Corporal Punishment of Children Is Harmful

Some people support the old notion of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” They advocate paddling as a method of disciplining children in homes and schools.

A vast amount of scientific evidence reveals, however, that any hitting of children is a harmful and counterproductive form of discipline.

In his 1994 book Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families, Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire’s Family Research Lab presents the results of years of research – obtained from a variety of sources – concerning the effects of corporal punishment on children.

The research shows that corporal punishment contributes to a host of serious personal and social problems. These include aggression, crime, spousal abuse, child abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts, distorted sexual behavior, impaired learning ability, and lowered occupational success and income.

Particularly compelling is the research showing that corporal punishment in the parent-child relationship leads to violence in other situations. Straus says this causal connection results from what he describes as the basic principle underlying corporal punishment: “When someone does something outrageous and won’t listen to reason, it is morally correct to physically attack the offender.”

Straus continues: “That principle, which is taught by corporal punishment, explains most instances of violence, ranging from a parent hitting a child, to a child hitting a sibling, to a husband or wife slapping his or her partner, to a man stabbing someone who makes a pass at his girlfriend or wife, to capital punishment and war. Lost along the way is the principle that all differences must be dealt with without violence (except where physical self-defense is involved).”

Because corporal punishment carries high risks of teaching children to use violence and causing physical and emotional damage, Straus supports a complete ban on the practice. He advocates alternative child-rearing practices that have proved to be more effective.

The alternative methods involve establishing clear and rational behavioral standards, applying rules consistently, setting a good example, monitoring the child’s activities and whereabouts, explaining the reasons that certain behavior is appropriate and other behavior is unacceptable, recognizing and rewarding good behavior, using nonviolent disciplinary methods such as requiring time-outs or depriving the child of a privilege, and providing lots of warmth and support to create a strong bond of affection between the parent and child.

According to Straus, children whose parents use such nonviolent techniques are generally easier to manage than children whose parents spank. He adds that children who are not spanked “tend to control their own behavior on the basis of what their own conscience tells them is right and wrong rather than to avoid being hit.”

Further, he points out that “on the average, studies show that those kids who are not spanked tend to be better behaved and do better in school. When they grow up, they tend to have better marriages, earn more money, and live better lives.”

These results of raising children in nonviolent, supportive, and rational environments also support the child-rearing maxim: “Whatever you say or do, it matters.”

In view of the strong evidence Straus presents, eliminating corporal punishment appears to be one of the most important steps needed to reduce violence and alleviate a number of other social problems.

As Straus concludes: “A society that brings up children by caring, humane and nonviolent methods is likely to be less violent, healthier, and wealthier. . . . The elimination of corporal punishment . . . will have profound and far reaching benefits for humanity.”

The United Nations agrees and has started a global program to stop corporal punishment of children. Based on findings that the practice is “counterproductive, relatively ineffective, dangerous and harmful,” the UN considers it a violation of human rights.

Moreover, 17 European nations have outlawed corporal punishment both in schools and homes. As a result, over 26 million European children are legally protected from it, and their societies have far lower violence rates than the U.S. The same ban has been implemented by Israel and a number of other countries.

Americans need to follow the example of those nations by instituting similar reforms.

[Please also see the articles titled “Ban Corporal Punishment” and “Fundamentalist Fervor Increases Child Abuse.”]

[More information on corporal punishment is at www.stophitting.com.]