Discipline is one of the basic responsibilities of parents, teachers, and guardians, and it must be undertaken in order to facilitate proper social development in children. Indulging in mischief and other undesirable conduct is common among children and is, to a degree, considered normal. Effectively discouraging these kinds of behavior is necessary, and it requires that parents, guardians, and caregivers apply diverse forms of disciplinary measures to achieve this. Some of the more common approaches in our society include the time-out, spanking, grounding, and formal advising. Numerous discussions and articles relating to the topic discipline in childhood have been produced, and this is not surprising, considering the sensitive and contentious nature of the subject. Spanking as a disciplinary mode is a topic frequently featured in such debates. While there are numerous studies supporting one side or the other and it remains a method employed by many parents in our society (Gershoff 539), the general consensus today is that spanking is not an effective response to undesirable behaviors in children. Ultimately, I agree with this conclusion.
All people in our society have some basic legal and human rights granted to them, and children are no exception. Human rights focus on allowing healthy development and flourishing among all people, without undue suffering or deprivation. These rights ensure that the welfare of children is adequately safeguarded and their natural social and physical development not stunted. The need for discipline and punishment can sometimes come in conflict with both legal and human rights. In an effort to instill discipline in and control over children, corporal punishment has long been a popular approach. Corporal punishment has been defined by Block as “the intentional infliction of pain on the body for purposes of punishment or controlling behavior. It includes slapping, spanking, hitting with objects, pinching, shaking, and forcing to stand for long periods of time.” Today, however, hitting children and other means of physical punishment inflicting pain, injury, or humiliation is generally considered to contravene their basic rights. Spanking and other forms of abuse fail to respect the dignity and physical integrity of children who fall victim to them. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, children have access to all the rights stipulated within the code. Just like adults, children are equal participants in our society, and the kind of respect the adults are accorded should also be extended to them.
Spanking children has been found to be a relatively ineffective form of discipline. Children who are spanked are more likely to repeat the same mistakes that led to the punishment, and there is hypocrisy in physical abuse that children can recognize (Block). This is effectively represented in the 2003 Oscar-nominated film, 21 Grams, in which a character hits his son as punishment for the son hitting his sister, saying “There’s no hitting in this house.” This is opposed to the positive outcomes that other modes of discipline can produce. Positive outcomes of spanking are generally nonexistent, and compliance with the behavioral demands by parents are usually short-lived. In the long run, obedience is not achieved, and, contrary to the correctional intent, corporal punishment often worsens negative behaviors in children rather than eliminating them. In a meta-analysis of studies on corporal punishment of children, Gershoff found that “Although it is related with immediate compliance, corporal punishment is associated with 10 undesirable constructs” (549). These include aggression, delinquent and antisocial behavior, and mental health issues that often persist into adulthood.
The negative physical and emotional effects of spanking in children can be long term and should not be underestimated. Physically, this sort of disciplinary action amounts to abuse and can cause unnecessary injury to the victim. In extreme cases, this abuse can even lead to death (Eckholm). When parents, teachers or guardians use dangerous objects to strike children, this exposes the children to possible injury which may take a long time to heal or lead to further complications. Emotionally, such punishment can cause a child to develop negative self value. It can also instill an extreme distrust of adults and other authority figures around them. As Block notes, “Discipline means ‘to teach’ … explaining and reasoning, establishing rules and consequences, praising good behavior in children and being good models for or children.” In nations where corporal punishment has been outlawed, such as Sweden (1979), Finland (1983), Norway (1987), and Austria (1989), there are much lower rates of aggressive behavior and violence (“Global Progress”).
Spanking children as a mode of discipline is completely without merit and therefore inappropriate. This is due to its numerous negative impacts and lack of long-term positive impacts. Spanking children is not advisable because it violates the rights of children, helps in no tangible way, and produces long-term negative physical, psychological, and social effects on the victims. As the American Medical Association has advised, “Infliction of pain or discomfort, however minor, is not a desirable method of communicating with children” (qtd. in Coleman). Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment only lead to a cycle of abuse, passed from parents and others caregivers to children, who pass it on to their children in turn. The personal and societal effects of this are uniformly negative.
- Block, Nadine. “Spanking: Facts and Fiction.” The Center for Effective Discipline, March 2008. Web. 21 July 2014.
- Coleman, Brenda C. “AMA Takes Stand Against Corporal Punishment In Schools.” AP News Archive, 20 June 1985. Web. 21 July 2014.
- Eckholm, Eric. “Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate.” The New York Times 6 Nov, 2011. Web. 21 July 2014.
- Gershoff, Elizabeth Thompson. “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review.” Psychological bulletin 128.4 (2002): 539-79. ProQuest. Web. 21 July 2014.
- “Global Progress”. Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2012. Web. 21 July 2014.