Let's Break the Cycles of Intergenerational Violence
By Angelique Sayson
Recently, I saw a viral TikTok that was shared by Pinay mom Nikki Mullen Cruz. In it, she shared the 'cool down corner' she had built for her son Kalev to work through his big emotions when he acted out, as an alternative to leaving him to sort through them alone in a time-out.
Watching the video, I was incredibly moved by what I essentially saw was an affirmation of her son's full humanity - not just his happiness, sadness, and grief, but also his anger - all of him. And simultaneously, I couldn't help but begin to reflect on how different my own upbringing was.
As a first generation Filipina-American, I personally was never put into a time out. However, as I think many Filipinx in the Diaspora can relate, I was disciplined with spankings, and more specifically, the "tsinelas".
Regarding the topic of corporal punishment, a scholarly analysis of 50 years of data conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan titled "Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses" found that depression, suicide ideation/suicide attempts, binge drinking/alcoholism, and illegal drug use were just some of the possible effects on an adult who experienced spanking in their childhood. Kazdin, professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University and Director of the Yale Parenting Center, stated in a Time Magazine article, ' "Adults who as children were spanked regularly die at a younger age of cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. Spanking doesn’t change a child’s behavior, and even if it did, there are so many hazards to it that it’s still not an appropriate method of discipline.”'(Denise Foley, "The Discipline Wars", Time.com). There is a growing, compelling body of research and studies that shed light on the dangerous short and long term effects of spanking.
On another note, I have some questions as well about what our kids are learning when we hit them with tsinelas: What are we teaching them about boundaries when we lay hands on them like this? How can we expect them to firmly and confidently reject attempts from others who try to overstep their boundaries, when we preach to them that violence on their body is unacceptable, and then consistently inflict that very same violence on them? And what messages are we teaching them about bodily autonomy? About consent? "Your body belongs to you - until you misbehave, in which case I can inflict violent punishment on it whenever I see fit."
And let us realize that violence isn't just physical - it's also spiritual, emotional, mental and psychological. It is not just physical boundaries that are being violated when one chooses to inflict violence on another being. The consequences of constant exposure to such violence can lay the foundations for children to grow into adults with porous, swiss-cheese boundaries, instead of rigid, impenetrable ones that stop the violent advances of others in their tracks.
Speaking for myself, I can attest to having grown up with warped boundaries partly as a result of such trauma. I was able to realize this through sessions with my therapist, where we rehashed my childhood, and were able to pinpoint the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a cause of my anxiety, and my hesitation to enforce boundaries at times. It showed up in many ways throughout my teens and adulthood; for example, tolerating the advances from creepy uncles at family parties, or as a young girl, feeling uncomfortable with a man I didn't know holding my hand, but not being able to recognize that touching me without my consent was a violation, and feel confident enough to speak up.
I believe for young girls and womxn especially, it becomes even more imperative that we help them solidify their boundaries. We already live in a patriarchal world where the voices of womxn are silenced, challenged, refuted, and discredited at every turn - what more if we add to the list of the obstacles they face by teaching them to become acclimated to violence at such a tender, formative age?
I am making conscious efforts to work on my boundaries and plug the holes in them whenever I feel the cold wind breeze through - but even today, as an outspoken 29-year-old, I occasionally still find myself hesitating for a few minutes to pull away or speak up when I'm in uncomfortable situations with men. I always end up removing myself from those circumstances in the end—but the presence of that hesitation, the way it still pervades my psyche, is remnant of that psychological conditioning and a testament to how powerful it is.
I am on my many accounts, very proud of, and thankful for my parents for how they raised me. I can honor and recognize they were simply doing the best they could with the knowledge afforded them at the time. However, as their daughter, I am also now mature enough to see that the palette they used to create me could have used some added hues and saturation in their paints.
To any parent who is still considering using tsinelas with their children, I would like to say this: fear and intimidation are the tools and tactics of the colonizer, derived from the desire and need for control, and can only continue the legacy of violence and grief. But, compassion and empathy are the paths our ancestors paved for u, in order to lead us to light and understanding. It is my wish that we leave no litter behind, and only footprints on the journey.