The Controversial Topic of Corporal Punishment

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

Corporal punishment refers to any punishment that uses physical force and causes a degree of pain or discomfort in order to deter a certain behavior. This includes spanking with the hands, hitting with an object such as a belt or paddle and also force feeding unpleasant substances such as soap or hot sauce. Approximately two thirds of parents find it acceptable and necessary to use corporal punishment because that is what their parents did to them, because that is what society tells us we have to do - unless we want disrespectful and badly behaved children.

We as a society agree that an adult hitting another adult in the home is considered domestic violence and should be punished by law. Why is it then that violence against children is socially acceptable and even encouraged? Why are parents being told that hitting is the only form of discipline that works on children? Why are parents being shamed and told that their children are "spoilt" if they have decided to not use violence in their home?

One of the arguments used in favor of psychical punishment is those who will say "I was hit as a child and I turned out fine". If we look at the facts and the statistics, that statement simply isn't true for the vast majority of children who were exposed to corporal punishment. It is also important to note that an individual who claims they have experienced no negatives effects after being hit as a child, does not have the authority to speak for every other person in existence. In other words, just because you feel that physical punishments caused you no harm does not mean that will automatically be true for your own children or for others.

This topic has been widely studied & debated by experts in phycology and child development. The facts are that hitting your child does not work to correct unwanted behaviors & there is mounds of evidence freely available online to support this. It may result in temporary compliance due to the fear that has now been instilled into the child, but there after only devastating effects will remain. The effects include a higher likelihood of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, aggression, violent tendencies, having a disconnect in the parent-child relationship, anti-social behavior, criminal behavior, feelings of having no bodily autonomy and repeating the cycle of violence with their own children later in life. Children who are physically punished will start focusing on how to avoid the punishment but not avoid the behavior. In other words, they will learn how not to get caught instead of learning the reason behind why they should not be behaving in certain ways.

The societal narrative built around corporal punishment leads parents to believe they have no other choice or option. Other resources & support is not as eagerly given, which leads parents to be uninformed and ill prepared. Other discipline techniques such as time-outs, natural consequences, positive reinforcement etc. are labelled as ineffective - which is factually incorrect. There is also a religious aspect to this narrative that says "do not spare the rod", causing many within the religious community to feel that God wants you to hit your child and that you must obey these teachings.

It is also important to mention that sadly in many households, physical abuse is hidden behind the guise of corporal punishment. Excessive beatings for the smallest "transgressions" become normal & acceptable. I've put transgressions in quotation marks because in the case of abusers, they can twist any behavior into a transgression just so that they may have an excuse to beat their child. Furthering this societal narrative protects abusers and gives them the opportunity to continue victimizing their children.

I do not believe that someone who has used corporal punishment in the past is automatically abusive. As mentioned above, the societal & generational pressure combined with the lack of awareness & ignorance, causes frustrated parents to lash out. The point is not to be a "perfect" parent who never miss-steps, the point is to be continuously educating & bettering yourself for your children. Changing your approach and opinions when you receive new information, is called learning & growing - that is the point. Many have been confronted with the negative effects of corporal punishment but willfully choose to not learn from it and will continue to perpetuate the harmful narrative that violence is the only way to raise children.

Thankfully in recent years the rate of parents who use physical punishment on their children has decreased and will hopefully continue to decrease as more awareness is brought to non-violent parenting techniques and as abuse survivors begin to feel more empowered to speak out and help others who are attempting to break the generational cycles of violence and abuse.