Cucumbers: a cure for parents who spank kids?

In the last month, a couple of articles about spanking caught my eye: One was at CNN.com — “Spanking Detrimental to Children, Study Says” by Elizabeth Landau. The other — “Kids Who Get Spanked May Have Lower IQs” by Salynn Boyles — was published by WebMD.com.

The first one showed that spanking may harm a child’s behavior and mental development. The other described two studies that showed that spanking may cause children — no matter what country they grow up in — to have lower intelligence scores.

In some cultures and families, it’s okay to hit children. In the United States, it’s a common practice. The articles got me to thinking about an incident that occurred while I was living in Bali, Indonesia, in the early 1990s. There, a family who livedcucumber adjacent to me provided a completely different point of view.

One evening, this Balinese couple and their two children had just returned from a visit to the United States. The following morning, I could hear the seven-year-old boy fussing loudly. (In Ubud, where I was living, the walls of houses are often made of bamboo.) Obviously jet-lagged and exhausted from the 20-hour flight, he was tired, cranky, and didn’t want to go to school. His father, Made (pronounced MAH-day), was also jet-lagged and tired. The boy cried and complained. Made raised his voice. The boy complained some more, and then I heard an unusual sound for Bali: fwaap! Made had smacked his kid. Not hard, but smacked him nonetheless. The boy wailed the tears of the betrayed, not in pain, but in sorrow and confusion.

Later that day, my friend saw Made sitting on a rock outside the compound of homes where we all lived. He looked dejected, as if he’d lost his best friend. He was eating a cucumber. My friend couldn’t help but ask: “Made, are you all right?”

Made nodded and then shook his head. “I did a horrible thing today,” he said.

We could guess what he’d done, but, being polite, my friend asked, “What happened?”

Made lowered his head in shame. “I hit my child today.”

We didn’t know how to respond.

“So I went to the doctor,” Made continued.

Doctor? “You went to the doctor?” my friend asked. “What did the doctor say?”

“He told me to stop eating meat for three weeks, and to eat three cucumbers a day.”

Well. Sure, meats contain androgens, and cucumbers contain estrogens, but not enough to change a person’s behavior. And the doctor probably knew that.

But the point of going to the doctor is that Made recognized that he was the one who’d been out of control, not his son. Children, being children, don’t have much ability to control themselves, especially when they’re stressed. But adults do. So when a child is stressed and cries, it’s the adult’s responsibility to keep his or her cool and help the child. And if the adult doesn’t keep his cool, in Bali, he seeks help immediately. And receives it.