“As recently as twenty years ago, the physical punishment of children was generally accepted worldwide and was considered an appropriate method of eliciting behavioural compliance that was conceptually distinct from physical abuse.
” (Durrant, Joan, and Ron Ensom., 4). This soon changed once researches and studies linked multiple mental disorders and aggression in people that were often physically reprimanded in their childhood.
Physical reprimandation of children dates back to the colonial era, when Puritan-conceived ideas about humankind being ultimately tainted led parents to believe that children were contaminated by something evil and had to be driven out by force. They believed that all disobedience came from Satan and that children had to have pain physically inflicted upon them in order to humiliate them and drive out their predisposition for evil. The concept of suffering to prevent undesirable behavior carried on throughout the centuries and became crucial to educational institutions and in homes with constantly changing methods on how to carry out the discipline. Even after a case regarding corporal punishment in public schools was brought to the Supreme Court’s attention, also known as Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court ruled that “corporal punishment in public schools did not violate constitutional rights” (Oluwole, 1). Although some may say that physical discipline essentially contributes to a growing child’s life, constant corporal punishment on children ultimately leads to many problems that appear instantly and essentially harms the child’s life in the future.
Oftentimes, children are disciplined physically after doing something morally wrong that their parents disagree with. The parents’ intention by doing so is to show that they do not want their child to repeat the same mistake again- but because they are still children, they are still unable to tell right from wrong and as a result, do not learn their lesson from being reprimanded in such an aggressive way. From a parent’s perspective, a child ignorant/unaware of the world must understand the power and authority a parent has in order to protect them from such harsh realities. By instilling fear into the child when there are signs of rebellion and stubbornness to accept the parents’ teachings, they hope that the children grow up with a sense of wariness and caution. In order to do this, the role of the parent changes, combining both the ability to protect the world from the child and the ability to protect the child from the world. By simply resorting to violence to show a child has committed a wrongdoing, the parents are not verbally communicating what the child did wrong, thus not correcting any behavior and virtually leaves the problem unsolved.
Oftentimes, parents say that child discipline such as spanking and yelling appear to be the most effective in reprimanding children and often come with instant results due to immediate compliance by the children. Jared Pingleton, a TIME magazine journalist, states that if “properly understood and administered, spanking is most effective as a deterrent to undesirable behavior for younger preschoolers… because reasoning and taking away privileges often simply don’t work with kids in that age range.” (Pingleton, 4). Pingleton argues that parents should only physically reprimand children within a certain age range in order for the reprimandation to be fully effective. By spanking a child right after they do something wrong, the parent communicates with the child; instantly allowing them to recognize the mistake they made and prevents them from doing the same undesirable behavior again.
According to Brett D., a certified teacher at Washington State, “Fear is a powerful motivator… corporal punishment serves as a powerful deterrent against potential future criminal or deviant behavior on the part of students, prisoners, or children.”. He claims that by instilling small bits of fear into children’s minds about what is wrong and what is right, corporal punishment can effectively prevent children from developing criminal behavior and violent habits.There are many physical consequences that come with constant corporal punishment. Research shows that excessive spanking (or any physical contact) harms children. Several studies have shown that the more parents spank their children, the more possible it is for the children to retaliate and hit the parents back. As reported by a controlled trial of more than 500 families designed to reduce misbehaving child behavior, trained parents reduced their use of physical punishment.
With that factor, there was a “significant parallel decline seen in the difficult behaviours of children in the treatment group with the decline of use of physical punishment.” (Durrant, Joan, and Ron Ensom., 9). The constant barrage of harsh physical contact on children comes with risks of damaging the developing child’s brain. According to a report conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, “spanking may reduce the brain’s gray matter” (Castelloe, 4), which is the connective tissue between brain cells. This gray matter controls speech, muscle control, emotions, and memory. Compared to physical punishment, verbal disciplinary methods of reasoning and explanation respond more positively with the stimulation of cognitive development and enhances brain growth.
According to a study about gray matter being linked to the ability to process, “The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought processing part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences.” (Walsh, Genzer., 1).
With that being said, the resulting consequence of physically disciplining children might often decrease cognitive development. Some parents may argue that as long as they differentiate between instrumental corporal punishment (planned, controlled, and not accompanied by strong parental emotion) and impulsive corporal punishment (spur-of-the-moment and with feelings of anger), it is acceptable to physically discipline their children. A meta-analysis by Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff of Columbia University states that because it the punishment is used more often, “children may be more accepting of and compliant with instrumental corporal punishment.” (Gershoff, 553). Being instrumental versus being impulsive becomes the basis to separate discipline from actual abuse- parents that follow the instrumental method have the primary goal of teaching kids right from wrong, parents that follow the impulsive method have no goal in mind, and merely act off of their emotions and aggression.
Because parents physically discipline their children in hopes of teaching them correct values that were taught the same way their parents taught them, they are creating an endless destructive cycle while inflicting their own pain and suffering on their children. A survey from 1999 led by Murray A. Straus and Julie H. Stewart, called “Corporal Punishment by American Parents”, reported that “94 percent of parents have spanked their child by the age of three or four, and 50 percent still spanked when their child was 13 years old.” (Case, 1). Straus also concluded that “seven percent of never-spanked adolescents grow up to abuse their children, compared to twenty-four percent of those who were spanked.” (Case, 3).
With spanking, parents teach children that it is acceptable to hurt people and can ultimately teach them that they solve problems through hurting others. Children with this mindset may carry this throughout their lives, hurting their spouses and own children. Lynn Soh, a senior principal psychologist at the Psychosocial Trauma Support Service, commented that it is “ironic to use the physical punishment to teach a child not to be aggressive. It reduces his understand of the rules and values being taught.” (Ng, 6).
A study published in Child Abuse and Neglect displayed an “intergenerational cycle of violence in homes where physical punishment was used.” (Smith, 15). It reveals how parents who were physically reprimanded as children believed that it was acceptable, and in turn frequently hit their children.
As a result, their children believed that physical punishment was an appropriate method of discipline. Another pretext parents claim who were disciplined as kids and now are said to be “well-adjusted adults”, is that they were not affected “in the long run”, so their kids would not be as affected by it as well. Many studies that attempted to prove the detrimental effects of physical punishment did not differentiate between “parents who spank frequently and forcefully and those who do so occasionally and moderately.” (Callaghan, 19).
Diana Baumrind, Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, conducted research that suggests that “moderate” spanking has no effect on the long term effect of children’s well being. Oftentimes, spanking constantly remains to be the solution for every problem, without any acknowledgement of the problem. By addressing the problem after each spanking, parents effectively correct the child’s behavior, which results to a successful punishment. A major psychological result that comes from physically disciplining children is the development of discrepancies later on in life that evolve into low self esteem, poor social skills, anxiety, and mental disorders.
Elizabeth Gershoff notes that “associations between corporal punishment and child delinquent or antisocial behavior result from an inability of corporal punishment to facilitate children’s internalization of morals and values” (Gershoff, 541). Children who are punished without being told the reason why will often grow up without the necessary morals needed to function properly in society, often forcing them to become anti-social or a threat to society. Parent punishment ruins the parent-child relationship which then results in the children refusing to strengthen their relationship with their parents- ultimately straining the relationship as a whole. Gershoff proves this point by saying “the painful nature of corporal punishment can evoke feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger in children… they can interfere with a positive parent-child relationship by inciting children to be fearful of and to avoid the parent.
” (Gershoff, 542). Without a strong parent-child relationship, the child becomes vulnerable to life’s adversaries and thus is more exposed to mental health issues later on. As stated in a 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, fifty years worth of data involving over one hundred and sixty thousand children found that “spanking was linked to increased defiance, antisocial behavior, aggression, mental health issues, and cognitive difficulties.” (Gershoff, 541).
Conclusively, the main core time of learning is between five and ten years of age; if within that time children learn that people are not nice because their parents spanked them, they will carry that with them throughout their life. Although spanking and child discipline has been around for centuries, it has only recently been shown that there are multiple detrimental effects that follow. Parents might believe that physical discipline is an effective practice with instant results when compared to verbal discipline, that there is a difference between impulsive and instrumental corporal punishment, and that it does not affect them in the “long-run”, but there are multiple detrimental effects that come with it. Physical punishment leads to a decrease in cognitive ability, a creation of an endless destructive cycle involving them and their children, and multiple psychological issues that children have to deal with in their adulthood such as depression and mental disorders. Many countries have passed regulation where it is illegal to physically reprimand children; thirty one countries have completely banned striking children as a form of discipline- Sweden being the first to make it illegal in 1979. Even if physical discipline has existed for many centuries, parents should invest in more successful methods on how to correct wrongdoings by implementing positive reinforcement techniques such as verbal communication and a reward system that allows for cognitive development as well.