My daughter was assigned to write a position paper, and she chose to take on the issue of corporal punishment. Her research and our conversations about the subject highlighted for me the reasons I have always been against using force and physical punishment on children.
My main objection is simple: It’s wrong to hit another human being. In a civilized society, people need to find other ways of resolving conflict, venting our anger, or getting others to do what we want. Violence begets violence. When a mother showed up at the Baltimore protests last summer and started whaling on her son, the internet lit up with support for this “tough love.” All I could think was, No wonder the kid thinks it’s okay to throw rocks at police.
Corporal punishment appeals to parents because it works in the short run. Parents who rule by fear get immediate compliance. But the child doesn’t really internalize the concepts of right and wrong the parent may think he or she is teaching. All the child really learns is that the bigger, stronger party has the upper hand.
I remember watching an episode of the reality show Super Nanny some years ago. In the episode, the parents were constantly swatting the children to get them to behave. But the hitting did not create a peaceful household. Instead, the children became increasingly emotional and unruly. Super Nanny stepped in and showed the parents more effective techniques to get the children to behave.
And this is another problem with corporal punishment. Numerous recent studies have shown that corporal punishment is ineffective in the long run. Children who are spanked or hit may behave well when the parent is around, but their behavior deteriorates when they are away from the fear of being hit. Furthermore, physical punishment in childhood is associated with increased aggression and mental health problems later in life.
Another issue is that for too many parents, spanking as discipline crosses the line into abuse. The recent cases of Adrian Peterson and his 4-year-old son, as well as the “church members” who “disciplined” a 17-year-old to death, graphically underscore this problem.
Discipline should be about teaching a child, not about asserting power. While it’s more time-consuming to use logical consequences and other discipline techniques, in the long run, children will develop lifelong values within the context of a mutually loving, respectful parent/child relationship.