Is it OK for my child to be humiliated?

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MichaelSourey

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Hi,

I would like some feedback about something that happened to my son.

I am new to the world of eastern martial arts and the deferential respect for authority that appears to be part of its culture.

About six months ago my 9 year old son joined a local martial arts group. Until a recent event occurred, I was reasonably happy with how the instructor ran the classes, although I find the authoritarianism which seems to go with it a bit strange. I say strange because this is not how my son would be taught at school or how he has been taught in any of the other out of school activities that he has and does pursue.

The circumstances of the event were as follows:
I arrived at the class with my son. As we walked in, I noticed that the instructor was lying on the floor at the front of the class with his feet resting on the crouched body of one of the children. There were giggles and laughter from that child, the other children in the class and from the three or four other parents that were there.

The instructor then said to my son, "Oh, you're late, come here". I don't think we were late because the class had not started. He instructed my son to crouch down so that he could rest his head on my son's back. Some of the children in the class are also my son's schoolmates. This all happened so quickly that although I felt uncomfortable about it, I did not know how to react to it before I left. I had to leave straight away to collect another of my children from my child minder.

Subsequently, on reflection, I felt very angry about what had happened. This action had humiliated my son and myself. My son has taken part in many out of school activities over the years and I have only once before had a problem, which was dealt with immediately and professionally by the activity leader concerned. I am not a serial complainer.

My son was embarrassed by this event. Neither of us wanted to attend the following weeks' lesson and chose not to go. My son wishes to continue with this particular martial art and wishes to attend this particular class because a number of his friends go there. There is no other provider of this particular martial art in our region. Because this is what my son wants, I intend to take him back to this class.

I emailed the instructor two days ago to complain about what I feel is an important child safeguarding issue. I have not had a reply. I have a feeling I will not get a reply.

What I want to know is:
Am I over-reacting?
Am I being too proud?
Is this sort of thing normal in martial arts classes?
How would you feel if this was your child?

Can you give me some guidance?

Michael.
 

jks9199

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Have you watched many of the classes? Did your son explain more about what was going on or why it made him uncomfortable? I have concerns, based on your description, but your description still has some pretty big holes in it. Did you ask any of the other parents what was going on? It doesn't sound like the activity was physically harmful, and may even have been linked to some sort of lesson, though, as described, I'm kind of stumped what it could be.

The format of a martial arts class can run a gamut from very strict, very militaristically authoritarian to very informal, depending on the style and the teacher. Most, not surprisingly, are somewhere in the middle. Children's classes are often a little more formal, because the kids often need that structure to keep their focus. And some minor embarrassment or humiliation is inevitable, as students fail to succeed at learning a new skill or otherwise get corrected for mistakes or behavioral lapses. The key word there is MINOR; if it's something that keeps the student from wanting to come back the next week, there's a concern, and the instructor should be willing to talk to you about it.
 

Bill Mattocks

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I cannot speak to the questions you are asking, but I can make a recommendation:

Speak to the instructor in person before or after class. Do not return to class until the air has been cleared. Be calm, have your thoughts in order, and be prepared to listen to the response with an open mind. Email and phone calls are not appropriate for a situation such as this.
 

oftheherd1

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Welcome to MT MichaelSourey. I hope you find answers here that help.

I also hope you will let us know how this plays out for you and your son. Especially since he seems to want to continue to study whatever martial art it is.
 

MAfreak

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while its common everywhere to give kind of penalty for things like being late (but in my former school we didn't, it just can happen to everyone) one shouldn't forget that martial arts instructors are just people. like sports coaches or school teachers so the ones who forget that often are the martial arts instructors themselves. they aren't gods but some of them seem to act like they are. not sure about it but i personally would have taken my son home from it when seeing this. for me it would have looked like a power play of someone with mentally issues. if he does this while parents are there, i won't know what he does alone with the kids.
 

Touch Of Death

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Hi,

I would like some feedback about something that happened to my son.

I am new to the world of eastern martial arts and the deferential respect for authority that appears to be part of its culture.

About six months ago my 9 year old son joined a local martial arts group. Until a recent event occurred, I was reasonably happy with how the instructor ran the classes, although I find the authoritarianism which seems to go with it a bit strange. I say strange because this is not how my son would be taught at school or how he has been taught in any of the other out of school activities that he has and does pursue.

The circumstances of the event were as follows:
I arrived at the class with my son. As we walked in, I noticed that the instructor was lying on the floor at the front of the class with his feet resting on the crouched body of one of the children. There were giggles and laughter from that child, the other children in the class and from the three or four other parents that were there.

The instructor then said to my son, "Oh, you're late, come here". I don't think we were late because the class had not started. He instructed my son to crouch down so that he could rest his head on my son's back. Some of the children in the class are also my son's schoolmates. This all happened so quickly that although I felt uncomfortable about it, I did not know how to react to it before I left. I had to leave straight away to collect another of my children from my child minder.

Subsequently, on reflection, I felt very angry about what had happened. This action had humiliated my son and myself. My son has taken part in many out of school activities over the years and I have only once before had a problem, which was dealt with immediately and professionally by the activity leader concerned. I am not a serial complainer.

My son was embarrassed by this event. Neither of us wanted to attend the following weeks' lesson and chose not to go. My son wishes to continue with this particular martial art and wishes to attend this particular class because a number of his friends go there. There is no other provider of this particular martial art in our region. Because this is what my son wants, I intend to take him back to this class.

I emailed the instructor two days ago to complain about what I feel is an important child safeguarding issue. I have not had a reply. I have a feeling I will not get a reply.

What I want to know is:
Am I over-reacting?
Am I being too proud?
Is this sort of thing normal in martial arts classes?
How would you feel if this was your child?

Can you give me some guidance?

Michael.
It does sound like you are about to quit. Maybe you aren't ready for this. Your son is, but not yourself. :)
 

geezer

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My son's TKD instructor sometimes does stuff like that. And usually there are giggles coming from the other kids ...just like that. It's all done in a spirit of fun. Yeah, the class does have the trappings of old-school authoritarianism, but the instructor is actually a really gentle, good-humored guy and the kids love him. Parents too. Once when I got my kid to class late he threatened to make me do the punishment, whatever it was. Probably push-ups. We all had a good laugh.

Unfortunately, although the situation you described sounded similar, perhaps the school atmosphere and culture is not. :(
 

Tony Dismukes

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With regards to the authoritarian nature of the class, that varies quite a bit from school to school and from teacher to teacher. Some students appreciate it, others do not. (It's not just Eastern martial arts, you can find some of the same thing with some coaches of school sports, although the trappings tend to be less formal.)

In general, your kid should not expect to be humiliated in class - at least not unless he is having serious behavior problems in class, which does not seem to be the case from your description. That said, I'm not clear from your description exactly what the instructor was doing, what the point of it was, or why you or your son would find it humiliating.
 
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MichaelSourey

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To: jks9199
I have watched enough of the classes to be reasonably happy about how they are run. I have also attended two grading sessions and a small tournament held for students within this instructor's academy.

Regarding what was going on when we arrived, I admit that I do not know the context of what was happening. I have asked my son if he knows any more about what was happening when we walked in the room but he knows no more than I do. As to why it made him feel uncomfortable, he said that it is not something that normally happens to him. I may be putting words into his mouth, but what I think he means is that this is not normal behaviour, I can't help but agree with this.

I did not ask any of the other parents what was going on, so again I do not know the context of the situation. The activity was not physically harmful, however I find myself agreeing with MAfreak that this instructor does seem to fit the description of someone who has a high opinion of himself. From what I can make out he does appear to be very accomplished within the sport, he is the chief instructor of his academy which has a handful of branches around the country.

I struggle to see how this activity would have any kind of positive, beneficial lesson to it. The strictness of the lessons I think is OK, it is firm enough that the lessons achieve progress but still have an element of fun to them. However, just sometimes things just don't seem to be quite right. Sometimes there seems to be just a little bit too much berating of the class in general, I find myself coming back to MAfreak's comment, berating to a point to which I start wondering what he is trying to achieve. Other parents seem happy and relaxed about it as far as I can tell.

Regarding the level of the humiliation that my son suffered, I don't regard it as serious, just inappropriate, pointless and unnecessarily undermining his confidence.

To MAfreak:
Just wanted to mention that there are always some parents who sit in throughout the class.

To: Bill Mattocks
I think your advice is spot on. Thank you. I will do this.

To: Touch Of Death
You could be right.

To: geezer
Your description of your son's class seems very much like my son's class and instructor. However, sometimes I just think that either his passion for the subject or his sense of status leads him to make incorrect judgements about how he is allowed to behave. Generally nothing too serious, just over the top enough to make me wonder what he's trying to achieve.

If anyone has any further thoughts, please let me know.
 

TwentyThree

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Martial arts schools tend to the more authoritarian side of things your child may be involved in, mainly because one of the key things being taught to children in the martial arts, outside of physical fitness, is personal discipline. Please understand that these rules exist, for the most part, for the benefit of students to develop good habits, as well as for safety and wellness issues. Your child is learning stuff that can hurt himself and other people if he does not have discipline.

It's totally normal for a school to have penalties for breaking various rules (such as being late, or engaging in horseplay, or not paying attention when the instructor is speaking, etc.). These penalties can run the gamut from a lap around the school floor or push-ups to things like you describe in your post, or just a gentle admonishment like, "Mr. Smith, so kind of you to join us for class".

Certainly, speak up to the instructor if you feel the punishment was inappropriate. I would note, however, if the entire class was already there when you walked in, you were late to class and probably didn't realize it. I also do not believe your son was humiliated - you may have been, after all, your son gets to class when you get him there, right? I think the instructor was trying to do it in a way that the class - including those being "punished" - would find it funny (as they apparently did, going by what you wrote).

Would you have felt differently if your son had been held off to the side to do 10 pushups before joining class or had to run a lap?
 

JowGaWolf

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Here's my take on it. A little embarrassment and humiliation is healthy so long as it's not done in an abusive manner. Learning to deal with these things at a young age will make them a stronger adult. Compared to the embarrassment and humiliation that kids get from bullies, your scenario sounds like a unique way to encourage people to be early to class. If you can't be early to class then let the teacher know so that your child isn't singled out for not being able to be on time.

Teachers have to set expectations and have authority and punishments in class. Traditionally it would have been some kind of physical punishment but in today's world teacher's have to use other methods. It sounds like you may need to interact with the teacher more so that you can know the teacher as a person. All of the parents in my school know me personally so they would know right away if I was being a jerk or out of line with my actions.

But then again kung fu schools aren't as strict as Japanese and Korean martial arts schools.
 

Andrew Green

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Martial arts instructors are all over the map when it comes to how they approach discipline. Generally there is not formal training in how to be a instructor (sometimes there is, but often not) and parent's expectations vary just as much. Some parents want a drill instructor for a instructor and that idea is what draws them to the martial arts. Others want a more "natural" sense of discipline and respect.

If you disagree with a schools philosophy go try another, that's fine. We all do things different and no school is perfect for everyone. If it was one incident without context I wouldn't make a decision on that, but talk to the instructor.
 
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MichaelSourey

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To: TwentyThree

Yes, I understand the reason for personal discipline in respect of this sport. I agree with you.

If the punishment had been to run a lap around the floor or do push ups for something that he had done wrong, I would have been OK with this. This sort of thing has happened in other activities he has been involved in and I have not had a problem with it.

My son did say that he was embarrassed.

Yes, I was humiliated. You are right, my son gets to class when I get him there. If, however, the instructor has a problem with that he should speak to me directly about it, not punish my son.

I think you are probably right that the instructor was trying to do it in a way that all participants would find funny. One of my reasons for starting this thread is to try and work out if I have misjudged my reaction to the situation.

To: JowGaWolf & Andrew Green
Thank you for your comments they have helped me form a more rounded view of the situation.
 

Steve

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My opinion is to always, always trust your gut when it comes to your kids. Your post gives me the impression that you are a thoughtful parent, and considering you have not had any issues like this before in other activities, I would absolutely recommend that you trust your instincts. If this made you uncomfortable in the moment, and it made your child feel bad, action is warranted.

To be clear, I'm not advocating an OVER-reaction. But some degree of advocacy is absolutely warranted.

You mention that your son wants to keep training. Is he interested in returning to this school, or is he giving you signs that he'd prefer to find another school? If the former, I think Bill's suggestion is very sound. If the latter, consider that this person is being paid by you for a service. Don't fall in for the mumbo jumbo, eastern culture BS that is sometimes being sold. You are not in Asia, and as a parent, you have every right to insist that your children are treated in a manner you deem appropriate. If not, you can take your business to another school. :)

Good luck, and as others have said, let us know how this works out, if you can.
 

Steve

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I just reread the op and you mention that you aren't expecting a response from the instructor to your complaint. That's not a good sign.
 

pgsmith

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If the punishment had been to run a lap around the floor or do push ups for something that he had done wrong, I would have been OK with this. This sort of thing has happened in other activities he has been involved in and I have not had a problem with it.

My son did say that he was embarrassed.

Yes, I was humiliated. You are right, my son gets to class when I get him there. If, however, the instructor has a problem with that he should speak to me directly about it, not punish my son.

I think you are probably right that the instructor was trying to do it in a way that all participants would find funny. One of my reasons for starting this thread is to try and work out if I have misjudged my reaction to the situation.

Hi Michael,
I'm going to play devil's advocate here for a moment to give you something to think about ...
I've not taught martial arts to kids as the martial arts I do are not conducive to such. However, I was a scout leader for many years, and worked with a great many kids. My suggestion would be to stop and think about why this bothers you. You do mention that you were humiliated, so I get the feeling that there's a bit of transference happening here. You also have made a point that it wasn't your son's fault that he was late, so he had no responsibility for it. These are two things that can interfere with your son's personal growth and the development of his decision making skills. I have had many parents that have gotten upset with me because of how I treated their Scouts, since it wasn't how they treated them. I also got a lot of flak because things weren't 'fair' and 'even'. One of the things that parents objected to was consequences for being late, since the vast majority did not drive themselves. However, I held the boys responsible since that's what the world is going to do and my job was to ready them for that. My mantra for my Scouts was "never make excuses", and it worked pretty well.
 

gpseymour

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My son's TKD instructor sometimes does stuff like that. And usually there are giggles coming from the other kids ...just like that. It's all done in a spirit of fun. Yeah, the class does have the trappings of old-school authoritarianism, but the instructor is actually a really gentle, good-humored guy and the kids love him. Parents too. Once when I got my kid to class late he threatened to make me do the punishment, whatever it was. Probably push-ups. We all had a good laugh.

Unfortunately, although the situation you described sounded similar, perhaps the school atmosphere and culture is not. :(
This was my initial reaction. Given no personal insight into the school, atmosphere, or the incident, it all sounded fairly harmless. When the OP walked in, the instructor appeared to be goofing off "punishing" one of the kids with something all the kids (including the one being "punished") thought was funny. The OP walked in with his son, and the son got pulled into the situation. Perhaps the son's embarrassment actually happened because he didn't understand what was going on (since it clearly started before he walked in) or even because of his father's reaction to it. Or, it could be much different than what I'm picturing.

To the OP: you might want to get a gut-check from one of the other parents. Ask what was going on before you walked in. If it was an authoritarian teacher goofing off (all the strict ones I know actually do this with kids sometimes), they probably got to see it and had a better view since they were there earlier than you.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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I have not read all the comments yet, just skimmed them, but read the op fully. Going to reply now as I will forget if I dont, so my apologies if I'm repeating anything.
I have four thoughts on this.
The first is that while there is variety in terms of authoritarianism, MA in general will be more so than other youth sports. It's expected when you are having to teach people something that is technical and physical, and also involves moral values.

The second is that judging from the other parents reactions, there was probably no maliciousness to it. He was likely doing it joking around and either got carried away or wanted to include your child so he did not feel left out. Without knowing your child I can't say that for sure, but it is my guess.

Third, humility is good for a child, especially in a controlled session. If the embarassment is mainly in him and not the other kids laughing at him (from what I gather from your statement) it is likely a good way for him to deal with it.

Finally, I agree with pgsmith-if I was the instructor I would blame the student for the transgression over the parent (this mainly would apply if you were actually late). My dojo does this, and I do the same in my boy scout troop. While the kid isn't directly responsible, the responsibility is theirs to show up on time, and I've found that they can generally get their parents to make arrangements so that they arrive on time, in both places. It also helps with consistency in teaching responsibility, because it prevents them from placing blame on someone one else in other situations where they are at fault, because they know that will not be effective, and it is better to own up to it themselves.
 

Lameman

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The hard truth, that no parent wants to hear... If your son is 9 years old, that means you probably have another 4 years to teach him to be self sufficient. Different people mature at different rates, but don't expect him to move out before he starts being independant. You are probably already seeing the early signs. My recommendation, if he is offended then he should seek out and talk to his instructor on his own. Let him take care of his own problems. Your role as protector has nearly reached its end, when that happens, he needs to have the skills to protect himself. Talk to your son, give advice, let him him handle it if he wants to, allow him to learn, allow him to grow. Further, this will help you with the sometimes difficult transition from protector to advisor. And that can make the teenage years go a lot smoother.
 
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