's so much influence nowadays that we didn't have before, it was a different type of influence.

So parents now, especially with our cultures, feel that they have no control over this. That they were - if they were back in our countries, that they would be able to control this a little bit better. So a lot of times that's what you begin to see, is this feeling of being ineffectual, as being a parent who can't discipline their child. A lot of times also what I've seen with teachers is that they tell them your parents can't hit you, and so parents also than feel that they don't have the power to discipline their child.

MARTIN: Owen, I'm going to give you the final word here because you were mentioning that you put these questions out on Facebook with your followers too - a lot of people who come from the diaspora as well. And you're having this debate within your home as well with your wife, who has a different perspective on this. I'd like to ask you - where do you think this debate is going to go from here?

KIBENGE: I think it's - the option of caning or switching, like you said, right, is going to remain on the table for most African families that are coming from Africa to the United States and living here. And I'm sure for most African-American families, as well probably Hispanic families, I think that option is going to stay on the table, but it's not going to be to the extent of humiliation like we're seeing there.

That might have been right, in the video, a couple of years ago, a couple of years ago it could have been right, but that's really unacceptable today. And I think parents are going to have a rich mix of options to be able to punish their children - I mean, deny them video games and deny them time going out. But then, at the end of it, like she says, if you set limits and boundaries, as the Dr. Gonzalez says, if those boundaries and limits are exceeded, what happens next as a parent? My option, if those limits and boundaries are exceeded, as a parent, the option I have is to use a flip-flop.

MARTIN: Well, I think we'll probably be talking about this again. So Owen Kibenge is a freelance journalist. He was born and raised in Uganda. He's a father of one, another on the way. Thank you for joining us. Lester Spence is an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, a father of five. Isaura Gonzalez is a psychologist in private practice and a mom of four. Thank you all so much for speaking with us.

KIBENGE: All right. Thanks, Michel.

SPENCE: Thank you.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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