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Corporal punishment is the use of violence, specifically pain, as a form of punishment. Usually this involves striking an offender in some way.
Corporal punishment has been widely used throughout history by many governments, as well as schools, armies, navies, employers and parents. It remains common to many societies, although the laws restricting it differ widely.
Corporal punishment is controversial because in a free, just and modern society, dealing with people through violent means does not square with the notion of inviolable human rights. There is also considerable debate over whether it should be used on children, although the evidence is overwhelmingly negative.
Child disciplinary issues
Notwithstanding the expected exception, most Western democracies have outlawed corporal punishment in schools and 36 countries worldwide have banned it in the home as well. In the UK, where some corporal punishment in the home is still legal, a survey suggested that a majority of parents supported the right to smack their children, although a minority understood the legal situation.
Some parents claimed that smacking a child provided a shock to them that remedied bad behaviour, but this must be balanced with the possible problem that a child grows up to believe that violence is a way to solve disputes. There is obviously a difference between an occasional light smack and beating a child on a regular basis, but according to developmental psychologist Liz (Elizabeth) Gershoff, the consensus is that "the more children are physically punished, the worse their behavior, the worse their mental health." Proponents have also used the argument that they were hit as a child, yet "turned out fine", a fallacious argument (anecdotal evidence). A child being disciplined by corporal punishment may grow up believing that it is the right of a parent to be able to hit their children. The context in which the punishment takes place is also important, since the parent's punishment may be more influenced by their own emotional state rather than a rational determination of the action necessary to correct the behaviour of a child. It's a bit like allowing a judge to preside over a court case (and act as the jury) in which the defendant is on trial for punching the judge shortly before the trial began. It's difficult to guarantee an impartial appraisal of the case.
This form of punishment is less effective as other forms of discipline but has many more drawbacks. It can also paradoxically lead to worse behavioral problems as a reaction to the punishment. This raises the question of why a parent would risk using corporal punishment rather than practice with other forms of discipline. One reason may be the lack of self control and the ability to stay calm, as parents who corporally punish their children often do so out of anger.
The fact-based debate on spanking is over: it's unequivocally bad. Instead of learning not to misbehave, kids learn not to get caught, and they may feel resentful or afraid. Being hit makes kids more anxious, and that anxiety can turn into aggression. (And if you hit your child and then tell them that hitting is wrong, what did you expect?) While the immediate effects may seem positive, it leads to worse behavior long-term.
Here are some of the side effects of spanking, according to over 80 studies spanning decades:
- Increased disobedience
- Lower IQ
- Less gray matter in the brain
- Aggression, and thinking hitting people is an acceptable way to solve problems
- Antisocial behavior
- Mental health issues (including anxiety, depression, and addiction)
- A worse relationship with the perpetrator
- Higher risk of dating violence or child abuse later on
Essentially, spanking will give you the exact type of outcome that you don't want for your child.
Spanking is a risk factor for other, harsher forms of physical abuse. "Physical punishment doesn't work to get kids to comply, so parents think they have to keep escalating it. That is why it is so dangerous," explains Elizabeth Gershoff.
Tips for parents
Want your kid to behave without cowering in terror? Good for you, you're a decent person!
Some parents might be at a loss for what to do when their kids misbehave. Luckily, there's plenty of advice out there for strategies you can use to get your lovable miscreants to rethink their behavior:
- Address the need they're trying to express. For example, if your kid is whining about being tired while at the store, tell them they can sit on the bench near the checkout and wait for you.
- Talk to them about what they did. Ask why, and let them tell their side of the story. Explain why their behavior was wrong. Discuss a better way for them to handle it in the future.
- Startle them nonviolently. A firm "no" or the "clap-growl" technique (loudly clapping your hands and then making a stern comment) is enough to halt a naughty toddler.
- Redirect them. Show them something interesting, or give them an alternative.
- Tell them to choose between 2 good options. For example, if your kid is whining about showering, ask them if they want to do it now or in the evening.
- Have them make amends to anyone they wronged. Talk together about what would be a good way to make it up to the person.
Praising kids for behaving well also makes a difference. For example, you can say "thank you for getting ready so quickly!" or "you did a great job politely telling your brother to stop!"
Corporal punishment in American schools
As of 2010, twenty American states allow corporal punishment, and, in the 2005-2006 school year, about a quarter million American children were subjected to corporal punishment. Black children are more likely to receive corporal punishment.
Discipline strategies that actually work
- How to Teach Good Behavior Without Harsh Discipline - wikiHow
- How to Discipline a Child Effectively Without Spanking - wikiHow
- How to Reward Your Child for Good Behavior - wikiHow
- States with Full Abolition Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (archived from May 24, 2015).
- Times Online:Majority of parents admit to smacking children
- Americans are still spanking their kids. A new study shows how harmful that is. by Caitlin Gibson (April 12, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. PDT) The Washington Post.
- Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now To Stop Hitting Our Children
- Harmful effects of spanking a toddler can trigger bad behavior — even 10 years later - USA Today
- Why Spanking Doesn’t Work - TIME
- Corporal Punishment - Pediatric Clinics of North America
- Spanking the gray matter out of our kids - CNN
- The case against spanking - American Psychological Association
- There's no 'right way' to spank a child - CNN Health
- Spanking can lead to relationship violence, study says - CNN
- The Long-Term Effects of Physical Punishment on a Child
- U.S.: Corporal Punishment and Paddling: Statistics by State and Race The Center for Effective Discipline (archived from March 14, 2010).
- ABC News
- The long-term effects of corporal punishment - The Week