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Spanking and corporal punishment have been a hotly debated topic for many years. And like any socio-behavioral trend, is bound to have differing implications and implementations depending on variables such as culture, time, quantity, gender, and what definition of spanking is used, etc. For this essay, the term spanking will be used as a catch-all term that includes the act of striking a child’s buttocks with an open hand, hitting with a belt, paddling with an object and slapping with an open hand on the face and any other form physical striking a child. This paper will primarily focus on spanking in the United States and the studies related to its effects on children. There are multiple studies that have rendered conflicting results and opposing views, which have fed the flames of this controversial issue. Some parents swear by it, some swear they will never do it. Which side are you on? In this paper you will gain some perspective from both sides about this sensitive subject and hopefully find a justifiable position for your argument for or against disciplining children with corporal punishment.
There is new research that looks at the negative effects, both short-term and long-term, of spanking children. Spanking once may have been acceptable, but according to Parents.com a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that laying a hand on your child as a form of discipline is not only completely counterproductive, it may be potentially damaging. That depends on whom you ask. Finding spanking supporters isn’t as challenging as you might think. Of the 1,000 readers polled on parents.com, 81 percent said they had spanked their child at least once, and 22 percent do so once a week or more. That figure is consistent with a 2007 study published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, which found that nearly 80 percent of kids are spanked at least once by fifth grade. B. F. Skinner, in his book, (Beyond Freedom and Dignity): wrote, “A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.” And, “punished behavior is likely to reappear after the punitive contingencies are withdrawn.”
But wait: aren’t there exceptions to these general findings? Aren’t there times when a light rap on the backside can do a misbehaving child some good – or at least, not cause any significant harm? The author of the Bible’s book of Hebrews writes, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it”. In a TIME magazine article, Dr. Jared Pingleton, a clinical psychologist and minister and director for “Focus on the Family’s” Counseling department, states that parents have been entrusted with the incredible privilege and responsibility of shaping their children’s behavior in a positive direction. He believes spankings administered properly are the most effective deterrent to undesirable behavior for younger preschoolers that are unable to reason or understand restrictions. He further states tat as children get older, spanking should become less frequent as other types of consequences are used.
Psychologist Robert E. Larzelere of Oklahoma State University argued that the research is flawed and that the evidence against spanking is ‘faulty.’ In the few studies that have compared spanking with other forms of punishment, such as restriction of privileges, grounding and time-outs, all the punitive measures examined resulted in similarly negative outcomes in children, Larzelere said. He recommended that parents use spanking as a backup when gentler forms of punishment are not working. Larzelere also stated that, ‘Premature bans against spanking may undermine loving parental authority’.
In a talk given at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, by Dr. Diana Baumrind of the University of California, she asserted that social Scientists had overstepped the evidence in claiming that spanking caused lasting harm to a child. Dr. Baumrind is a psychologist known for her studies of authoritative, authoritarian and permissive styles of child-rearing. In her talk she states, “The scientific case against the use of normative physical punishment is a leaky dike, not a solid edifice.” She argued that an occasional swat, when delivered in the context of good child-rearing, had not been definitively proven to do any harm. Dr. Baumrind described findings from her personal research of more than 100 families, indicating that mild to moderate spanking had no detrimental effects on the child.
Utilitarian moral theory claims that whatever it’s ethnic or religious credentials, for an act (or rule or practice) to be considered moral, its execution must promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number affected by it. I believe from a moral perspective, even if we find evidence that a certain practice has personal or social benefits we may still choose to abandon the practice because it violates basic human rights. For example: A slave may be economically feasible to the owner, and a slave owner may treat the slave with kindness, and protect the slave from some of the perceived harm and hardships in being free; however these facts do not undermine the moral case against slavery. And it is this type of moral awakening upon which our current anti-spanking consciousness is evolving. I have found that many proponents of spanking usually argue from tradition (“this is how I was brought up”), or biblical perspective (‘spare the rod spoil the child’) argument, which I believe is shaky ground from which to mount a serious moral argument. The bible’s discussion of physically punishing children, as a way of caring for them is brief and open to multiple interpretations. In fact, the bible’s discussion on how to care for slaves is even briefer.
In summary, I feel the debate over spanking has been resolved. The practice is a relic of the past and best left there. Granted, I to was conditioned to correct through physical violence and can attest the cliché that “old habits die hard.” Yet the fact remains that when parents finally give up spanking, they will not be giving up a sound practice but a violent habit that is mostly ineffective, risky, and immoral. The new American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement correlates with the 2016 research from the University of Texas, which was published in the Journal of Family Psychology, after compiling 50 years of data on over 160,000 kids, researchers found the more children are spanked, the more likely it is they will defy their parents and experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties that last into adulthood.
In other words, if spanking your child to get him or her to obey your rules is your desired outcome then this method of punishment is not likely to have the desired result, and can actually produce the opposite affect.
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