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Debate: Corporal punishment of children

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Is physical force a justifiable method of punishing children?

Background and context

This debate shares something with Corporal Punishment (for Adults), namely whether the infliction of physical pain can ever be justifiable; but the issue of ‘paddling’ or spanking for children is less about punishment in itself and more about punishment as a means of education. How can young children learn the difference between right and wrong? How can teachers establish order in the classroom and enable a better environment for learning? Britain is a major example in this debate, having allowed corporal punishment in classrooms until 1986 when legislation brought it in line with the rest of Europe. All industrialised countries now ban corporal punishment in schools (not parental spanking) apart from the USA, Canada and one state in Australia.

See Wikipedia: corporal punishment for more background.

Contents

Violence and crime: Does corporal punishment reduce or increase violence and crime?

Yes

  • Corporal punishment creates a safer and more civilized adult society. Susan Osborne. "Corporal punishment has its place". Nursing New Zealand. Oct, 2006: "I think it is timely to note that when we had corporal punishment as an integral part of a child's upbringing (either in the home or at school), there was no need for the police to defend themselves with stun-guns, or use such weapons to control the resultant adult population. Nor did we have the explosion of rapes, murders, violence and theft we are witnessing today."
  • Corporal punishment is not barbaric; it corrects barbarity. Walter Williams. "Making a Case for Corporal Punishment". Bnet. Sept 13, 1999: "Regardless of what the experts preached, the undeniable fact is the "uncivilized" practice of whipping children produced more civilized young people. [...] Children, especially boys, are born barbarians. We, as parents and teachers, have a mere 18 years to civilize them before foisting them off on the rest of society, and we're not doing the best job that we can."
  • Corporal punishment does not teach that violence is acceptable. David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "The objection takes too crude a view of human psychology and the message that punishment can impart. There is all the difference in the world between legitimate authorities--the judiciary, parents, or teachers--using punitive powers responsibly to punish wrongdoing, and children or private citizens going around beating each other, locking each other up, and extracting financial tributes (such as lunch money). There is a vast moral difference here and there is no reason why children should not learn about it. Punishing children when they do wrong seems to be one important way of doing this. To suggest that children and others cannot extract this message, but only the cruder version that the objection suggests, is to underestimate the expressive function of punishment and people's ability to comprehend it."
  • Children that deserve corporal punishment are more likely criminals. While it may be true that children who are subjected to corporal punishment are more likely to become criminals, this does not necessary demonstrate that corporal punishment is the cause. It more likely demonstrates that "bad" children, who are more likely to become criminals in any case, are more likely to invite or even to deserve corporal punishment. This is a very important distinction. Statistics that show a correlation between corporal punishment and criminality do not demonstrate that corporal punishment was the cause of criminality and delinquency.


No

  • Corporal punishment teaches violence to children Murray Straus, an influential researcher on violence at the University of New Hampshire's Family Research Lab, writes in his book Beating the Devil out of Them that "children whose parents used corporal punishment are more than twice as likely to severely attack a brother or sister than children whose parents did not" He also concludes that adults hit as adolescents are more likely to hit their spouses and to assault other individuals. Some argue this means that parents that spank their children are teaching them the wrong lesson: that violence can be employed to control others and to settle interpersonal conflicts.[1]
  • Corporal punishment fosters criminality and delinquency Dr. Ralph Welsh, who has given psychological exams to over 2,000 delinquents has said: "...it is now apparent that the recidivist male delinquent who was never struck with a belt, board, extension cord, fist, or an equivalent is virtually nonexistent. Even after 10 years, the full impact of this discovery is still difficult to comprehend."
"As the severity of corporal punishment in the delinquent's developmental history increases, so does the probability that he will engage in a violent act."
"I have yet to see a repeat male delinquent that wasn't raised on a belt, board, cord, or fist."[2]
Alvin Poussaint, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School: "Researchers have also found that children who are spanked show higher rates of aggression and delinquency in childhood than those who were not spanked. As adults, they are more prone to depression, feelings of alienation, use of violence toward a spouse, and lower economic and professional achievement. None of this is what we want for our children."[3]
  • Corporal punishment fosters violence in society U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1991-SEP-15: "[Corporal punishment] contributes to a climate of violence, it implies that society approves of the physical violation of children, it establishes an unhealthy norm...Its outright abolition throughout the nation must occur immediately."[4]
  • Corporal punishment has false premise that violence is a solution. Anon: "Spanking is simply another form of terrorism. It teaches the victims that might makes right, and that problems can be solved through the use of violence by the strong against the weak."[5]


Discipline: Can corporal punishment help discipline children?

Yes

  • Corporal punishment is a good tool for disciplining unruly children Walter Williams. "Making a Case for Corporal Punishment". Bnet. Sept 13, 1999: "Regardless of what the experts preached, the undeniable fact is the 'uncivilized' practice of whipping children produced more civilized young people. Youngsters didn't direct foul language to, or use it in the presence of, teachers and other adults. In that 'uncivilized' era, assaulting a teacher or adult never would have crossed our minds. Today, foul language and assaults against teachers are routine in many schools. For some kinds of criminal behavior, I think we'd benefit from having punishment along the lines of Singapore's caning as a part of our judicial system."
  • Corporal punishment can ethically help save a child's future. Walter Williams. "Making a Case for Corporal Punishment". Bnet. Sept 13, 1999: "Let's think about cruelty. Today, it's not uncommon for young criminals to be arrested, counseled and released to the custody of a parent 20 or 30 times before they spend one night in jail. Such a person is a very good candidate for later serving a long prison sentence or, worse, facing the death penalty. If you interviewed such a person and asked: "Thinking back to when you started your life of crime, would you have preferred a punishment, such as caning, that might have set you straight or be where you are today?" I'd bet my retirement money that he'd say he wished someone had caned some sense into him. That being the case, which is more cruel: caning or allowing such a person to become a criminal?"
  • Corporal punishment can make a valuable example of a student. Oscar Goodman: "I also believe in a little bit of corporal punishment going back to the days of yore, where examples have to be shown."[6]
  • General statements in support of corporal punishment. Mark Benedict, Christian Family Foundations: "I also believe the scriptural reference to the 'rod' best corresponds to a switch or perhaps a flexible paddle."[7]



No

  • It is dubious that corporal punishment helps discipline children. Even the power of physical punishment to teach a child the difference between right and wrong is dubious; a young child may learn that the adult is displeased, but not why. Spanking will cause a state of extreme distress and confusion which makes it less likely they will analyse their behaviour with clarity. In older children disciplined at school, a physical punishment is likely to provoke resentment and further misbehaviour.
  • Corporal punishment can lower a child's IQ. "Child Corporal Punishment: Spanking. The anti-spanking position". Religious tolerance: "Spanking lowers a child's IQ: A study at the University of New Hampshire, released in 1998-JUL, found that spanking children apparently slows down their intellectual development. 3 A study of 960 children found an average 4 point reduction in IQ among students, from and average IQ of 102 (above average) for children who are not spanked, to an average IQ 98 (below average) for who are. A reduction of 4 points is enough to have a significant negative functional effect on the students. More information."
  • Corporal punishment hampers children's creativity. Ms. Dawn Walker, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Child Health commented: "We know that children who are under the threat of violence or aggression develop a fight-or-flight response system that has an impact on creativity and imagination, both of which could influence their IQ...Children need discipline but not hitting."[8]
  • Corporal punishment creates anti-social behavior. Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, University of Michigan. "Even minimal amounts of spanking can lead to an increased likelihood in antisocial behavior by children."[9]
  • General statements against corporal punishment Psychologist H. Stephen Glenn said "Corporal punishment is the least effective method [of discipline]. Punishment reinforces a failure identity. It reinforces rebellion, resistance, revenge and resentment. And, what people who spank children will learn is that it teaches more about you than it does about them that the whole goal is to crush the child. It's not dignified, and it's not respectful."[10]

Abuse: Does corporal punish invite abuse?

Pro

  • Abuses do not demonstrate corporal punishment is inherently wrong While it is true that corporal punishment can be abused, this does not demonstrate that it is always abused, or that it is inherently abusive. If it is used abusively, than measures should be taken to limit such abuse, instead of eliminating the practice altogether, which would be an over-reaction.
  • There is a difference between corporal punishment and child abuse. Corporal punishment is designed to punish specific acts of significant misbehavior and delinquency. It is not a wanton and unreasonable act of violence. Child abuse, on the contrary, is the unjustified and unreasoned beating of children. The act of child-abuse is not meant to punish a child, but is inflicted without restraint or concern for the general welfare of a child. The intention of corporal punishment, on the contrary, is meant to instill a level of discipline in a child that is necessary to their future. It is in the child's best interest, whereas child-abuse is clearly not.
  • It is not clear whether corporal punishment increases abuse. David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "Clearly there are instances of abuse and of abusive physical punishment. But that is insufficient to demonstrate even a correlation between corporal punishment and abuse, and a fortiori a causal relationship. Research into possible links between corporal punishment and abuse has proved inconclusive so far. Some studies have suggested that abusive parents use corporal punishment more than nonabusive parents, but other studies have shown this not to be the case.(7) The findings of one study,8 conducted a year after corporal punishment by parents was abolished in Sweden, suggested that Swedish parents were as prone to serious abuse of their children as were parents in the United States, where corporal punishment was (and is) widespread. These findings are far from decisive, but they caution us against hasty conclusions about the abusive effects of corporal punishment."
  • Corporal punishment should be limited, but not abandoned. David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "Opponents of the corporal punishment of children are rightly critical of its extensive use and the severity with which it is all too often inflicted. They have been at pains to show that corporal punishment is not used merely as a last resort, but is inflicted regularly and for the smallest of infractions.(1) They have also recorded the extreme harshness of many instances of corporal punishment.(2) [...] I have no hesitation in joining the opposition to such practices, which are correctly labeled as child abuse. Where I believe that opponents of corporal punishment are wrong is in saying that physical punishment should never be inflicted."


Con

  • Corporal punishment of children is analogous to wife-beating. Comments by Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) from their website at www.NoSpank.net: "Spanking does for a child's development what wife-beating does for a marriage."[11]
  • Corporal punishment often over-responds to innocent child behavior. Jan Hunt. "Ten Reasons Not to Hit Your Kids". The Natural Child Project: "2. In many cases of so-called 'bad behavior', the child is simply responding in the only way he can, given his age and experience, to neglect of basic needs. Among these needs are: proper sleep and nutrition, treatment of hidden allergy, fresh air, exercise, and sufficient freedom to explore the world around him. But his greatest need is for his parents' undivided attention. In these busy times, few children receive sufficient time and attention from their parents, who are often too distracted by their own problems and worries to treat their children with patience and empathy. It is surely wrong and unfair to punish a child for responding in a natural way to having important needs neglected. For this reason, punishment is not only ineffective in the long run, it is also clearly unjust."
  • Corporal punishment induces fear and despair in children. Irvin Wolkoff. "Spanked child can become self-loathing adult." The Toronto Star. November 29, 1999: "The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That's terrifying to a little kid...However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can't yet resolve or manage."[12]


Physical damage: Can corporal punishment cause physical damage?

Pro

  • Physical injuries only occur in abusive corporal punishment. Serious physical injuries only occur where disciplined, strategic corporal punishment becomes child abuse. There is a strict line between the two (see above) and to ignore it is deliberately misleading.


Con

  • Corporal punishment can cause serious physical damage The actual physical damage inflicted via corporal punishment on children can be horrifying. Examples can be found of students needing treatment for broken arms, nerve and muscle damage, and cerebral haemorrhage. Spanking of the buttocks can cause damage to the sciatic nerve and therefore the leg to which it leads.

Sexual abuse: Is corporal punishment associated with sexual abuse?

Pro

  • Risks of sexual abuse with spanking can be regulated. David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "It is, of course, a concern that some parents or teachers might derive sexual gratification from beating children, but is it a reason to eliminate or ban the practice? Someone might suggest that it is, if the anticipated sexual pleasure led to beatings that were inappropriate--either because children were beaten when they should not have been, or if the punishment were administered in an improper manner. However, if this is the concern, surely the fitting response would be to place limitations on the use of the punishment and, at least in schools, to monitor and enforce compliance."

Con

  • Corporal punishment on the buttocks is a sexual violation. Child Corporal Punishment: The anti-spanking position": "Slapping or any other type of force used on the buttocks is a sexual violation: The buttocks are an erogenous zone of the human body. Their nerve system is connected to the body's sexual nerve centers. Slapping them can involuntarily trigger feelings of sexual pleasure which become mixed with the pain. This can lead to confusion in the child's mind which influences the way in which they express their sexuality as adults."


Last resort: Is corporal punishment justified as "a last resort"?

Pro


Con

  • Violence of corporal punishment is never justified as "last resort". Laurie A. Couture. "10 pro-corporal punishment arguments & 10 commonsense answers". 2003: "Argument #4: 'I only use corporal punishment as a last resort.' Answer: This reasoning teaches children that it is acceptable to use violence as a last resort to getting their way or to solving a difficult problem. This teaches that violence is the end result to frustrating situations that seem to have no other solution. Wars are fought on this principle. This argument is no more acceptable than an angry spouse saying that they "only" hit their mate "as a last resort" to a problem."
  • Better ways exist; corporal punishment is lazy way There are always ways to discipline children that do not involve violence, and which are inherently superior than resorting to violence. Resorting to violence is the lazy way out for parent or teachers.

Regulation: Can corporal punishment be properly regulated?

Pro

  • Corporal punishment can be regulated within orderly framework. Corporal punishment must be used as part of a wider strategy and at the correct time: when other immediate discipline has failed; when the child understands their behaviour and has had an opportunity to explain it; and after an initial warning and opportunity for the child to repent. Crucially, the person delivering the punishment must not be angry at the time. This undermines much of the hysterical argument against corporal punishment.


Con

  • Regulation of corporal punishment does not soften ill effects. No matter how orderly you make the beating of a child, there are a number of adverse effects. They will lose trust in the adults who administer the beating; they learn that force is an acceptable factor in human interaction; they feel humiliated and lose self-respect; and they build up resentment that cannot be resolved at the time but may lead to severe misbehaviour in the future.


Psychology: Does corporal punishment increase rates of depression/suicide?

Pro

  • Moderate corporal punishment is not psychologically damaging David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "[Claim:] Corporal punishment is psychologically damaging [...] Although there is evidence that excessive corporal punishment can significantly increase the chances of such psychological harm, most of the psychological data are woefully inadequate to the task of demonstrating that mild and infrequent corporal punishment has such consequences. [...] First, the studies are not conclusive. The main methodological problem is that the studies are not experiments but post facto investigations based on self-reports. [...] The second point is that even if Professor Straus's findings are valid, the nature of the data is insufficiently marked to justify a moral condemnation of mild and infrequent corporal punishment."

Con

  • Corporal punishment increases depression and suicide Murray Straus, an influential researcher on violence at the University of New Hampshire's Family Research Lab, writes in his book Beating the Devil out of Them, that corporal punishment increases rates of depression and suicide.[14]


Teacher authority: Does corporal punishment represent a failure of teacher authority?

Pro

  • Corporal punishment does not represent teacher failures David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998: "there is a big difference between [...] a failure in the pupil, and a failure in the teacher. In either case it is true, in some sense, that the teacher failed to discourage the child from doing wrong--failed to prevent failure in the child. However, it is not a failure for which the teacher necessarily is responsible. I am well aware that the responsibility for children's wrongdoing is all too often placed exclusively at the door of children themselves, without due attention to the influences to which they are subjected. However, there is a danger that in rejecting this incorrect evaluation, teachers (and parents) will be blamed for all shortcomings in children."
  • Corporal punishment helps protect teachers and adults Walter Williams. "Making a Case for Corporal Punishment". Bnet. Sept 13, 1999: "During my youth, I might have been doing something mischievous, such as throwing stones. An adult would come over to me and ask, 'Does your mother know you're out here throwing stones?' I'd reply, 'No sir or no ma'am,' and hope that the matter ended there. [...] Today, it's quite different. An adult correcting a youngster risks being cursed and possibly assaulted. That's a sad commentary. Adults are justifiably afraid of children. Do we Americans as parents, teachers, principals and others in positions of authority have the guts and willpower to control our youngsters?"


Con

  • Corporal punishment represents failure to engage students. The Christian Science Monitor, 1989-MAR-21: "The fundamental need of American education is to find ways of engaging today's children in the thrill of learning. Fear of pain has no place in that process."[15]
  • Corporal punishment reflects breakdown of communication with children. American Medical Association, (1985): "Infliction of pain or discomfort, however minor, is not a desirable method of communicating with children."[16]
  • Corporal punishment distracts from teaching and training. Bill Gothard: "We don't focus on corporal punishment. We focus on teaching and training."[17]


Generations: What about people that were spanked, but "turned out fine"?

Pro

  • People "doing fine" after corporal punishment were harmed Laurie A. Couture. "Argument #1: "It didn't do ME any harm!". Child Advocate.org.: "Answer: Often people who declare this typical argument do so very defensively. They may feel they must defend the actions of their caretakers. To do otherwise is to admit that as children, they never deserved to have pain inflicted upon them. They must also admit to the feelings of fear, anger and mistrust that may have resulted from being hit by loved ones who were supposed to keep them safe from harm. Often, people who use this argument use or have used corporal punishment on their own children, thus defending their actions to minimize guilt. However, their actions reveal that corporal punishment DID do them harm: It perpetuated the cycle of violence that they now endorse or inflict upon children."


Con

  • Generations of people have been subjected to corporal punishment. People have been subjected to corporal punishment for years and have turned out just fine. Individuals of all types in society continually give testimony to their own happy and disciplined lives, following corporal punishment as children, and there is no reason to doubt the validity of these claims. Indeed, if someone was spanked as a child and turned out more disciplined, successful, and happy as a result - even if only according to their own interpretations - who is to say that their judgment to deal with their kids in similar ways is invalid. How can the government restrict their right to exercise this judgment and what they see as within the interests of their children.

International law: Is corporal punishment consistent with international law?

Pro

  • Corporal punishment is an issue for national not international law. Corporal punishment is an issue that is sensitive to individual cultures in different countries around the world. For this reason, it is wrong to apply international law at the expense of national law. Each nation must make this judgement based on public feelings regarding the practice, as this is one of the more important elements in whether it can be deemed acceptable or not. Like many moral issues, there is not blanket answer, and it is important to defer to local populations' interpretation of morality and culture to determine the appropriate public policy and law.

Con

  • Corporal punishment is illegal under international law. Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article clearly prohibits any physical violence or punishment against children, which includes corporal punishment: "States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and education measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programs to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement."[18]

Religion: Is corporal punishment justifiable under religious doctrine?

Yes

  • Quotations from the Bible that promote corporal punishment.
    • Proverbs 23:14. The authorship is traditionally attributed to King Solomon: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
    • "He who spareth his rod hateth his son, but he who loveth him is chasteneth him betimes." (King Solomon, in the Book of Proverbs [13:24].
    • "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15)
    • "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod. And deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13)



No

  • Scripture can be cited to enforce or debunk corporal punishment. "The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose." [Shakespeare] The Bible frequently condones practices that are outrageous to the modern sensibility. It sometimes promotes what would appear to be retribution or wanton acts of violence, while at other times it promotes a more Jesus-like philosophy of complete non-violence and compassion. So, while there are passage in the Bible that give support to corporal punishment, there are also ones that clearly condemn it. For this reason, little value should be assigned to individual passages in the Bible as they relate to corporal punishment.


Pro/con sources

Pro


Con

External links

Books

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