"Back in the Good Ol' Days..." and other arguments in favor of hitting children
10 Pro-Corporal Punishment Arguments & 10 Commonsense Answers
© 2000-2003 by Laurie A. Couture, M.Ed, LMHC
Argument #1: "It didn't do ME any harm!"
Answer: Often people who declare this typical argument do so very defensively. They may feel they must defend the actions of their caretakers. To do otherwise is to admit that as children, they never deserved to have pain inflicted upon them. They must also admit to the feelings of fear, anger and mistrust that may have resulted from being hit by loved ones who were supposed to keep them safe from harm. Often, people who use this argument use or have used corporal punishment on their own children, thus defending their actions to minimize guilt. However, their actions reveal that corporal punishment DID do them harm: It perpetuated the cycle of violence that they now endorse or inflict upon children.
Argument #2: "Most people who were corporally punished as kids turned out to live productive lives!" (Or, "I hit MY kids and THEY turned out fine!")
Answer: The human spirit is amazingly resilient. Many people who have experienced suffering as children are able to live productive lives. However, these people may harbor self-destructive tendencies, and interpersonal difficulties in that aren‘t apparent to onlookers. Adults who were mistreated in childhood are often insecure, mistrusting, defensive, authoritarian, passive, withdrawn, apathetic, in denial or quick to sarcasm. Those who transcend childhood suffering are often highly resilient people who have sought to process and understand how their childhood history currently impacts their lives. Due to the vast differences in each individual’s biological makeup, temperament, cognitive endurance, environment, supportive system and resources, not every person possesses an equal level of resiliency. Some people are able to flourish and achieve success in spite of childhood pain; while other people become overwhelmed by rage and anxiety and act destructively against others or towards themselves. We cannot know ahead of time how corporal punishment will adversely affect a child, or how any adverse affects will manifest. To risk the outcome of an angry, aggressive, withdrawn or insecure person is too high a risk to take even once.
Argument #3: "I HAVE to use corporal punishment, nothing else works!" (or "Time Outs don’t work!")
Answer: True discipline is about developing a trusting, mutually respectful relationship between child and caretaker. To inflict pain on a child as a means of control is a lazy way out of the work it takes to help a child understand and internalize proper behavior. If you have used corporal punishment on your child, it will take time and effort for new methods to work. Years of negative patterns can't be erased overnight with a simple solution. Nagging, yelling, threatening, controlling and punishing must stop before an effective relationship can be built and your child can trust you and understand the consequences of his/her behavior. People who use the argument "I’ve tried everything and nothing else works" often reveal that they haphazardly tried several techniques learned in various books, without actually committing to or following through consistently with one approach. The result is an unorganized set of chaotic rules or consequences that change often and confuse the child... and make the adult appear out of control. People dissatisfied with their lack of success with "time outs" tend to use "time out" in a punitive manner. These people may expect a tantruming child to comply with sitting in a designated chair for a set amount of minutes. This punitive method of "time out" generates powers struggles rather than compliance. A more effective method is to direct the child to quiet room in which to calm down, then allowing the child to rejoin you when he or she expresses readiness. There need be no time limit or nagging. The number of brief time outs can be increased until the child understands that he or she must regain control of him/herself. As an adult, how do you deal with adults who you can't seem to gain cooperation from? Do you hit your boss, employee, spouse or best friend when it appears that "nothing else works"?
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.
Argument #5: "There's a difference between child abuse and a little spanking!"
Answer: Violent acts occur on a continuum. Some are extreme, such as acts of torture or murder, others are less extreme such as a shove or a slap. Regardless of where they fall on the continuum, they are all acts of violence. Before the late 1960's, a husband's slap of his wife was not regarded as an act of abuse. Today, that same act is unquestionably viewed as abusive (society still has a long way to go before wives are equally regarded as batterers for assaulting their husbands). The "spanking" of children is viewed in the same light today as wife hitting was viewed before the 1960's: NOT abusive by legal standards. Additionally, if an employer "spanked" the buttocks of an employee, it would be grounds for sexual assault. Is there really a difference between child abuse and "a little spanking", or is society too uncomfortable with the idea of protecting children's right to be free from assault in the way that adults are currently protected?
Argument #6: "Corporal Punishment is Effective."
Answer: Corporal punishment may produce immediate results, but it makes discipline more difficult for caretakers in the long term. Corporal punishment teaches children to be sneaky- to follow your orders when only when you are around. It teaches children to become liars- to lie about misbehavior to avoid being hit, spanked, slapped or punished in some other degrading manner. Most importantly, corporal punishment slings arrows into the parent-child relationship, and communicates disrespect. It can destroy a child’s sense of trust and security in the relationship and confuses the definition of love. Moreover, corporal punishment has consistently been found to lead to anger, rage, aggressive behavior, revenge seeking, nightmares, disrespect for authority, higher stakes for depression, post traumatic stress, anxiety, substance use, sadomasochistic sexual fetishes, child abuse, spousal abuse, delinquency and of course... more corporal punishment (Straus, 1994). A single act of corporal punishment may be effective at immediately frightening a child into submission. However, caretakers who value their children will insist on positive, non-violent ways to discipline children.
Argument #7: "The Reason Kids Are So Bad These Days Is Because of a Lack of Corporal Punishment!"
Answer: Contrary to this argument, Straus (1994) and Gershoff (2002) report that over 90% of parents still report using corporal punishment on their children. Despite increased adult cynicism towards young people, incidents of youth crime have actually dropped since the early 1990’s. Isolated violent incidents committed by severely disturbed children are often inflated by the media to give the impression that young people are out of control. With regards to the wave of school shootings of recent years, all but one of these incidents occurred in school systems which use corporal punishment. In fact, in one school shooting case, the child targeted and shot the school teacher who had paddled him the day before. Corporal punishment is most strongly practiced in the southern and southwestern areas of the United States. These states actually have the highest rates of student violence, murder and incarceration in the country! Unfortunately, people who use argument #7 assume that discipline is synonymous with corporal punishment. If they observe the negative behaviors of children with permissive or neglectful parents, they may wrongly conclude that the child needs corporal punishment. In fact, children who are physically punished have been consistently found to have higher rates of aggression, juvenile delinquency and disrespect for authority- the very behaviors people want to prevent in children! Instead, children who have strong, loving role models, receive consistent guidance, firm limits, opportunities for democratic communication, logical consequences and positive, non-punitive discipline are more likely to manifest self discipline, critical thinking skills, personal accountability, good social skills and respect and concern for others. A child who is hit, smacked, spanked, paddled and hurt learns to be do the same.
Argument #8: "Corporal punishment teaches children to be obedient !"
Answer: In the early 1900’s, obedience was an important virtue. It was important for the children of hard-working laborers to be primed for lives of obedient servitude in mills and factories. Corporal punishment kept children in line, stifling critical thinking skills, negotiation, democratic communication with elders, questioning authority, bold individualistic deviations from the norm and opportunities to learn naturally from mistakes. In modern times, all of the qualities looked upon as dangerous in the early 1900’s are all qualities now necessary and vital in order to succeed in today’s innovative and competitive society. Enforcing blind obedience does not promote these skills. In order for children to grow into adults able to be successful in the modern world, they require discipline that promotes critical thinking, logical consequences, good communication and self discipline.
Argument #9: "What if they run out in the street or try to touch a hot stove? They need to be hit to learn that it is a dangerous situation!"
Answer: If you believe that hitting your child for running out into the street or reaching for a hot stove is effective, would you leave them alone near the street or stove once you’ve hit them? Being hit is in no way teaches anything about the dangers of the street or the stove, nor will it prevent them from exploring dangerous situations in the future. Instead, hitting children teaches them that YOU are dangerous and can inflict pain upon them. Children should not be hurt or punished for their lack of experience about the world, and for their developmental immaturity. It is the caretaker’s responsibility to remove opportunities for a child to encounter dangerous situations in their environment through proper monitoring and "child-proofing" efforts. Children can be taught gradually to exercise caution around dangerous situations, through your example, and constant reminders. Until they comprehend the dangers, they must be supervised, not hit.
Argument #10: "The Bible admonishes us to use 'the rod' on children!"
Answer: Children are assaulted on a daily basis in the name of religious devotion due to a few Biblical scriptures that have been taken out of context. Proverbs 23:13,14 is a commonly cited scripture for the support of corporal punishment. From a historical perspective, King Solomon, author of the book of Proverbs, was recorded as a brutal king who was thirsty for violence and who later opposed the law of God. His sons, who no doubt received corporal punishment, were rebellious, disrespectful and very aggressive. Given King Solomon's lack of family success, is he a good spiritual role model for parenting? In contrast, Jesus Christ was by far the Bible's most peaceful figure. There is no scripture in the New Testament in which Jesus advocates for, admonishes or recommends the use of corporal punishment on children. In stark contrast, he stated that people should treat others the way they wish to be treated. That is hardly a support for violence. Citing isolated Biblical scriptures is not an acceptable argument for using corporal punishment on children. Using the same technique of taking ancient, isolated scriptures out of context, one could also justify polygamy, racism, slavery, banishing menstruating women from public and stoning to death of those who have sexual relations outside of marriage. Additionally, there is no evidence that the "rod" of the Bible was anything other than a symbolic metaphor for a shepherd's staff, which was used to lead or guide, not hit, sheep. To take a few isolated scriptures from the Old testament out of context to excuse assaulting children is a gross contradiction of Jesus' message of love, tenderness and peace.