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Is Corporal Punishment Harmful To Children And Society?

By Victor Carrington
PRIDE Guest Writer 

This article is my response to Dr. Peter Sealy’s recent column in Pride News Magazine, entitled, “Beating the devil out of our children leads to more violence and mental illness.” 

I do agree with Dr. Sealy’s article with some trepidation: beatings and corporal punishment are violent, and violence leads to more violence. Yes, abuse occurred and is still occurring under the names of discipline and correction.

I believe that the use of corporal punishment is the wrong way to discipline a child. However, corporal punishment can lead to positive outcomes, and by simply dismissing it as only a negative tool, we cannot effectively transition society from negative reinforcement to positive evolution.

It is easy to suggest that communication; incentives; and withholding privileges should be the new approach to discipline, but I believe that doesn’t go far enough.  However, they may not actually result in the discipline of a child, depending on the attitude and disposition of the child, as well as the severity of the infraction for which he/she is being disciplined.

My first reaction when reading this article was emotional rejection. I immediately went into defence mode. I thought that, this article is a negative reflection of corporal punishment, and paints the worst images of the era, in which I received my learning, development and socialization.  It is interesting to note that this era has produced successful teachers, lawyers, judges, doctors, and professionals in all walks of life.

The article classifies corporal punishment as beatings and violence, and it completely ignores all its benefits, such as: respect for authority, discipline, moral servitude, character etc., as well as the directions provided to parents through the bible, as it instructs parents to use the rod of correction to ensure that children follow the straight and narrow way.

Dad about to spank child -- © Can Stock Photo IncAs children we were spanked or ‘given the strap’, as it was called then, but only as a  consequence of inappropriate or unacceptable behaviour, and at that time we were lovingly made aware of that deficit. Spanking was a deterrent against future malpractices.

Retrospectively, I admit that it was negative reinforcement, but its success could be argued to some degree. I have heard many of my colleagues from the boomer age sing the praises of the positive impact of corporal punishment, in school, at home and in the judicial system.

Although there are understandable differences between punishment and discipline, the article accentuates all the negative aspects of corporal punishment, and totally ignores any positives that might have been derived from this method of teaching and conditioning.

Parents and teachers who support corporal punishment, consider it appropriate for children’s education when used for teaching, and depending on the severity of the punishment, the feeling of being abused is non-existent.

Some say corporate punishment vigorously represents the bible’s direction and parents’ astute compliance, leading to the positive experiences and benefits to our society.  Many of these bible instructions could be found in Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom and some are referenced in the following Chapters:

  • Proverbs 23: 13-14 – “Don’t fail to discipline your children, they won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death”
  • Proverbs 22:15 – “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline drives it far away”.

Supporters would likely also argue, that Christians, who do not comply with corporal punishment, contribute to the disciplinary problems being experienced in homes and schools today.

Corporal punishment can therefore be understood in various ways. To the believers, corporal punishment as a means of discipline is the use of physical force causing pain, but not injuries.

Spanking, rapping on the head and slapping are forms of corporal punishment, which they would not classify as abuse.  They consider two factors when distinguishing between corporal punishment and physical abuse.  They are ‘intensity’ and ‘intention’, and the qualifying question for these is: “Was the application violent to cause injury; and was its intention to teach or discipline?”

When considering this matter, the bible also provided guidelines for the appropriate application of the strap, and made representation against abuse in the following:

  • James 1:19 – “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger” ;
  • Ephesians 4:31 – “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, harsh words and slanderous well as all types of evil behaviour”
  • Ephesians 6:4 – “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather bring them up with the discipline and the instruction that comes from the Lord”
  • Colossians 3:8 – “But now is the time to get rid of anger nd rage, malicious behaviour, slander and dirty language”
  • Colossians 3:21- “Fathers, do not aggravate your children or they will become discouraged”.

The antagonists on the other hand, would readily present a preponderance of evidence to support their position, beginning with the definition and purpose of corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment to non-believers is a drastic measure to get someone to obey.  It is punishment which implies retribution, a matter of payback or penalty which includes the death penalty, the most drastic form of corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment to this group is based on fear being the foundation to force compliance, as well as a deterrent against inappropriate or criminal action or behaviour.  However, according to social psychologists, fear is negative and counter-productive, and there are many studies to support this.

Citizen groups, institutions, and social studies professionals presented their position at the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Their position is that Corporal punishment is fear based as stated in the following examples:

  • Fearful children mature into fearful adults, who find it difficult to trust anyone.
  • All kinds of corporal punishment put children’s integrity and dignity at risk.
  • It leads to the belief that violence is a way to solve problems.
  • It damages children’s self-esteem producing depression and anxiety.
  • It causes severe physical harm and can turn into other forms of abusive behaviour.
  • Parents use corporal punishment as a convenient means of addressing social situations, because of a lack of skill; or a lack of emotional control.

Based on the purpose it serves, corporal punishment can create conflicts within society.  Therefore, the only justification for corporal punishment, that I currently accept, is that it did represent a period in our social evolution.  Despite all of the facts mentioned, it should not be the way to initiate discipline.

It is obvious that there is still much work to be done to bring about a positive transition. In order to experience the benefits of an enlightened society, we must continue to correct the relics of the past.  For example, the treatment of women: Custom practices such the beating of women, and the denial of voting rights to women, were accepted. These and many other injustices are no longer conventionally tolerated.

We have to change the mindset, in the case of our children, of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child,’ into, “nurture and guide the mind of the child,” to manifest his/her divine expression.

If more adults understood that their children are not their tools, but life seeking to further itself, more children would evolve into autonomous; emotionally healthy; respectable and happy adults.

In order to achieve this change, I think that we have to enthusiastically advocate that a change is essential.

We must:

  • Accept corporal punishment for what it is.
  • Address corporal punishment from the root, the belief system
  • Create/develop a change model that encourages evolution and development
  • Inform; teach; train; and support parents, schools and society to learn, practice and promote the new model.

Corporal punishment hurts more than it helps, therefore, it is our moral responsibility to ensure the cessation of corporal punishment, and support the well-being of children and society.

Notwithstanding all of the arguments provided, children need guidance and boundaries must be set. When discipline is applied lovingly, respect and values are easily learned.  It is our duty as a society to design a model that does not harm and intimidate, but rather encourages, supports, and inspires the positive growth of children.

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