Growing up right

The following are all posts from an internet forum set up to support a BBC project called ‘Scotland on Film’ in 2003. Here, several posters recount their memories of childhood discipline from the 1950s onwards…

Sarah Forsyth from Edinburgh

My father was quite a disciplinarian and as the head of the household, his word was law. Not that he ever hit us; one look was usually quite sufficient!. He expected good behaviour at all times, table manners and politeness, no arguing or answering back.

The phrases ‘don’t speak until you are spoken to’, ‘waste not want not’, ‘no dumb insolence’, ‘respect your elders and betters’ were drummed into us, and I can’t say that it did us much harm!

If we went out for a meal (a rare treat in those days), our behaviour had to be exemplary:the worst sin of all was to annoy other diners. Rather different to nowadays, when kids seems to take over the whole dining room!

One episode clearly sticks in my mind, from when when I was eight years old. I had gone into a neighbour’s garden and pulled up some flowers. She, quite rightly, dragged me home and complained to my father, who happened to answer the door.

I was summarily taken upstairs and had my bare bottom thoroughly smacked by my mother. Then I was put to bed in disgrace. Some time later, I had to get up and dressed, and my mother took me round to the neighbour so that I could explain why I had pulled up her flowers, and apologise. Forty years later, I can still recall the stinging of my mother’s hand on my bottom, and the embarrassment I felt.

I wonder how parents today would deal with such an incident? At least my parents cared enough to show their displeasure at my behaviour, even if it seems somewhat heavy-handed, looking back.

Lorna Davidson from Inverness

I was interested to read Sarah’s account of parental control in the 1950s. I grew up a decade later in the 1960s but my experiences were similar.

I can remember two instances in particular. My parents were decent people who believed in children being raised in the proper manner. We were well loved and they gave us everything that they could afford, but at the same time they showed us who was in charge.

I vividly recall one instance when I was 10 years old. We lived close by a small stream and we kids had been forbidden to play near it for obvious safety reasons.

One day, I persuaded my younger brother to explore with me and led him down towards the forbidden stream. In the course of our playing, he slipped and fell into the water. Not too serious, as only his legs went in, but he ran home crying. My mother was furious with me for disobeying her orders and after drying off my little brother, she took me across her knee and gave me a good hard smacking on my bare bottom.

I can still remember how much it hurt; not just my bottom, but my pride, as this was the one and only time that I ever had my pants taken down for a smacking.

The second incident occurred about five years later, when I was in third year at secondary school. One day, my friend and I decided that a trip to the local shops one afternoon would be more fun than attending school.

As luck would have it, someone recognised us and contacted the school. In those days, there was only one punishment for truancy and next morning we found ourselves in the headmaster’s office. The six strokes of the belt which me and my friend each received taught me a lesson I’ll never forget.

I held no grudges against my mother or the headmaster, as I deserved what I got and perhaps a little more discipline like that could help to solve some of the problems with kids nowadays.

Anna Rastrelli from Italy

I’m Italian, so please forgive my English! I was born in 1947 and reading your messages makes me think that my experience is not so different! Sarah Forsyth and Lorna Davidson’s accounts are very interesting, as well as the school days recollections of many people here.

In our family, discipline was mainly a mother thing. Our father worked long hours and when he came back home, he expected to find waiting for him a smiling wife and two well-behaved daughters. This is just what he usually found, but to achieve these results mother had to work all day, as both I and my sister (two years younger) were very independent and (she would say_ stubborn little girls!

We too got our bare bottom smackings, and more than once in our life, I’m afraid! I‘m ready to admit that we both deserved it, at least most of the time. It is true what you both say, that we had the deep feeling that we were being cared for by our parents; something that most of today’s children have every reason to doubt, given their parents unwillingness to play a parental role.

Certainly, many of today’s pampered children would learn a thing or two if some time machine could bring them 50 years back!

But my childhood memories are not only centred around discipline in the family and at school, too: I also look back lovingly to the long hours we could freely play around unsupervised. I lived most of my childhood, from five to 12, in a sprawling neighbourhood, which urban development slowly sliced through beautiful and still unspoilt countryside. We did things that today would be considered too dangerous, such as playing in building sites, or bathing without adult supervision in a nearby creek, just staying out of reach for many long hours.

To sum it up: today’s children, both in Scotland and Italy, are treated with much more respect and consideration for their needs; some would say with too much attention being given to their whims and tantrums. A lot of children are being spoiled by their parents, and by powerless teachers. At the same time, they are completely deprived of the freedom to play out in the streets, or in the country that we enjoyed in our 50s childhoods.

Who is the happier child? Who is the one that will grow up to be a better adult?

Jamie Grosvenor from Perthshire

I grew up in the late 60s and through the 70s, and even then the experience was not very different from those I have just read. My brothers and I were fairly regularly smacked when we were naughty and maybe it’s just that boys generally received far more corporal punishment than girls, but I could not tell you the number of times I was over my mother’s knee with my pants down. But the sting of my mother’s hand on my bare bottom I do remember and it certainly made me behave…for a while.

Heather from Leeds

I was born in 1982 in England. My sister and I were regularly smacked on our bare bottoms, always with my mother’s hand, either across her knee or face down on our beds. This was quite common at the time, as I regularly saw friends across their parents’ knees, or heard their bottoms being smacked through walls or open windows.

I grew up in the 80s and discipline was very simple. If I misbehaved, I would find myself across my mum’s knee, my skirt up and my knickers down for a well smacked bottom.

The most embarrassing incident happened at the school gates when I was 10 and my mum smacked my bare bottom for all my school friends, their parents and the teachers to see.

I didn’t feel the pain (and my mum smacked hard) – I was just aware that everyone was watching my bare bottom in my mother’s lap being covered with bright red handprints. When she’d smacked me about 15 times, she told me: “Pull your knickers up.” The whole place was silent, everyone watching my face as red as my bottom, as my mum stood me on my feet again.

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