The World Health Organization declares “Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.”
Gabriel and her friends are play wrestling in their home. Gabriel’s parents have long insisted that Gabriel and her friends are not allowed to wrestle or tussle inside their home. However, one fateful afternoon, Gabriel and her best friend are vigorously scuffling around her father’s office, when luck has it, they knock over her father’s prized hockey trophy. The trophy tumbles off the a shelf bringing several other items rapidly tumbling to the floor. Her father’s prized trophy and several other items lie fragmented throughout the room. Gabriel is immediately shaken by this mishap. She is aware of her parent’s rules and the consequences of misbehaving. She seldom disobeys her parents out of fear of the known consequences. As she reflects on the last time a mishap occurred, she vividly recalls the spanking received by her father. It left a negative impression. She’s well aware of her parent’s belief system on spanking. She knows that if she misbehaves, or acts out, that she will be dealt with accordingly. She has long heard her parent’s stance on “sparing the rod and spoiling the child.”
While the story of Gabriel is fictional, it is reflected in many homes, schools, dormitories and foster placements. A child makes a mistake and they are punished with severe physical consequences.
What would happen, if the courts and legislative body embolden employers to use corporal punishment? What would be your personal reaction? Would you stand for your employer spanking you the next time you get out of line, backtalk, or simply stood up for yourself? Would you be at odds with your employer? Or, would you feel that your employer was justified for spanking you?
What would happen, if the courts and legislative body embolden the police with the right to spank their clients? Would you allow for some police officer to force you to bend over your vehicle? Would you be okay taking lashes for driving over the speed limit? Would you be bothered that a police officer has the judicial right to make such decisions on the spot?
Let’s take it one step further, what if, your son or daughter were traveling overseas to a country that corporal punishment was enforceable? What if, they committed a crime that might be perceived in your country as mischief? Or, perhaps a simple misdemeanor? What if, in your community, the punishment typically involved a fine and community service, but rather than the child receiving community service or a stiff fine, they are forced to face several lashes for vandalism? How would you react? What would be your overall gut impression? Well, in the spring of 1994, an American student, Michael Fay was charged and convicted of vandalism in Singapore. Under ordinary circumstances, Michael Fay should have received a stricter penalty, but in his case, President Bill Clinton, interceded on his behalf. In the end, Michael Fay received four lashes, rather than the typically administered six lashes for the crime with which he had committed. Now as a parent, how would you react if your child was facing such a harsh and very stiff, penalty? Isn’t it funny, as a society we justify the use of corporal punishment in the home, but yet, we would be hell bent on protecting our child from corporal punishment outside the home environment.
The ramifications of spanking a child can be significant, leaving the child with the impression that violence and physical altercations are acceptable. Research has clearly shown that spanking has a profound effect upon the child’s biological, psychological, and social environments. It is not uncommon for children to struggle with a host of issues which may include: anxiety, stress, nightmares or night terrors, bedwetting, regressiveness, self-esteem and self-worth, proper attachment, issues involving feelings of security and trust, and so forth. The issues range from acute to chronic and they may plague the individual throughout the remainder of their life. Please understand that corporal punishment does not lead to desired outcomes, rather there is evidence that shows spanking can have profound effect upon the cognitive and processing centers of the brain. When we alter these regions of the brain, we effectively alter the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours of the individual being punished.
There are a number of problems with corporal punishment. Research has indicated that parents who rely on corporal punishment, commonly utilize various forms of correction when they are knowingly out of control. Many parents report feeling fed up and unable to regulate their own emotional state. At the moment of use, the parent’s mindset is seldom calm and collective. Rather, it is not uncommon for the parent to be highly stressed, frustrated and bewildered.
Ultimately, what can a parent do if other forms of discipline or correction are not achieving their ultimate aim? Parents who are feeling overwhelmed, should consider seeking out the services of a professional. Likewise, there are a number of resources for parents who are feeling exacerbated by the role of simply being a parent. In many communities, there are classes for helping parents improve upon their parenting, relationship and communication skills. Parents are always encouraged to communicate their frustrations with a professional therapist. Improving upon the foundations of one’s parenting skills is not an indication of weakness or inability, rather they are proof that you are seeking to obtain healthy skills for parenting. Fortunately, there are services for individuals who live remotely or in communities without local professionals. Parents should be encouraged to join online parenting classes, workshops, and even the ability of meeting with trained professionals. Professionals often encourage the parent(s) and child to attend family and individual therapy.
Why is it that we continue to rely upon the use of corporal punishment to correct children? It has been many decades since an employer or legal system could utilize corporal punishment on the life of an adult. Why is it that we have outlawed violence between partners? Yet, we continue to permit the use of physical violence on the innocent life of a child? Why is it that we have set such strict standards on workplace violence, and yet, we continue to harbour violence in the home?
In Canada, Section 43 of the Criminal Code permits parents, guardians, and other caregivers to discipline a child with corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is seldom isolated to physical spanking. According to the Department of Justice Canada, “Experts say that spanking is not an effective form of discipline. Spanking can make children angry and resentful. It can cause them to lose trust in their parents. It teaches children that hitting others is okay. In the long run, spanking can make children’s behaviour worse.”
Ultimately, what are we teaching children? We are teaching children that physical violence is an acceptable form of communication. A majority of parents would never intend harm to the life of their child, but the truth is, corporal punishment has an ability of leaving unknown scars marring the perceptions and worldviews of their child. As a practitioner and father, my argument is that corporal punishment is an ancient artifact that continues to systemically plague our society. As a society, we have long relied on corporal punishment as a corrective instrument.
We must resolve this issue by making all forms of corporal punishment illegal. We can no longer use the justification that “well my parents used it and it had no effect upon my life.” You may be the exception to the rule, but the truth is, there is research that indicates the lasting effects of corporal punishment. The problem with corporal punishment is that there is no way of setting a regulated standard of discipline. We know that parents who utilize corporal punishment range in age, intellectual quotient, economic backgrounds, etc. The demographics are immeasurable. There are no absolute guarantees involving the safety and wellbeing of the life of a child.
There is no justification of applying corporal punishment on the life of a child. A child who is infused with the concept of corporal punishment, has a higher likelihood of relying on physical violence to solve their problems. Again, we are teaching children that there is always a justification for violence. The justification for physical violence on the life of a child is unjustified and inexcusable. It is time that we lay aside the ways of our past and look to implementing instruments that correct, guide, and lovingly nurture the lives of our children.
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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA