Spanking or striking children as a method to correct bad behavior has been widely used by parents in many cultures as a primary means of discipline. Lately, though, this disciplinary technique has been the subject of criticism among experts who have adopted a philosophy of positive parenting. Corporal punishment seems a simple and effective way to punish children when they stray from desired actions. Children seem to respond much quicker to physical punishments or even the threat of this than they do verbal corrections. Many parents believe that spanking is an acceptable form of punishment and consider the practice as an indispensable component of child-rearing. Others believe hitting anyone is wrong including and maybe especially, a person’s own child. Physically abusing another adult is a crime and when it involves a child, should be considered reprehensible as well. A civilized society should not permit a child to be abused simply because of some perceived biological right that somehow supercedes all others. Is spanking a positive, healthy and effective way to discipline a child or does this practice teach the child that violence is an accepted way to vent anger? This discussion will examine the argument from studies which advocate spanking as well as those which denounce the practice.
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Many parents and researchers alike are of the opinion that “parents have to be the parents; you can’t let the children run circles around you, which they will. Kids want to push their limits” (Etheridge, 1997). Parents understand that recurring bad behavior will hamper their child’s chances for a successful life as an adult and feel compelled to diminish poor behavioral patterns with disciplinary techniques they believe to be most effective. Most parents find it necessary to resort to the advice of those older than they regarding how best to handle disciplinary matters, thus acting without the guidance of emerging research and theories regarding what motivates children and how best to redirect their behavior. “There are many aspects which influence parents in this hard job; for example, the culture in which they live, the economic situation in their society, and the religious environment” (Hernandez, 2007). For many of these groups, parents must either rely upon grandparent support and child-raising techniques or avoid raising their children altogether, leaving them to essentially raise themselves, as the parents must spend a majority of their time simply earning the necessary money to keep these same children fed, housed and clothed. This means children are either raised via archaic methods of punishment and behavior expectations or are raised without any boundaries, structure or cultural values. Without time or energy to research the latest knowledge regarding child behavior, what parents need is quality information regarding methods by which to effectively discipline their children without needing to resort to violence or allowing their children to grow up without appropriate guidance.
As it turns out, the most effective punishment techniques are established on the basis of a relationship between the parent and child that is positive and loving. The punishment methods are proactive but measured and administered with competency while being designed to both respect the misbehaving individual and present them with an opportunity to learn from their inappropriate behavior. Many of these concepts are based upon the teachings of Gandhi as they are outlined by R. Rajmohan (2000). According to Rajmohan, Gandhi believed that “Punishment and disciplinary action might make for an outer show of orderliness and progress, but that is all.” Punishment was not seen as an effective means of changing children’s behavior. Instead, it was seen to facilitate the hardening of their emotions, provide them with an outer shell of resistance and bring about little if any change in their fundamental behavior patterns. Although it did bring about speedy conformance to the rules when being observed, spanking typically resulted in no inner growth and a tendency for children to disobey the rules when not being watched. According to Gandhi, physical punishment designed to inflict pain first presented an opportunity for an abuse of power towards children by those who are placed in authority above them, such as their parents or teachers. It instills a sense of humiliation and intimidation in the mind of the child and removes them from the result of their poor behavior rendering the child incapable of learning the consequences their actions held for others. Finally, rather than encouraging children to think of how their actions might hurt other people, corporal punishment forces them to make a choice between the mechanical action of obeying the rules or the equally mechanical reaction of rebelling against them, again discouraging any opportunity for moral reflection or growth and reinforcing the idea that rules can or should be broken whenever one can do so without being caught (Rajmohan, 2000).
In contrast to the punishment technique, Gandhi suggested a more positive approach involving reasoning within the child regarding their behavior and thus encouraging self-awareness. Care should be taken toward the rearing of children and the correction of anti-social activities that the child is able to learn something positive from the experience rather than reinforcing conceptions of control through physical force and pain. When acting in response to bad behavior, parents should apply mild corrective actions such as reasoning, grounding and time-out. “A constructive way of dealing with such errors … is not to punish those who committed them, but to help them acknowledge their mistakes and assist them to correct them in future. This method should be kind and sympathetic so it can help individuals transform themselves rather than make them feel bad about themselves” (Rajmohan, 2000).
Spanking, if parents feel it absolutely must be used, is thus most effective when only used to re-enforce these mild corrective actions. Studies have demonstrated that spanking serves to increase the chance that the child will respond to mild corrective tactics. As a consequence, spanking is needed less to control behavior as the child grows older. “Spanking has consistently beneficial outcomes when it is non-abusive (e.g., two swats to the buttocks with an open hand) and used primarily to back up milder disciplinary tactics with 2- to 6-year-olds by loving parents…most detrimental outcomes in causally relevant studies are due to overly frequent use of physical punishment” (Larzelere, 2000: 215).
Some suggest that we go back to the days of systems with a good spanking to correct behavior. Others insist that this is tantamount to criminal brutality. The majority of parents that spank their children are not abusive by nature. They do so because they are concerned about properly socializing and protecting their offspring, a natural inclination also found in most species of animals. The evidence has shown that sustained spanking leads to future behavioral problems but an occasional swat to those children under seven years of age used only at last resort complemented with sound judgment and a loving environment is probably the favorable method by which to discipline children.
Etheridge, Pat. “Study: Spanking Kids Leads to Long-Term Bad Behavior.” Cable News Network. (1997).
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Hernandez, Walter E. “Parents Need to Teach Their Children How to Behave.” Topics Magazine. (2007). Web.
Larzelere, Robert E. “Child Outcomes of Nonabusive and Customary Physical Punishment by Parents: An Updated Literature Review.” Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. Vol. 3, N. 4, pp. 199-221. (2000).
Rajmohan, R. MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. (2000). Web.