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Banning Corporal Punishment A Good...Or A Bad Idea?

Copyright (c) 2007-2020

As the result of proposed legislation in California to ban the use of corporal punishment with children less than four years of age, an impassioned debate has been raging over the airways and on editorial pages across the nation regarding what is permissible and effective in raising children.

Many news and talk show presentations about the ban focus on the more tepid forms of corporal punishment, such as spanking or swatting.

But corporal punishment is more than just an occasional pat on the behind.

Corporal punishment includes a wide range of physical actions that inflict pain and discomfort on children. These include pinching, pulling ears and hair, shaking, slapping, smacking, spanking, swatting, hitting, kicking, punching, paddling, using switches, hair brushes, belts and ironing cords, and having children kneel on gravel or a grate.

The use of these punishing actions vary greatly in intensity, harshness and length, and how often they are applied - from once or twice a year, to monthly, weekly and hourly.

Opponents of the proposed ban make a distinction between "ordinary or normal" corporal punishment, which is said to be mild, infrequent and does not leave physical signs like bruises, versus "abusive" corporal punishment which leaves bruises, welts, scars, broken bones, fractured skulls and/or damaged brains. These ban opponents are loud and clear that they are opposed to the "abusive" forms, and also indicate that government has already intervened with laws banning such types of treatment.

However, they seem to forget that it was not long ago that various forms of spousal abuse were considered to be "ordinary or normal" corporal punishment.

They also tend to overlook the fact that "abusive" corporal punishment often begins as an instance of "ordinary" physical discipline that escalates, becomes harsher, and gets out of control, i.e., "ordinary and normal" corporal punishment is often the necessary prelude to legally defined physical abuse. Also they are hard pressed to define the point at which the "ordinary" becomes "abusive" and where the current law should come into play.

Those in favor of the ban draw attention to various research studies that indicate that many negative behaviors and outcomes have been regularly associated with the parental use of corporal punishment.

These include greater depression, aggression and suicidal thoughts for children who are more frequent recipients of corporal punishment and of harsh corporal punishment, as well as poorer school performance and more anti-social behavior on the part of these frequently and harshly punished young people. Also, such youngsters have a higher likelihood of being victims of legally determined child abuse, probably because of the escalation effect mentioned above. These young people are also more likely to abuse their children and spouses when they grow up.

Those who are advocating for the proposed ban also remind us that there are parents of all cultural and religious groups who never use any type of corporal punishment and whose children grow up to be fine citizens. They propose that parents who are still using spanking and the other varieties of physical punishment consider doing some of the following:

  • Analyze the situations where a child is engaging in unwanted behaviors or refusing to do what they are supposed to do, to see if the parent can make a change in the situation or environment that will avoid or prevent the unwanted behavior or the refusal to comply.

  • Analyze the unwanted behaviors themselves to determine what the opposite or incompatible behaviors are, and focus instead on praising, encouraging, or providing positive I-messages for those incompatible, cooperative behaviors.

  • Draw attention away from problematic situations through the use of distraction.

  • Use clear and succinct commands and strong body posture to let the child know you are serious about the unwanted behavior stopping.

  • Use time out procedures which are discussed and carefully planned in advance.

  • Take away privileges and rewards for noncompliance.

  • Problem solve and negotiate solutions with the children.

  • Organize the family environment so that children earn their privileges and rewards based on their good will and cooperation in complying with mutually agreed upon family rules and values.

    These ban proponents further urge parents to enroll in parenting classes where these alternatives to corporal punishment can be properly learned and utilized.

    In summary, human beings young or old - are not for hitting.

    So why are we debating whether corporal punishment is a good or a bad idea? And what does this say about our character regarding the treatment of children?

    It says to all of us, regardless of religious or cultural backgrounds and beliefs, that we have not been appealing to the better angels of our character.

    Given the state of the world -- and given that the United States has just been ranked by UNICEF as one of the worst places to be a child -- isn't it time that we appeal to those better angels?

    Let's stop debating, and give our children the same right to be free of physical punishment that we adults have been reserving for ourselves.


    About The Author: Shop Amazon - Top Gift Ideas
    Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D. is a nationally and internationally respected authority on parenting and parent training. He is the executive director and founder of the 32-year-old Center for the Improvement of Child Caring in Studio City, CA. The center has a variety of parenting books, videos and other products available on its Web site http://www.ciccparenting.org Dr. Alvy is also a founding Board member of the National Effective Parenting Initiative (NEPI). NEPI's mission is to promote, advocate and celebrate parenting and parenting education. On the NEPI Web site, http://www.EffectiveParentingUSA.org interested individuals can sign an effective parenting petition. Dr. Alvy addresses a variety of parenting topics, issues, and trends. Dr. Alvy is available as a consultant, speaker, and media guest.

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    Last Distribution Date:
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    Internal ID: #4486





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