There is an old English adage that states `spare the rod and spoil the child `, this stemmed from Victorian times when raising children was based upon a strict disciplinarian attitude of `the child should be seen but not heard. During these times corporal punishment was viewed as a means of disciplining the child and creating moral fibre. Today we are a more progressive society and realise that such actions of violence and brutality can inflict lasting psychological damage to the children. As such the argument is against the use of corporal punishment either at home or in domestic settings.
The concept of corporate punishment is still widely practiced in many American families. Most educational institutions have abolished the practice. American psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff has extensively research the positive and negative attributes of this. Gershoff found that the bulk of the behavioural associations with corporate punishment were extremely negative. This was found to increase aggression and anti-social behaviour in the child. This type of punishment admonished by a Father to his child was seen as bullying and a sort of betrayal in the relationship or failure of communication. Rather than repair the situation this often led to a more deteriorating relationship and in certain cases this escalated into abuse or maltreatment of the child. (Gershoff, E. 2002)
There is wide literature base that covers the advantages and disadvantages of Corporal Punishment from a psychology perspective. Some of the more interesting research examples are as follows:
In this research paper Gershoff explores the argument of the merits of parents using corporal punishment to discipline children. Despite extensive research, the psychological impact on children is still not fully conclusive. The author conducts empirical research looking at the behavioural conditions between the parents and the children. This is accomplished by looking at eleven different child behavioural patterns. (Gershoff E. , 2002)
Although a dated paper it is extremely interesting in that provides the argument that defends the use of Corporate Punishment. This paper ties the arguments back into the roots of conservative religion in America. (Ellison, 1993)
Corporal punishment in 2008 has been banned in 29 states across America. Despite this a large number of cases still get reported each year. This research examines how religion has influenced this, particularly in the conservative religious belt of the US Mid west. How attitudes have not changed and this aspect of punishment still prevails with both parents and teachers (Dupper, D.R. , 2008)
Research carried out in 2009 indicates that many American families still resort to beating their children as a disciplinary method. In the sample size researched it returned a figure of 90%. This trend was particularly alarming in religious communities which viewed beating as a means of expelling wickedness from the children. Further research carried out indicated that corporal punishment has only short term effects. For example it may stop the immediate deviant behaviour but in the long term the tendency leads towards worse behaviour and where the brutality is prolonged can lead to criminal behaviour. (Strauss, M.A. 2009).
| The historical perspective
Punishment has been a somewhat universal respose to acts of crime or deviant behaviour. The school classrooms were no exception to this ruling. Historically the argument of beating or thrashing the child by ‘caning’ was an attempt by the teachers to expel unruly or deviant behaviour and prevent the child from moving towards delinquent behavioural patterns. In some schools this act was carried too far by angry teachers throwing chalk and blackboard erasors at the children. Other schools improvised and used both belts and straps on children. Unfortunately, the behaviour by the teachers was often misguided and was at its worst in the poorer school communities. The children who became victims of school corporate punishment were often suffering abusive treatment at home by the parents and this often compounded the situation. (Lawrence, R. 1998)
Religion also played its part in the more conservative schools in the US. It was considered by parents and teachers alike that children became possessed by the devil and were prone to sinful acts. Hence, punishment by beating was termed as ‘beating the devil out of them’ and as such the terms of corporal punishment were widely accepted. This meant that no real examination of the potential harm to the children was considered. Ironically this often achieved the opposite of what the teachers and parents were striving for. This type of punishment often created more serious problems that manifested themselves at a later date i.e. depression, impaired learning, worse behavioural patterns and other psychological ailments. (Strauss, M.A. 2009)
| The modern context
A global report issued on the concept of banning corporal punishment in schools made the point that “children do not lose their human rights by passing through the school gates” (Committee on the Rights of the Child,, 2011). The modern view is that all forms of violence committed towards children causes harm. It makes the child suffer a loss of human dignity and as such contravenes the child’s human rights.
Such acts apply to both parental and school settings. It is widely held that it is time to set things right from a legal perspective and provide the children with the legal protection that they deserve. The conventions on the rights of the child were ratified in a large number of countries, excluding the USA, whereby it placed an obligation on Governments to provide appropriate legislative protection for children. (Committee on the Rights of the Child,, 2011).
In 2008 the Inter American Court of Human Rights stated that corporal punishment should be abolished in all settings. Statistics on Corporal punishment from around the world clearly illustrated the excesses of physical violence and abuse towards children. (Fig 2 refers).
| Psychological Considerations
One of the main psychological arguments against corporal punishment is that this leads to more violent behaviour and abuse. Although research is somewhat inconclusive on this point there is no doubt that this is a factor where parents are involved with drink or substance abuse problems. This is turn can move towards psychologic depression of the children and move them towards more deviant behaviour problems. In the home setting it is important for the child to have a settled family. It is the maintenance of the family structure that really necessitates the importance of marriage. The children produced from the marriage are the future in terms of perpetuating human society. Strong family values teach the children the ethics and the social responsibilities of adulthood. The love of the parents to the children translates to the personality of the adult. The displacement of this leads to a more random outcome and potentially more uncaring society.
Where the child becomes abused it alienates the child from the family structure and they feel abandoned. This leads the child to other children who are similarly treated and this often leads towards juvenile delinquency. Although any family structure is vulnerable to this type of situation it does more frequently show in the poorer less affluent communities.
The dysfunctional functions of families can affect the mental state of the child. One of the big problems seems to be the way kids in foster care are shuffled around between different families and schools. Such children are very vulnerable to acts of corporal punishment in schools and this adds to their sense of despair. This constant state of disruption leaves them in a state of confusion and a feeling of non-belonging to any specific family. This can lead to the feeling of becoming an outcast and subsequent alienation of the foster parents. This is a slippery slope where solace often resides in creating friends in gangs and involvement with drugs.
In the early days, the behavioural therapist saw only those individuals who were involved in problematic marriages. The others are children within problem families. The concept of strategic behavioural therapy developed the need to build on individual cognitive frameworks. Two of the major contributors were Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. Both of these were influenced by Freud (instinct), Jung (mysticism) and Adler (common sense). Hence, from the perspective of the behavioural counsellor – thoughts resulted in feelings and these in turn led to behavioural responses.
Cognitive behavioural approaches have been particularly successful in treating adolescents and youths with behavioural problems. The theoretical approach has the capability of adapting to different behavioural circumstances and environments. It deals with both emotional and social domains and as such is extremely persuasive in its applied application. The theory deals directly with those cognitive forces that stimulate emotional reactions and behavioural responses. As such it provides a problem solving orientation in order to determine the best or most suitable forms of psychological treatment. In order to deal successfully with cognitive problems it is important to gain a precise understanding of the emotions being displayed and understand the causation factors behind these. Mental health professionals have outlined the importance of family and social relationships as an important contributory part of the therapeutic process in treating problems. As such favourable outcomes in treatment are highly influenced by a positive approach and supportive stance being adopted from the parents.
The act of corporal punishment administered in the home or parental setting is often due to a breakdown in the relationship of the parents. A break down in family communications is often attributed to many of the marital problems that require intervention and counselling. There are numerous challenges in the integration of Christian principles into family therapy and counselling services. It was Berger and Luckman (1967) that managed to distinguish between two core competencies in family counselling i.e. primary socialisation where the process involves the identification as a member of a social group i.e. where a child still has abstract views of the social world and that of secondary socialisation where a child has already internalized a specific view of the world. In a marital break-down, the children are often the most vulnerable in terms of conceptualising what is taking place in terms of a communications breakdown. The loving and caring background often turns to anger, rage, open hostility and deception.
Parents that administer corporal punishment have the added concern of being mentally unstable and without social intervention this can go undetected and cause great harm to the child. Thomas Szasz, an American Psychologist, main arguments were associated with that of mental illness. He dismissed many of the scientific categories applicable to mental illness and considered them mainly judgements of disdain. Psychopathology does allow the freedom of expression and ability to investigate the personal values between items like mood swings. Considered useful in the study of items like Schizophrenia. In this sense Psychopathology does allow and cater for people with opposing viewpoints. Throughout recent history scholars and academics have held different views on the treatment or therapy applicable to mental illness.
In the school setting there were additional concerns about certain teachers with sadistic tendencies. These teachers administered punishment with great delight and the victims (children) perceived this as another form of bullying. In England there was a case where a Physical Education teacher lost his temper with a boy and lashed him across the bare back causing severe lacerations. The teacher was sent for psychological analysis, was dismissed from the school and charged with assault by the boy’s parents.
Children are more educated today and the concept of punishment should be based upon dialogue and communication. It may be better to explain what is wrong and withdraw certain privileges for a period to demonstrate such behaviour is unacceptable. The beating of children is more akin to that of bullying and creates the wrong kind of relationship with the child. Research indicates that instead of inducing proper behaviour it leads towards more alienation. In addition, children are very impressionable at a young age and being violent towards them can indeed create lasting sociological, psychological and medical problems. The concept should be consigned to history and parent become more caring and considerate to their children’s needs by increased communication and dialogue. (Dare, C. 1979)
The American psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff has extensively research the positive and negative attributes of the use of Corporal punishment administered in both school and home settings. Gershoff found that the bulk of the behavioural associations with corporate punishment were extremely negative. This was supported by a wide range of additional research studies that were incorporated into her investigative research work. This was found to increase aggression and anti-social behaviour in the child. The beating of children is viewed as a sort of bullying process and can destroy the relationship between parent and child as the bond of trust becomes broken. Equally the teacher is viewed as a form of sadistic aggressor that fails to communicate and vents his anger by resorting to acts of brutality. Such behaviour is no longer considered to be acceptable in a modern caring society where we are trying to stem the rise in juvenile delinquency and other social problems resulting from violent behaviour.
Christopher Dare, C. L. (1979). Children in Family Therapy. Journal of Family Therapy, 253-269.
Committee on the Rights of the Child,. (2011). Prohibiting all corporal punishment in schools: Global Report 2011. London UK: Committee on the Rights of the Child,.
Dupper, D. R., & Montgomery Dingus, A. E. (2008). Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: A Continuing Challenge for School Social Workers . Children and Schools, Volume 30, Number 4 , 243-250.
Ellison, C. a. (1993). Conservative Protestantism and Support for Corporal Punishment, . American Sociological Review Vol 58 No1, 131-144.
Gershoff, E. (2002). Corporate punishment by parents and associated child behaviours and experiments. Psychological bulletin, Vol 128(4), 539-579.
Gershoff, E. (2002). Is corporal punishment an effective means of discipline. American Psychological Association .
Lawrence, R. (1998). School crime and criminal justics. Oxford UK: Oxford University Press.
Strauss, M. D. (2009). Beating the devil out of them: corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children. In M. D. Strauss, Beating the devil out of them: corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children (pp. 3-12). New York: Lexington Books.