There was a time when I used to think a timeout was only something basketball players took during a game. But that was a long time ago. I came to observe the full power of a timeout only after I came to America some years ago. And I found out that it was the most powerful weapon parents had in the fight against their kids. Whenever their kids did something they weren’t supposed to, a simple timeout would suffice to put the fear of gods, hell, pink unicorns or worse, parents, in to the kids.
The concept remains simple. Kid goofs up/throws a tantrum/kicks up a fuss/does badly in school/is just plain stupid. Parent(s) get hold of aforementioned kid, and put the smack down on him/her, by the use of a timeout. The order will be given (“you have a timeout for 20 minutes”), and all it means is that the kid needs to sit in a corner without doing anything for 20 minutes. And magically, the kid would start pleading for forgiveness, even as I imagine this to be perfect nap time. The more powerful version of a timeout, being grounded, amazed me even more. Being grounded just meant that the kid would have to sit in a room (complete with all the modern comforts of a TV, playstation, a computer, a comfy bed, and books) for a day, a week or a month. That, to me, seems like the definition of heaven.
And then I see the inimitable Carlos Mencia a few weeks ago on Comedy central, talking about the same thing. Of course, here he’s making fun of kids doing badly in school (with his typically “inappropriate” racial stereotypes). White kids who are troublesome or do badly in school get time outs. Hispanic kids screw up; they go home and get thrashed. Asian kids………get the shit beaten out of them even before they screw up, so that they will never dream of screwing up!
Which reminded me of what an African researcher here (I think he’s Ugandan or Kenyan) said. If he did something mischievous in school, his teacher would beat the crap out of him. He’d go home and tell his mom, and she’d go “you stupid kid, why did you have to annoy your teacher?” and proceed to then beat the crap out of him for annoying his teacher. So, the sorry kid would go and tell his uncle about his beating. His uncle, furious, would grab him, say “why the hell did you have to piss off your mother by pissing off your teacher”, and then beat the crap out of him. So that stupid bastard would finally go to his last hope, his dad, who’d hear the story, turn blue in rage, and then proceed to give him a sound beating for annoying his uncle by annoying his mother who got annoyed because he pissed off his teacher first.
Now that story may well fit in India. I’ve seen some teachers soundly thrash their students. Canings (or that tight rap on the knuckles with a wooden ruler) at least used to be rather common when I was a kid. And I got off lightly, since the teachers in my school were a rather good lot, who rarely dished out a beating. I’ve heard some pretty good stories of teachers beating the shit out of a student for something as trivial as forgetting to bring the homework notebook, or writing English notes on a Hindi notebook, or not bringing a compass and protractor to the geometry class, or not wearing a uniform to school.
Sound familiar to some of you?
Somehow, it all seems to come down to the old colonial saying, “spare the rod, and spoil the child”. The concept of beating kids to discipline them has long been abandoned in the west, and if that happens in the States or the UK, that poor teacher is going to prison or will face some rather hefty lawsuits. Much of this holds for parents as well. But in most of the old British colonies (in South Asia, or Africa) the rule of the wooden ruler holds sway to this day.
Now, the question that always remains in my mind (which remains amazed at the power of a timeout) is this. How does one get parents or teachers in Asia (India in particular, since I’m most familiar with the environment there) to stop beating the crap out of the kids?