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Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child: The Debate on Corporal Punishment

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    “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child: The Debate On Corporal Punishment” Introduction
    Many people have witnessed a misbehaved child in a public area and thought to themselves, “That child needs some discipline.” However, the type of discipline and the severity of its implementation is something that has been debated for many decades because it is tough to determine how/eif certain types of discipline are beneficial or harmful. The generally accepted definition of discipline is regarded as the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience. However, discipline can be enforced by a variety of methods and has no concrete implementation.

    Punishment as a means of correcting a child’s offense can be as mild as verbal reprimanding, or as serious as physical abuse. The later is a form of punishment that should be avoided at all costs because it is known and agreed by all to have a detrimental effect on the mental well-being of the recipient. In this consensus lies a crucial debate: Where is the line drawn between physical punishment and physical abuse? In recent decades there has been a push to abolish any form of physical punishment as discipline (referred to as corporal punishment throughout this paper). In an article from Insight on the News titled “Making a Case for Corporal Punishment,” columnist Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, argued as an advocate for physical disciplining of children and adolescents.

    “The undeniable fact is the “uncivilized” practice of whipping children produced more civilized young people. Youngsters did not direct foul language to, or use it in the presence of, teachers and other adults.” It is not uncommon to hear elders today speak of their childhoods and reminisce about an era where parents lacked no hesitation to physically reprimand a disobedient child, supporting Williams’ assertion. H. Stephen Glenn is a psychologist who represents the opposing viewpoint in an excerpt from a Deseret News article stating, “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 is not dignified, and it is not respectful” (Ki). According to Dr. Glenn, despite its effectiveness corporal punishment will always yield undesirable effects. In addition to these scholarly but opinionated assertions, many studies on the necessity of corporal punishment have been constructed that contain more factual information than the responses presented above. Why, with much research available, does this debate persist?

    It is obvious that over the past decades, many child activists and psychologists have concerned themselves with corporal punishment and seek to encourage its termination by law. Everyone invested in this debate, both corporal punishment supporters and anti-corporal propagandists, is against harsh physical punishment as a method of discipline. When considering this joint consensus, it is intriguing that there has been no substantial effort to solidify a moderate position between these polarized standpoints. In a 1995 survey conducted by the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, results showed that “over 30 percent of parents reported using corporal punishment during the first year of a child’s life, peaking at over 90 percent during a child’s forth and fifth year of life, and decreasing in use as children grow older and bigger” (CICC).

    Despite many countries making use of corporal punishment illegal and many states prohibiting its usage in schools, it is clearly still prevalent as a method of discipline in the home. Therefore, I will focus on a few of the arguments for and against corporal punishment, and why they are relevant. However, I will take less of a stance on whether practicing physical punishment is right or wrong, and focus on discerning the difference between regulated physical punishment and harmful physical punishment. I intend to use my research to prove that the abolition of corporal punishment in the home is unnecessary and improbable; in actuality, the focus should be on defining the difference between corporal punishment and physical abuse, and educating parents on “how much is too much.” Lit Review

    Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, one of corporal punishment’s most driven critics, released an article for the Psychological Bulletin in 2002 titled “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review.” Gershoff wished to gain a complete understanding of whether and how corporal punishment affects children, as her predecessors involved in this field of reached had yet to reach this conclusion (Gershoff 539). After performing meta-analyses of 88 studies conducted over the past 62 years, it was concluded that corporal punishment by parents is connected to many child behaviors and experiences. Gershoff concedes that corporal punishment directly related to immediate compliance, but negates this by paralleling it to another ten “undesirable constructs” (Gershoff 549). Gershoff successfully acknowledges the counterargument’s main claim that corporal punishment yields immediate compliance and belittles its significance by instantly highlighting the plethora of unfavorable outcomes. Below is a copy of her model of processes and contexts hypothesized to determine how parental corporal punishment may affect child behaviors and experiences (Gershoff 552).

    According to this model, corporal punishment promotes aggression, affects social behavior, impairs mental health, and stresses the relationship between parents and their children. Gershoff also goes as far as to distinguish the contexts in which corporal punishment might occur. Interestingly, despite being a known advocate for the elimination of corporal punishment as a resource for discipline, Gershoff’s “model described above provides a guide for understanding the direct, mediated, and moderated pathways by which corporal punishment might be expected to affect children” (Gershoff 567). When seeking to persuade the general population to a viewpoint, it is most important to be definitive with bold claims. By using the term “might,” she allowed room for doubt in her argument. Her conclusion was open ended in that she emphasized the necessity of scientific research to “empirically” establish links between corporal punishment and its effects on children as recipients. Nevertheless, her apt use of citation, language, and genuine enthusiasm gained the attention and responses of many other scholars invested in this controversial debate.

    Parents have spanked their children for many generations, thought in recent decades its use has come under much scrutiny and even pediatricians who have supported its usage in the past have become hesitant to recommend it to parents because of diminishing social toleration. In 2007 The American College of Pediatricians released a policy paper titled “Discipline of the Child
Corporal Punishment: A Scientific Review of its Use in Discipline” that explains the “discipline process” that assesses past research concerned with corporal punishment use by parents. In general, the ACP warrants that spanking (corporal punishment) should be used as a last resort only if more lenient methods of behavior correction fail to be influential. Most children are able to respond to these milder methods, however a defiant child may often be unaffected and need tougher penalties. “For the most defiant child, milder forms of punishment will often fail and spanking may be necessary to deter uncontrolled behavior” (Trumbell 12). Often times parents who opt to exclude corporal punishment for more defiant children resort to harsh verbal reprimanding, which can also lead to abuse.

    The American College of Pediatricians provides both a “method of disciplinary spanking” and “guidelines for parental use of disciplinary spanking.” The conditions that allowed for successful spanking were accentuated and encouraged. Most important is that parents don’t rely on corporal punishment as their only means of behavior correction. As a child grows older and develops mentally, the ability to respond to reasoning increases and consequently the need for physical punishment should decrease (Trumbell 12). Throughout the review, the ACP remains neutral in seeking not to state a polarized opinion, but provide a more useful definition of corporal punishment and how it can be properly enacted. Unlike Gershoff, this report had greater significance in that it sought to actually provide a descriptive method of action for parents. Robert E. Larzelere and Brett R. Kuhn, with Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, published in 2005 “Comparing Child Outcomes of Physical Punishment and Alternative Disciplinary Tactics: A Meta-Analysis.” These two distinguished doctors are vocal supporters of corporal punishment if used in a correct manner. The conclusion of this analysis states “The results of this meta-analysis indicate that the detrimental child outcomes previously associated with physical punishment are not unique to physical punishment itself, except when it is used severely or predominantly” (Larzelere 33).

    Previous researchers like Gershoff, who object to physical punishment, presented evidence that supported their claim, but failed to highlight the many positive effects outside of immediate compliance that are associated with corporal punishment. Larzelere and Kuhn urge psychologists present parents with factual information before placing children at risk of becoming “victims of well intentioned, but premature policy guidelines” (Larzelere 33). What Larzelere accomplishes well is appealing to the logic of his audience. Yes, it is accepted by all that harsh physical punishment is at no time a positive response to misbehavior. However, we cannon discredit the effectiveness of mild corporal punishment by equating it to physical abuse; these are two very different methods of correction.

    As stated in the introduction, my research will address the main concern of each of these authors of corporal punishment: When does corporal punishment become dangerous, and how do we define this distinction between correctional and harmful punishment? Methodology

    Due to the short time frame given, I will rely on previously conducted research to find statistical information on the various mental effects of corporal punishment on children. In addition, I plan to conduct a survey of many Stanford students and inquire their position on the debate of corporal punishment. The questions I will ask are as followed: (1) Have you ever been a recipient of corporal punishment at the hands of your parents? (2) If you answered no, do you think being spanked would have had a negative impact on your psychological being, or would it have been useful at times? (3) If yes, do you agree with your parents’ decision to physically reprimand you? (Only if used in a positive manner. I.e., mildly, in appropriate physical areas, and outside of the public.) If you did not agree, please write a brief explanation of why you feel spanking was harmful. In order to properly confirm the Pediatricians’ guide to proper use of corporal punishment, I would need access to at least a decade’s worth of research following the growth and development of children who are disciplined with corporal punishment versus those whose parents prefer a more lenient method of discipline. However, my research will contribute to the conversation by use of personal interviews and firsthand videos researched online. Conclusion

    My research is not intended to be concrete in defining corporal punishment and labeling it as acceptable or unacceptable. I seek to bring more attention to informing parents of how and when corporal punishment should be used to discipline disobedient children. As presented in my introduction, much of the debate on corporal punishment has been strictly pro-con, with the exception of a few nonbiased scholarly reports. I will enlighten my audience on both how it is harmful when used inappropriately, but advantageous if properly utilized. If all children are taught to demonstrate self-control at a young age, the probability of them becoming productive citizens in the future is greatly increased. The management of more troubled children should not be forsaken due to misrepresentation of the harmful versus positive effects of physical discipline.

    Works Cited
    Gershoff, Elizabeth Thompson. “Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review..” Psychological Bulletin. 128.4 (2002): 539-579. Web. 9 Feb. 2013. .

    Straus, M.A., and K.G. Kantor. “Corporal punishment of adolescents by parents: A risk factor in the epidemiology of depression..” Adolescence. 29.115 (1994): 543-561. Web. 9 Feb. 2013.

    Trumbull, Den A. “Discipline of the Child Corporal Punishment: A Scientific Review of its Use in Discipline.” American College of Pediatricians. (2007): n. page. Web. 9 Feb. 2013. .

    Larzelere, Robert E., and Brett R. Kuhn. “Comparing Child Outcomes Of Physical Punishment And Alternative Disciplinary Tactics: A Meta-Analysis.” Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review 8.1 (2005): 1-37. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Feb. 2013.

    Williams, Walter E. “Making a Case for Corporal Punishment.” Insight on the News Sep 13 1999: 46-. ProQuest Research Library. Web. 9 Feb. 2013

    Jennifer K. Ni, “Spanking denounced as ineffective, harmful — Expert at ‘Families Alive’ [conference] urges positive discipline,” Deseret News,
    1998-MAY-9, at:

    CICC, . “Corporal Punishment and Verbal Aggression.” Effective Parenting Newsletter. n. page. Web. 21 Feb. 2013. .

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