Issue Report: Corporal punishment of children

This debate shares something with Corporal Punishment (for Adults), namely whether the infliction of physical pain can ever be justifiable; but the issue of ‘paddling’ or spanking for children is less about punishment in itself and more about punishment as a means of education. How can young children learn the difference between right and wrong? How can teachers establish order in the classroom and enable a better environment for learning? Britain is a major example in this debate, having allowed corporal punishment in classrooms until 1986 when legislation brought it in line with the rest of Europe. All industrialised countries now ban corporal punishment in schools (not parental spanking) apart from the USA, Canada and one state in Australia.

Discipline: Can corporal punishment help discipline children?

Corporal punishment is a good tool for disciplining unruly children

Walter Williams. "Making a Case for Corporal Punishment". Bnet. Sept 13, 1999:

“Regardless of what the experts preached, the undeniable fact is the ‘uncivilized’ practice of whipping children produced more civilized young people. Youngsters didn’t direct foul language to, or use it in the presence of, teachers and other adults. In that ‘uncivilized’ era, assaulting a teacher or adult never would have crossed our minds. Today, foul language and assaults against teachers are routine in many schools. For some kinds of criminal behavior, I think we’d benefit from having punishment along the lines of Singapore’s caning as a part of our judicial system.”

Corporal punishment can ethically help save a child's future

Walter Williams. "Making a Case for Corporal Punishment". Bnet. Sept 13, 1999:

“Let’s think about cruelty. Today, it’s not uncommon for young criminals to be arrested, counseled and released to the custody of a parent 20 or 30 times before they spend one night in jail. Such a person is a very good candidate for later serving a long prison sentence or, worse, facing the death penalty. If you interviewed such a person and asked: “Thinking back to when you started your life of crime, would you have preferred a punishment, such as caning, that might have set you straight or be where you are today?” I’d bet my retirement money that he’d say he wished someone had caned some sense into him. That being the case, which is more cruel: caning or allowing such a person to become a criminal?”

Corporal punishment can make a valuable example of a student

Oscar Goodman: “I also believe in a little bit of corporal punishment going back to the days of yore, where examples have to be shown.”[1]

General statements in support of corporal punishment

Mark Benedict, Christian Family Foundations: “I also believe the scriptural reference to the ‘rod’ best corresponds to a switch or perhaps a flexible paddle.”[2]

It is dubious that corporal punishment helps discipline children.

Even the power of physical punishment to teach a child the difference between right and wrong is dubious; a young child may learn that the adult is displeased, but not why. Spanking will cause a state of extreme distress and confusion which makes it less likely they will analyse their behaviour with clarity. In older children disciplined at school, a physical punishment is likely to provoke resentment and further misbehaviour.

Corporal punishment can lower a child's IQ

"Child Corporal Punishment: Spanking. The anti-spanking position". Religious tolerance:

“Spanking lowers a child’s IQ: A study at the University of New Hampshire, released in 1998-JUL, found that spanking children apparently slows down their intellectual development. 3 A study of 960 children found an average 4 point reduction in IQ among students, from and average IQ of 102 (above average) for children who are not spanked, to an average IQ 98 (below average) for who are. A reduction of 4 points is enough to have a significant negative functional effect on the students. More information.”

Corporal punishment hampers children's creativity

Ms. Dawn Walker, executive director of the Canadian Institute of Child Health commented: “We know that children who are under the threat of violence or aggression develop a fight-or-flight response system that has an impact on creativity and imagination, both of which could influence their IQ…Children need discipline but not hitting.”[3]

Corporal punishment creates anti-social behavior.

Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, University of Michigan. “Even minimal amounts of spanking can lead to an increased likelihood in antisocial behavior by children.”[4]

Corporal punishment fosters violence in society

General statements against corporal punishment

Psychologist H. Stephen Glenn said “Corporal punishment is the least effective method [of discipline]. Punishment reinforces a failure identity. It reinforces rebellion, resistance, revenge and resentment. And, what people who spank children will learn is that it teaches more about you than it does about them that the whole goal is to crush the child. It’s not dignified, and it’s not respectful.”[5]

Physical damage: Can corporal punishment cause physical damage?

Physical injuries only occur in abusive corporal punishment.

Serious physical injuries only occur where disciplined, strategic corporal punishment becomes child abuse. There is a strict line between the two (see above) and to ignore it is deliberately misleading.

Corporal punishment does not foster violent tendencies

Corporal punishment can cause serious physical damage

The actual physical damage inflicted via corporal punishment on children can be horrifying. Examples can be found of students needing treatment for broken arms, nerve and muscle damage, and cerebral haemorrhage. Spanking of the buttocks can cause damage to the sciatic nerve and therefore the leg to which it leads.

Abuse: Does corporal punish invite abuse?

Abuses do not demonstrate corporal punishment is inherently wrong

While it is true that corporal punishment can be abused, this does not demonstrate that it is always abused, or that it is inherently abusive. If it is used abusively, than measures should be taken to limit such abuse, instead of eliminating the practice altogether, which would be an over-reaction.

There is a difference between corporal punishment and child abuse.

Corporal punishment is designed to punish specific acts of significant misbehavior and delinquency. It is not a wanton and unreasonable act of violence. Child abuse, on the contrary, is the unjustified and unreasoned beating of children. The act of child-abuse is not meant to punish a child, but is inflicted without restraint or concern for the general welfare of a child. The intention of corporal punishment, on the contrary, is meant to instill a level of discipline in a child that is necessary to their future. It is in the child’s best interest, whereas child-abuse is clearly not.

Not clear whether corporal punishment increases abuse

David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998:

“Clearly there are instances of abuse and of abusive physical punishment. But that is insufficient to demonstrate even a correlation between corporal punishment and abuse, and a fortiori a causal relationship. Research into possible links between corporal punishment and abuse has proved inconclusive so far. Some studies have suggested that abusive parents use corporal punishment more than nonabusive parents, but other studies have shown this not to be the case.(7) The findings of one study,8 conducted a year after corporal punishment by parents was abolished in Sweden, suggested that Swedish parents were as prone to serious abuse of their children as were parents in the United States, where corporal punishment was (and is) widespread. These findings are far from decisive, but they caution us against hasty conclusions about the abusive effects of corporal punishment.”

Corporal punishment should be limited, but not abandoned

David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998:

“Opponents of the corporal punishment of children are rightly critical of its extensive use and the severity with which it is all too often inflicted. They have been at pains to show that corporal punishment is not used merely as a last resort, but is inflicted regularly and for the smallest of infractions.(1) They have also recorded the extreme harshness of many instances of corporal punishment.(2) […] I have no hesitation in joining the opposition to such practices, which are correctly labeled as child abuse. Where I believe that opponents of corporal punishment are wrong is in saying that physical punishment should never be inflicted.”

Corporal punishment often escalates to child abuse

"Child Corporal Punishment: Spanking. The anti-spanking position". Religious tolerance:

“It can escalate to abuse: Because a spanking works for a while, the parent often repeats the spanking whenever the child misbehaves. Corporal punishment may then become a standard response to any misbehavior. This can lead to increasingly frequent and harsher spanking which can exceed the “reasonable force” threshold and become abuse.”

Corporal punishment of children is analogous to wife-beating.

Comments by Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) from their website at “Spanking does for a child’s development what wife-beating does for a marriage.”[6]

Corporal punishment often over-responds to innocent child behavior

Jan Hunt. "Ten Reasons Not to Hit Your Kids". The Natural Child Project:

“2. In many cases of so-called ‘bad behavior’, the child is simply responding in the only way he can, given his age and experience, to neglect of basic needs. Among these needs are: proper sleep and nutrition, treatment of hidden allergy, fresh air, exercise, and sufficient freedom to explore the world around him. But his greatest need is for his parents’ undivided attention. In these busy times, few children receive sufficient time and attention from their parents, who are often too distracted by their own problems and worries to treat their children with patience and empathy. It is surely wrong and unfair to punish a child for responding in a natural way to having important needs neglected. For this reason, punishment is not only ineffective in the long run, it is also clearly unjust.”

Corporal punishment induces fear and despair in children

Irvin Wolkoff. "Spanked child can become self-loathing adult." The Toronto Star. November 29, 1999:

“The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That’s terrifying to a little kid…However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can’t yet resolve or manage.”[7]

Sexual abuse: Is corporal punishment associated with sexual abuse?

Risks of sexual abuse with spanking can be regulated

David Benatar. "Corporal Punishment Social Theory and Practice". Social Theory and Practice. Summer 1998:

“It is, of course, a concern that some parents or teachers might derive sexual gratification from beating children, but is it a reason to eliminate or ban the practice? Someone might suggest that it is, if the anticipated sexual pleasure led to beatings that were inappropriate–either because children were beaten when they should not have been, or if the punishment were administered in an improper manner. However, if this is the concern, surely the fitting response would be to place limitations on the use of the punishment and, at least in schools, to monitor and enforce compliance.”

Corporal punishment on the buttocks is a sexual violation

Child Corporal Punishment: The anti-spanking position":

“Slapping or any other type of force used on the buttocks is a sexual violation: The buttocks are an erogenous zone of the human body. Their nerve system is connected to the body’s sexual nerve centers. Slapping them can involuntarily trigger feelings of sexual pleasure which become mixed with the pain. This can lead to confusion in the child’s mind which influences the way in which they express their sexuality as adults.”

Last resort: Is corporal punishment justified as "a last resort"?

Corporal punishment is justifiable as a last resort

Ken Gallinger. “Ethically Speaking”. Toronto Star: “Spanking is an act of violence, so ethically, it could be justified only if there was absolutely no other way to improve the way kids act.”[8]

Violence of corporal punishment is never justified as "last resort"

Laurie A. Couture. "10 pro-corporal punishment arguments & 10 commonsense answers". 2003:

“Argument #4: ‘I only use corporal punishment as a last resort.’ Answer: This reasoning teaches children that it is acceptable to use violence as a last resort to getting their way or to solving a difficult problem. This teaches that violence is the end result to frustrating situations that seem to have no other solution. Wars are fought on this principle. This argument is no more acceptable than an angry spouse saying that they “only” hit their mate “as a last resort” to a problem.”

Better ways exist; corporal punishment is lazy way

There are always ways to discipline children that do not involve violence, and which are inherently superior than resorting to violence. Resorting to violence is the lazy way out for parent or teachers.

Regulation: Can corporal punishment be properly regulated?

Corporal punishment can be regulated within orderly framework.

Corporal punishment must be used as part of a wider strategy and at the correct time: when other immediate discipline has failed; when the child understands their behaviour and has had an opportunity to explain it; and after an initial warning and opportunity for the child to repent. Crucially, the person delivering the punishment must not be angry at the time. This undermines much of the hysterical argument against corporal punishment.

Regulation of corporal punishment does not soften ill effects.

No matter how orderly you make the beating of a child, there are a number of adverse effects. They will lose trust in the adults who administer the beating; they learn that force is an acceptable factor in human interaction; they feel humiliated and lose self-respect; and they build up resentment that cannot be resolved at the time but may lead to severe misbehaviour in the future.

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