Corporal Punishment Essay, Research Paper
Running title: Corporal punishment
Corporal punishment is a form of discipline that is deeply ingrained in Western society. The bible reads “he that spareth his rod / hateth his son: but he that loveth him his chasteneth his betimes” (Proverbs, 13:24), and this sentiment is clearly reflected in today s disciplinary styles. Research has also shown just how deeply embedded these ideals actually are; ninety percent of parents in the U.S. use corporal punishment as a disciplinary technique with their toddlers, and fifty percent with their adolescent children (Childhood spanking and increase antisocial behavior, 1998). Despite these outrageous statistics, the worldwide plight for child protection has actually been improving. In the 15th century, beating and abuse for educative purposes were commonplace and even considered essential (Aries, 1962), but today corporal punishment is banned in schools in all countries except Australia, Canada, South Africa and the U.S. (Zigler & Hall, 2000). In addition, Austria, Cypress, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway and Sweden have further committed themselves to child welfare by banning all forms of corporal punishment, both in school and in the home (University of Alabama, 1998). Corporal punishment has not only been shown to be ineffective in reducing undesired behavior, but it can result in severe physical and psychological consequences, that can have detrimental short and long-term effects on the child. Studies illustrating these points are not new, the consequences of physical punishment have been observed and disregarded on many occasions, yet corporal punishment continues. All these studies indicate that corporal punishment is not only an outdated form of discipline, but also a harmful one that deserves serious reconsideration. A policy similar to that introduced in Sweden in the late 1970 s would ban the use of corporal punishment by all authoritative figures (parents and teachers included) and would be instrumental in protecting out children from harm.
Straus (1994) defines corporal punishment as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing the child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purposes of correction or control of the child’s behavior” (p.4). From this definition it appears that the only distinction between corporal punishment and physical abuse is the intention of injury. Intended or otherwise, it has been show that corporal punishment can have both long and short-term physical and psychological effects on the child. Due to the very fine line between socially and legally sanctioned physical punishment and physical abuse, parents who use corporal punishment to discipline their children run a higher risk of crossing this line, and physically abusing their children (Parke, 1982). One such example when corporal punishment could unintentionally graduate to physical abuse is when the punishment is ineffective in controlling behavior, and due to frustration parents resort to increased physical severity, injuring the child (Marion, 1982). It has been reported that sixty percent of childhood physical abuse is as a result of a punishment attempt (Zigler & Hall, 2000). As a result of statistics such as these, numerous researchers have concluded that reducing corporal punishment is necessary in protecting children from physical abuse (Gelles & Straus, 1988; Straus, Gelles & Steinmetz, 1980; Williams, 1983)
Corporal punishment has also been found to adversely affect the psychological wellbeing of children. Straus (1994) revealed that increased levels of corporal punishment during childhood and especially during adolescence, led to an increased likelihood of depression in adulthood. Females were found to have higher levels of depression than males, though this is perhaps more of a reflection of the actual population and the way males and females deal independently with stress, rather than corporal punishment itself. Geven (1991) concluded that such a relationship between corporal punishment and depression was due to a latent anger at being spanked, suppressed through childhood and resurfacing later in life. Straus (1994) asserts that the depression is stress induced as a result of prolonged corporal punishment, resulting in permanent and hormonal changes in the body. Neither of these hypotheses have been sufficiently tested, but it does appear evident that depression is a serious side effect of corporal punishment, and the perceived benefits of physical punishment should be weighed carefully against the consequences, namely depression.
Suicidal ideation is closely linked to depression and has also been shown to dramatically increase with high levels of corporal punishment (Straus, 1994). Lower levels of corporal punishment seemed not to affect suicidal ideation (between two and five percent or adults reported these thoughts), but when physical punishment was excessive during the teenage years, sixteen to twenty-four percent of adults later reported thinking about killing themselves. Almost one quarter of those who received a high frequency of physical punishment as adolescents (not perceived as physical abuse) considered taking their life. Statistics regarding how many were successful in committing suicide are unknown, but the depression and emotional turmoil associated with such thoughts are significant enough to warrant concern. Unfortunately Straus (1994) investigates only adolescent corporal punishment, possibly because the participants themselves were relied on to recall their parents disciplinary techniques and earlier childhood memories are often inaccurate. It would be interesting to observe the effects of early childhood corporal punishment on adult depression, in order to determine just how formative these early years actually are. Corporal punishment has also been linked with increased aggressive behavior, a less fully developed conscious (Sear, Maccoby & Levin, 1957) and childhood delinquency (Bandura & Waters, 1959). It would appear this behavior pattern is a high risk factor for violence and crime, potentially extending into adulthood and resulting in any number of personal, professional and economic hardships.
As well as potentially causing physical and psychological harm to the child, corporal punishment has been shown to be an ineffective disciplinary technique. Physical punishment often prevents the undesired behavior on a short-term basis, but in the long term, can actually increase it (Zigler & Hall, 2000). Research on animals reveals significant long term effects following physical punishment, only when the punishment is extremely harsh and repeatedly administered, with no time lapse between behavior and punishment infliction (Bongiovanni, 1977). Clearly this aversive technique is an unacceptable way to instruct a child, as it is apparent that physical punishment would have to be harsh enough to be considered physical abuse before it had any effect. Corporal punishment may also result in an actual increase of the undesired behavior if punishment is the only form of attention the child receives. The child may intentionally misbehave, pursuing physical punishment as an attention-seeking device, and reinforcing an emotionally destructive behavior (Campbell, 1989).
A sad kind of irony is revealed when children are spanked for hitting another child. The parents respond to the child s undesired behavior by displaying the behavior themselves. This provides the child with conflicting messages, setting a model for institutionally approved violence (Campbell, 1989). In their classic study, Bandura and Huston (1961) investigated the effects of adult aggression on children. They found that children readily imitated the aggressive behavior displayed by the adults, providing good evidence for a social learning theory. This theory suggests that we learn social behavior though the interaction, observation and imitation of others. Another study by Bandura and colleagues (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1961), providing even stronger evidence for the social learning theory, showed that children continued to exhibit the previously modeled behavior, even when the model was not present, generalizing the aggression to a novel setting. It would therefore follow that children would learn to respond to another s mistakes or misgivings with violence instead of a caring nurturing attitude. When parents use corporal punishment only as a last resort, children may learn that aggression is an appropriate way to respond to frustration and helplessness, and when children are physically punished for hitting another child they may learn to legitimize physical punishment from authority, which could possibly play a role in school bullying, wife beating, workplace harassment and the perpetuation of corporal punishment between generations.
Sweden introduced a law in July 1979 banning the use of corporal punishment. Parents cannot be prosecuted in the instance of corporal punishment, as the law does not contain any penal sanctions, but parents are encouraged to use, and are educated regarding alternate disciplinary techniques (Campbell, 1989). An additional purpose of this law is the ease of conviction possible for those prosecuted for harming a child, as it can not be argued that injury was a result of an accident that occurred during punishment (Zigler & Hall, 2000). This law seems to maintain a balance between the rights of the child and the rights of the family to act as an autonomous unit. Parents are informed of the negative consequences associated with corporal punishment, and the cessation of such disciplinary techniques is encouraged by professionals and policy makers alike. With this information, it would be predicted that the majority of parents with their child s wellbeing at heart would use more appropriate methods of discipline, and would reject the used of physical punishment. In fact, fifteen years after the implementation of the new law, which was originally ridiculed by much of the population, seventy-one percent of Swedes said they preferred not to use corporal punishment (Straus, 1994). On the other hand, parents who do physically abuse their kids cannot hide behind the guise of unintentional injury during punishment, and can be prosecuted. Currently, the Canadian criminal code permits the use of physical force as a means of child discipline (Campbell, 1989). Various provinces and individual institutions ban the use of physical punishment, but to effectively protect the interests of children and officially abandon the use of corporal punishment, a nationwide policy needs to be implemented outlawing this type of discipline. An abundance of information points to this resolution, and after decades of research it is time for implementation. Canada needs to bring itself in line with the rest of the world, and ban the use or corporal punishment in schools. Parents need to be taught and encouraged to use positive parenting techniques, rather than resorting to physical punishment. More appropriate disciplinary techniques are beyond the scope of this essay, but include positive reinforcement and modeling, in a caring and nurturing environment. Sweden has provided a balanced resolution between the rights of an autonomous family and the protection of all children, and Canada would do well to join this Scandinavian initiative and follow suit.
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