Spare The Rod – Spare The Child

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“If I was physically punished as a kid and turned out fine then why can’t I do it?”

In America, if you are a part of Generations Y (ages 23-38), X (ages 39-54), Boomers (ages 55-73), and so on then, like me, you more than likely were hit, spanked, pinched, verbally shamed, or threatened as a child. It has become less practiced among parents in contemporary society however they are still commonly used. In fact, these punishments have been the most widely accepted form of discipline throughout history and various societies around the world.

About half of Americans use corporal punishment at home.

Naveed Saleh M.D., M.S.

They are defined as corporal punishment, a physical punishment that is meant to cause harm or pain to an individual, with children the intention is to correct anything viewed as misbehavior. It’s been considered not only a valid but also necessary way of socializing children or rather conditioning them to become “civilized” and obedient members of a family unit, community, and society. Science has continuously been evolving and as a result so has our knowledge, cultural and social norms, as well as our worldviews on a wide variety of practices and topics, including corporal punishment.

The question that so many individuals have regarding this new age stance against corporal punishment is, “If I was physically punished as a kid and turned out fine then why can’t I do it?” That is a valid question that deserves an explanation. So, let’s look at the information and find out why.

Why do parents rely on or resort to corporal punishment?

There are different factors that come into play for what can increase a parent’s use of corporal punishment such as family economic challenges, mental health problems, intimate partner violence, substance use, and a history of trauma. I truly believe that the best and most effective method of decreasing the reliance on physical punishments for children is to address the most common underlying issues and highest risk factors relating to parents and caregivers.

About half of Americans use corporal punishment at home, and a large portion of American adults tend to agree that “some kids just need a good spanking/beating.” There also are a large number of Millennials and older who incorrectly blame the actions of younger generations on the assumption that individuals weren’t ‘beaten’ the way we were. It is as much a cultural and geographical decision as it is emotional or stress-related.

[Corporal punishment] increases child aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health issues, and it lowers intellectual achievement as well as parent-child relationships

Being a parent is an extremely trying and stressful job and many have continued to use the immediate response of physical punishment. I was stuck in the same cycle and had the same mentality when I was first pregnant that I would spank my kids, but my view was completely changed after learning more on the topic. It’s easy to do the knee-jerk reaction but it’s crucial that parents stop, take the time to think about their actions, and then be consistent with alternative methods of discipline. This is not saying I am a perfect parent or person, but I think the most important thing any of us can do for our children, our family, and us as individuals is to never stop trying.

It’s crucial people understand that the practice tends to only ‘correct’ the behavior and makes a child obedient at that moment but researchers have found that it is nothing more than a temporary solution with long-term negative effects on the individual. Due to this, it leads parents to increase the force of their physical punishment and hit the child harder when they notice and become angry that the child’s behavior is not being corrected. Sometimes this is what leads to accidental injuries, marks on the child, and even hospitalization.

Harmful effects of corporal punishment

For years now there has been an ever-growing body of scientific evidence that has caused researchers, experts, organizations, and societies to identify and discuss corporal punishment for children in an attempt to ban the practice, discontinue our older norms, and practices in order to increase public and individual health and well-being. Physical punishment has since not been recognized as an acceptable form of discipline. Since the late ‘90s, the American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a stance against spanking as a method of punishment for children, and in 2018 the AAP released a statement that recommends parents not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming at all.

19 states still allow corporal punishment in school

Studies and literature have found that physical punishment does not result in better outcomes, instead, it increases child aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health issues, and it lowers intellectual achievement as well as parent-child relationships.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also shown that researchers have linked corporal punishment to a heightened risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes for children. A study that looked at spanked children’s brain functions showed that spanking may trigger a similar response to more threatening experiences like sexual abuse which in turn affects the brain’s regions that are responsible for emotional regulation and threat detection.

Rather than solely focus here on corporal punishment inside of the home I believe it is disturbing how it is still being used in our schools today, even with everything that we know and understand about the practice now. In 1977 the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional and not cruel and unusual punishment in regards to students. This left it in the hands of individual states, and southern states have been the least evolved in this issue.

Corporal punishment in US schools

With what we know now it’s unsettling as to why this hasn’t been stopped yet. Corporal punishment is banned in Federal Head Start Programs and military training programs, yet we are still allowing it to be carried out on our young students. Experts have also found that black students, boys, and disabled students are more likely to be subject to this sanctioned violence in schools.

These 19 states still allow corporal punishment in school:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri
  • Mississippi
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wyoming

Judge by the society

This is not a case for labeling spanking or physical punishment in general as ‘child abuse’ but it can most certainly be argued as a backward, nonadvanced tool, and sterile ideology of “discipline.” I think it’s important to say that individuals now shouldn’t be internalizing this and taking it to mean that they were all abused, you know what actions were conducted as a means to discipline and which ones were not. There is no need to cause yourself potential harm in overthinking and victimizing yourself.

No one knew what potential harm they were causing, we at one point thought it was perfectly fine to smoke in hospitals, in cars with children, even drink while pregnant, and the list goes on and on. It was so normalized that even pediatricians, the experts who parents look to for advice and information on child-rearing, were telling people that it was acceptable as a form of discipline. Now researchers and doctors know better and have changed their stance on the practice and we have the evidence and knowledge too so it is our responsibility to learn, grow, and put it into practice.

Healthy and effective alternatives

Teach Don’t Punish
Stay Positive
Be Consistent
Be Realistic
Teach Consequences
Don’t Use Workouts as Punishment
Introduce a New Environment
Meditation vs. Isolation
Reward Positive Behaviors
Talk to Your Child
Listen to Your Child’s Needs
Learn When to Separate Yourself

Final perspective and thoughts on how to move forward

  • Congress needs to stop considering bills such as their latest Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act of 2021 and just pass the federal bill already.
  • States should be rephrasing how it is defined, change their policies and regulations and ban corporal punishment in their school systems, and address the harmful and discriminative nature of the practice and how students are targeted based on race, gender, and disability.
  • Our leaders have to address and focus their attention on fixing the issues at the core of the problem such as poverty, mental health, partner/spouse violence, and substance use. 
  • As a society, we need to work harder on making information and resources more readily available and accessible to parents in every state and community.
  • Rather than socially highlighting and condemning parents we should be supporting and educating each other, offering a different perspective, as well as new and effective ways that could help them in an already stressful role and world.

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