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Newseum: Parenting styles have changed – or have they?

Do you discipline your child based on the position of your ulcer? That's what a professor in the Department of Paediatrics at Natal University thought in 1968. Read about an old 1968 Highway Mail article that will make you gape with shock.

At Highway Mail, we found something fascinating that we thought you may enjoy taking a peek at – we unearthed some archived Highway Mail papers from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Sub-editor Kathy Bosman will showcase some of these old articles and look at how things have changed since then in the community, the area and the world at large.

WHEN we were paging through the old Highway Mail papers to find headlines to highlight for Highway Mail’s 75th birthday celebration edition, we came across an article that stopped me in my tracks – particularly the one section of the article. I had to giggle although it was a bit disturbing to read, I must admit. It made me think that this would not go down well today – and with good reason.

We will start with the headline, which definitely has that shock factor: When to spank a boy depends on ulcer type.

The first paragraph reads: “If Father has a gastric ulcer, he should spank his child before dinner; if he has a duodenal ulcer, he should spank his child after the meal.” The article contains the words of Prof PA Smythe, the head of the Department of Paediatrics at Natal University at the time.

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Nowadays, it’s considered cruel and abusive to physically discipline your child by mainstream psychologists. Is it against the law in South Africa? Actually, yes, all corporal punishment is considered violent and the Constitutional Court of South Africa set a law to prohibit all corporal punishments on September 18, 2019.

According to the website, Developmental Science (https://www.developmentalscience.com), physical punishment has the same effect on a child as childhood trauma and causes problems like depression, anxiety, aggression, low self-esteem and problems in the parent-child relationship, among other things.

Whether you believe that is up to you as a parent to research and decide. ‘Spanking’ is still often considered a part of South African culture, and many parents believe it is the only way to keep control in the home. The ancient people of Africa did not necessarily follow those practices, and the website, Developmental Science, says that according to historians and anthropologists, there is no evidence that parents in West Africa used physical punishment. Instead, the history seems to show that these ancient West African parents believed their children were gods or reincarnated ancestors who had come from the afterlife with spiritual powers for the good of the community and that hitting their child could make their soul leave their body. The historians believe that Black Americans only physically discipline their children as a response to the trauma they experienced at the hands of White supremacists – a way to keep their children ‘docile and compliant in front of White people in order to survive’.

Back to the old article in the 1968 Highway Mail – it seems that ‘spanking’ a child caused the parent stress, too – hence the decision on when to spank according to the father’s ulcer placement in his body.

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The article has other possibly ‘archaic’ parenting beliefs. I couldn’t help noticing Prof Smythe’s idea about feeding your baby. “Feeding should be at definite times; otherwise, children become quickly and easily frustrated if they don’t get what they want between meals. If a child has never been trained to control his appetite when he is young, he will not be able to say no to a drink or drugs later on in life.”

From what I understand about modern parenting material – although it has been a while since I’ve had babies – feeding on demand is actually far less stressful for both parents and baby. Feeding when the baby is hungry makes the infant feel safe and helps them know that their parents are there to meet their needs. (At that age, they are completely helpless, and their parent is merely an extension of themselves and the world as they know it. If the parent meets their needs, the baby feels worthy of having its needs met and grows up with a stronger sense of self and self-esteem.) I can’t imagine that a baby is greedy or is going to grow up wanting to take drugs because they got fed too much milk. In fact, substance abuse usually results from childhood trauma.

The most shocking excerpt from the article on page 5 of the Highway Mail from September 15, 1968. (Note the typo in the headline that shows the old papers weren’t error-free as many people think!) Photo: Kathy Bosman

But it’s the last excerpt of the 1968 article I wish to reveal that shocked me the most. It pales in comparison to the violent-video-game concern parents have today. This is what Prof Smythe said: “Some of the violence of modern youth may be due to not being allowed to get violence out of their system when they were young.” The article says, “Professor Smythe quoted an example of how, when he was a boy, he used to love watching the sheep having their throats cut on a certain farm, and maintained that it was an outlet for him.”

I’m sorry to leave that image imprinted on your brain. But maybe it will make you realise that society doesn’t always get worse with time.


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