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When we talk about physical punishment in children, we usually attribute it to a compassionate corrective which intention is to modify the behavior of the kid but in a non-injurious way. However, the nature of the punishment proves otherwise. Before we move forward, it is important to take in consideration that every act involving openhanding hitting such as blows on hands, buttocks, to be slapped, pinched, paddled, whipped, being immobilized to swallow substances, being struck with objects of any kind, hits on feet, arms, back, and knees are general examples of physical punishment.
Traditions have always impacted in the way parents raise their children all over time. Spanking, which is another way of physical punishment, still is popular. A large part of the population in many countries, specially this one, base their discipline upon corporal punishment. Since people were raised this way, they “normalized” the action. According to Muzafer Sherif (1936) who is considered one of the founders of social psychology “Normalization is a process of reciprocal influence that takes place when there is no frame of reference available to make a judgment or act in certain way”. So, people approve and repeat what they were taught because that was the only reference they got. That is why traditions are such a big inconvenience in terms of distinguish if the action is harmful or not. Ineffective problem solving, lack of communication and not establishing laws of behavior since the very beginning are some of the causes that lead parents to spank their children. Bad-behavior is directly adjusted to what the parent expects from the kid. It becomes unjustified to reprimand a kid for something that was not clearly explained or if the request was not physically possible for the infant given the age or experience. Usually, when parents resort to corporal punishment, they are under the effect of a negative emotion, therefore their actions are impulsive. Tired parents are more likely to look for quick results rather than assertive ones. If they were conscient about the damage behind their methods, they would probably think it twice before hitting a child. Nowadays, most doctors do not support physical punishment. According to an article of the New York Times (2018) “A survey of 1,500 pediatricians in U.S. made on this year, found that 74% of them did not approve of spanking and 78% thought spanking never improved children’s behavior”. Physical punishment is not an effective strategy to teach right from wrong because it does not teach a positive replacement and that will conduct the infant to repeat the problematic one. It distracts the child from learning how to solve a conflict in an assertive way. Besides of being useless in terms of educating, corporal punishment brings bad long-term repercussions. One 2009 study showed that being struck with objects at least 12 times a year for a period of three years, produced less gray matter in the brains of children. Minimizing the number of parents that hit their children may also reduce the rate of mental illness and disorders in general population.
When parents spank their children, sometimes they interfere with the bond they create as a family. Parents should aspire to keep a strong bond based on mutual feelings of love and respect. If there is a lack of trust, the child will never do their parent´s will by own conviction. At the end it is not a real understanding what moves the child to behave, it is fear. Many people can consider fear as an excellent motivator. It is effective and results come quickly as desired but, is that reason enough to ignore all the proved evidence that disapproves physical punishment? Power is not equal to authority. To subdue a child will not teach him why is wrong to behave that way. It will only produce a superficial good conduct until the child gets old enough to resist. Parents can get emotional during a conflict which leads to spank their kids but if they, as adults, are not able to control their own emotions how do they expect children to control theirs through this method? “Nothing else works” is a typical phrase that can be used to justify corporal punishment but that statement is debatable. Hitting does not work every time either. If the kid is not afraid of the punishment or if he strongly believes in what he is doing he would not change his behavior even if it implies being spank. When parents correct their children, it is essential to explain them why they are doing it, otherwise they will never understand why they are doing something wrong. There are many alternatives to spanking that can give children realistic consequences and a real comprehension of the issue. But first, we should discuss another matter that has become controversial this last years. Children rights.
Physical punishment in children violates international human right laws. Children cannot be considered possession of the parents. Parenthood represents a source and guide for life. Nevertheless, it is erroneous to interpret that this means they own their children, hinting that they can do whatever they want with them. Barbara Bennett Woodhouse (2000) director of the Child Rights Project in Emory University stands with “No person has a right to strike another no matter how close the relationship is”. Sometimes, even good parents can resort to corporal punishment when they lose their patience. Those mistakes are acceptable but it does not make hitting a right either. We live in a violent society, with constant fights and misunderstandings. It is not possible to change the nature of humanity, but we can influence it to be less violent and more cooperative by rising the new generations in a peaceful way.
Corporal punishment has several consequences in the development of the children´s character. It can stir up anger and fear which makes the kids attitude either defiant or weak. Anger and frustration cannot be safely express so they learn to store it inside them. Subsequently, they will grow up conflicted with themselves and the long-term consequences will finally be manifested. Children who experience physical punishment are more likely to believe it was for their own good when they interpret the action is a way of showing love.
There are many alternatives parents can use instead of physical punishment, discipline should involve empathy and respect, and it is responsibility of the parents to properly educate their children. It is possible to be a well-balanced strict parent without spanking. There are other ways to set clear boundaries. Sometimes parenting means finding the best solutions even if they are hard to see. The majority of us who were spanked by our parents think we turned ok, perhaps we did but now, we can do it better.
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