Suppose you are in line at McDonalds and the person in front of you places an order with the cashier. It has been a long day for the cashier and due to lack of experience, he makes an error on the order. Suppose the person in front of you, whose order was not followed as desired, reaches over the counter and strikes the cashier. What would be the reaction of surrounding bystanders? Most likely there would be gasps, an air of shock and possibly a panic. Someone may move in to restrain the assailant or comfort the victim. The police would quickly be called, and the assailant would be arrested for assault and battery. The entire mood of the restaurant would be one of panic.
However, what would be the reaction if the same act of violence were committed against a child? Suppose that the person in front of you is being yanked on by her excited son, who begs for a Happy Meal despite her firm declines. The child has had a long day of following orders, and is quite inexperienced at life. The child throws a tantrum in frustration. Suddenly, his mother reaches over and strikes him. Would the bystanders witnessing this act of violence react the same way as they reacted to the striking of the cashier? Most likely not. The majority of the witnesses would watch passively, perhaps even smiling on what they consider to be good discipline. The mother would not be restrained, and the victim would certainly not be comforted. The time spent at the restaurant would go by as if an act of violence never occurred.
In all 50 of the United States, it is a crime to hit a spouse or an employee. It is also a crime to hit servants, military trainees, and patients in psychiatric hospitals, elderly in convalescent homes, prisoners, any other fellow adult citizens and even pets. However, not one of these 50 states has a law stating that it is a crime to hit ones own children. In fact, almost half of our 50 states still allow the use of corporal punishment by authorities in schools and in childcare programs. According to child abuse laws, it is acceptable to hit ones child as long as it doesnt leave a wound or a bruise. The word spanking conveniently disguises the violence in the word hitting. (Hyman 17)
However, regardless of intent, spanking a child is an act of violence. By hitting, parents are actually teaching children to engage in violence. Being hit teaches children that violence is an acceptable means to solve a problem. It teaches children that it is permissible to use physical force as a last resort to getting their way. Hitting also teaches children that it is acceptable to use physical force to control those weaker than themselves. (Straus 216) Society is increasingly more concerned about escalating violence and increased drug use among young people. Organizations spend millions of dollars on so-called intervention and prevention programs and campaigns, at loss for why these attempts cant put a dent in the problem. The essential ingredient that all these attempts lack, is an intolerance of violence against children. Instead of attacking the roots of social problems, societys campaigns focus on the symptoms. This sways responsibility for the symptoms away from adults and places the blame on young people. According to the research compiled in his book, Beating The Devil Out of Them, (1994), Dr. Murray Straus not only shows that corporal punishment teaches children that violence is acceptable, but that it also carries with it a host of detrimental physical, psychological and social health risks.
The physical abuse of a child usually starts out as just a spanking. Spanking, especially when administered to a child out of anger, can easily escalate into legal definitions of physical abuse. Straus (1994) reports that parents who approved of corporal punishment had a much higher rate of going beyond that and severely assaulting their children than did parents who did not approve of corporal punishment. It is not uncommon for an adult to lose control while administering corporal punishment.
It is not coincidental that the most common mental health problems, depressive disorders, are strongly correlated to corporal punishment, the child rearing practice still employed by a majority of society. Depression often is a delayed response to the suppression of childhood anger… from being physically hit and hurt… by adults… whom the child loves and on whom he or she depends for nurturance and life itself. The National Family Violence surveys conducted by Straus (1994) and his team conclude that the more incidents of corporal punishment that a child endured, the greater the risk was for developing depressive disorders as an adult.
Self-esteem is the driving force behind our motivations, our actions, our view of ourselves and of others, and of how we view life and its experiences. Self-esteem shapes the person we become and the attitudes that we hold. A lack of self-esteem can be severely detrimental to the reaching of ones full potential. A lack of self-esteem can lead to depressive disorders and delinquency. Punishments and negative child rearing practices are permanently damaging to the childs long term self-esteem. Corporal punishment is disrespectful of children, making them feel worthless and degraded. (Leman 238)
Suicides are the most prevalent among people suffering from mood disorders such as major depression and dysthymia. Since corporal punishment is linked to depressive disorders, there is a suicide risk for victims of corporal punishment. Straus studies show that the more corporal punishment that a child experienced, the greater the risk for suicidal thoughts
I have already discussed how the use of hitting to control children can lead them to view violence as acceptable. However, being hit by a loved one also causes rage and anger in a child, anger that is often not allowed appropriate expression. The suppressed anger caused by being hit will often find expression in the form of delinquency. This played a major role in shaping famous pathological characters such as Adolf Hitler to become the severely violent and apathetic people that they were. (Hyman 163) Likewise, regarding substance use by young people, society refuses to see what function addiction actually has in (young peoples) lives and how they are unconsciously using it to communicate something to the outside world. Young addicts are often trying to communicate that they are hurting inside from the degrading practices that their caretakers employ. Substance use helps to suppress their pain.
Children who have been spanked run the risk of equating sexual arousal with physical pain. (Straus 121-126) Taking this argument a step further, Strauss research shows that sadomasochistic sexual tendencies arise out of associating love with pain. Sigmund Freud saw masochism as a need for punishment at the hands of a parental power. (Freud 1961) Richard Zacks, author of An Underground Education, exposes the booming sado-masochistic subculture in Victorian England complete with flagellant brothels that arose as a result of the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools and by caretakers. Adults would frequent these flagellant brothels in order to have scenes from their childhood punishments violently reenacted by prostitutes. Often, these adults were unable to become sexually aroused without the aide of fantasies of being paddled by their authoritarian schoolmasters and parents. This conditioning of love, power and sex occurs when a caretaker, the source of love and power in a childs life, hits a child, inflicting pain, stimulating the sciatic nerve. The child comes to associate pain with being loved and with sexual arousal.
Children who have been physically punished or abused have high rates of violence and crime later on in life. The more that a child is hit by his or her parents, the more likely he or she is to hit siblings, or his or her spouse and children in adulthood. In fact, Straus found that the more parents were corporally punished themselves (as children), the greater the percentage who went beyond ordinary corporal punishment with their own children and engaged in attacks severe enough to be classified as physical abuse. Violence begets violence. The use of corporal punishment on children ensures that the acceptance of violence and pain to control children will be passed down to the next generation. (Straus 121)
The physical and psychological health risks of corporal punishment discussed above are just a sample of the vast host of effects that spanking has on children. For example, anxiety disorders, desensitization to violence and a lack of empathy in adulthood for suffering children are some of the other potentially harmful effects of corporal punishment. With such risky implications, a concerned caretaker wouldnt want to take the risks involved in spanking children not even once.
If the physical, psychological and social health risks of corporal punishment are so high, then why does the majority of society approve of such a practice? Correcting children using physical force is deeply rooted in human history. The famous religious admonishment of spare the rod, spoil the child continues to saturate the beliefs of many, especially strict religious groups that believe that childrens wills should be broken by submission. Another explanation is that many people dislike admitting that their own parents, in using corporal punishment, did something wrong. It is important to keep in mind that back in the days when harming a childs body to force compliance was instituted, there was no study of child development or child psychology. Yet, in todays sophisticated society that can boast of all its knowledge of child development, we are still employing out-dated, antiquated tactics (i.e.: hitting, paddling, slapping, forcing a child to hold bodily waste and forcing a child to remain still in one spot), that are known to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate speaks in his studies of our societys failure to acknowledge the link between corporal punishment and later problems such as crime, violence and mental illness. If society were to acknowledge that corporal punishment is a harmful practice, then it would have to admit: 1). That society as a whole and as individuals have been wrong; 2). That society as a whole and individually is collectively responsible for many social ills; 3). That the legal rights of children need to be redefined; 4). That childrens minds and bodies need to be respected as adults minds and bodies are respected; 5). That a total change in child rearing methods would be due; 6). That the harmful effects of punishment in ALL areas of society need to be reconsidered.
In 1979, Sweden took the lead in ending violence towards children by passing a nation-wide no corporal punishment law. Since then, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Cyprus, Italy, Croatia and Latvia have passed similar laws. Interestingly, in Sweden, parents are generally more secure in their parenting because of the law and have come to develop positive child guidance methods. If a parent spanks a child, instead of being arrested, the government offers assistance. Resorting to violence is a sign that a parent needs help. Instead of being afraid of the law, in general, many parents feel they can request support if needed. The thought of never being able to hit a child seems absurd to many Americans. Yet, the thought of hitting a spouse is regarded with shock and uproar. If society provides protection for adults against violence, but not children, society is giving the impression that children are regarded as lesser beings, much like what was thought about african-american people in the 1800s.
However, In America, there are a few passionate organizations that are working towards the abolishment of corporal punishment in national and international homes and schools. This collective movement is responsible for the existing state laws that have outlawed corporal punishment in many schools. The movement consists of organizations, programs, researchers, physicians, psychologists, lawyers, authors, and other devoted individuals that through their own channels, contribute to raising public and governmental awareness to the physical, psychological, social and legal dangers of corporal punishment. Tenacious researchers like Dr. Murray Straus, of the Family Research Lab at the University of New Hampshire, fuel the anti-corporal punishment movement with the researched-based ammunition that is needed to back up the cries for an abolishment of legal violence towards children, bringing special attention to the psychological, sexual and social dangers of corporal punishment.
Every spanking chips away at the parent-child bond. Imagine the shattered trust that would result if an adult were hit by his or her spouse or partner. For a child, the fear and betrayal is magnified intensely. As a society, we cant truthfully say that we advocate for children, respect children, care about the welfare and safety of children and want to prevent child abuse if we continue to permit the use of corporal punishment. Corporal punishment serves the needs of adults and society, NOT the needs of children. It is important to keep in mind that it is a childs sense of personal worth and self-esteem that will shape him or her into a happy, healthy and successfully functioning person, not corporal punishment. Our most important job as parents, teachers and as a society is to give children a positive sense of self, and help lay the foundations for self-discipline, not to instill fear, resentment and anger. We do this through love, affection, encouragement, respect, and security, attending to childrens physical, psychological and developmental needs; and through consistent, positive, non-violent discipline.