Corporal punishment refers to intentional application of physical pain as a method of changing behavior. Youth in the United States experience various forms of corporal punishment in two primary places: their homes and their schools. When corporal punishment occurs in the home, it can be thought of as a form of family violence. The most severe forms of corporal punishment occur with very young children, pregnant teens, and adolescent males between the ages of 15 and 17. Spanking is the most common form of corporal punishment used by adults to discipline children. The use of spanking as a disciplinary method is controversial. Parents often consider the use of spanking as a helpful and effective method of child rearing that teaches morals and values to a growing child. However, rather than being employed as an effective disciplinary intervention that is metered out in proportion to the misdeed, parents or teachers are more likely to administer the timing, intensity, and frequency of corporal punishment according to their parental or teacher mood than the child’s actual misdeeds.
Corporal punishment against children has been an acceptable form of discipline for thousands of years. Adults have often interpreted legal and religious doctrines to support the use of physical discipline as essential to the rearing for obedient, respectful, well-controlled children who learn appropriate appreciation for authority, develop better social skills, have improved moral character, and learn to better discipline themselves.
Children have been whipped, caned, paddled, spanked, slapped, switched, shoved, choked, punched, and kicked in the United States since colonial times.
Corporal Punishment As A Form Of Violence
Violence in this context is the act of harming or damaging a human. Corporal punishment is a form of violence or human aggression. The most extreme outcome of violence is death. Examples of other extreme outcomes of corporal punishment include sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, physical abuse, physical assault, violence committed with a weapon, murder, and homicide. Any and all forms listed above can include acts of hitting, kicking, scratching, biting, pushing, shoving, slapping, pinching, squeezing, punching, or using an object to inflict harm. Those objects can be used to inflict damage through stabbing (knives and other sharp objects), shooting (guns and bows and arrows), or hitting with a stick, belt, switch, board, paddle, rock, and so forth.
Supporters of Corporal Punishment
Advocates of corporal punishment include most American parents, many teachers, organizations such as the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the American Federation of Teachers, some religious organizations, and the majority of family physicians and pediatricians. The majority of American parents spank their small children (under 5 years of age). Advocates of corporal punishment do not just contend that children should be physically punished for every misdeed. They also advocate other methods be tried first or paired with physical punishments and that the actual spanking or hitting of children be used only as a last resort. Supporters of corporal punishment further contend that the research that finds against corporal punishment only refers to severe forms of physical punishment and does not apply to what happens in most homes and schools.
Opponents of Corporal Punishment
Opponents contend that any form of physical punishment is a form of violence, is an ineffective method of discipline, and has major deleterious effects on the physical and mental health of its victims. Opponents also find that there is no empirical evidence that physically punishing children enhances moral character development, increases respect for teachers or other authority figures in general, or creates better controlled individuals. Youth under the age of 15 are at greatest danger of being victims of violence in the form of corporal punishment in two primary places: their own homes at the hands of their parents or caregivers and their schools at the hands of their teachers, counselors, assistant principals, and principals. Individuals who are exposed to more severe forms of corporal punishment in their homes are at increased risk for physical and emotional abuse, disability, and death. Children who grow up in violent homes are at risk for learning several early and powerful lessons: (a) violence is an inherent part of a “loving” relationship; (b) violence is an acceptable way to assert one’s views, get one’s way, and resolve conflict between partners; and (c) violence is an acceptable method to discharge stress.
Youth who are severely physically punished become more rebellious and are more likely to demonstrate vindictive behavior and seek retribution against parents, school officials, and others in society. The use of severe corporal punishment can result in what is termed operant aggression. In this form of aggression, the victim uses the same physical intervention that was used against him or her on the parent or adult who was administering discipline. The victim retaliates to destroy or immobilize the parent or teacher to prevent delivery of further punishment. Elicited aggression can also result from the punishment in which the victim physically attacks others in the environment, even those who are not the source of the original punishment. The victim simply wants to destroy or immobilize anything that might cause delivery of additional punishment.
Children who grow up in coercive families may become aggressive and further initiate aggressive interchanges that they have learned from their parents or teachers. Children who are victims of corporal punishment in their homes or schools are seen in doctor’s offices and emergency rooms every day. Injuries from these medical visits include abrasions, severe muscle injury, extensive hematomas, whiplash damage, life-threatening fat hemorrhage, and others (including death).
When corporal punishment is used in the school system, it can produce an environment that is unproductive, nullifying, and punitive. Rather than providing an atmosphere of opportunities to learn academically and socially, children who are physically punished become victims, and trepidation is introduced to all students in such a classroom. The victim and witnesses of such abuse can develop low self-esteem, magnified guilt feelings, and various anxiety symptoms, which may have negative results on the psychosocial and educational development of these students.
The student does not learn to adopt societal values and attitudes as his or her own and is not motivated by intrinsic or internal factors; rather, the child or adolescent learns to elude detection and to use violence as a means to influence others.
During the 1970s, organizations that opposed violence against children in our school systems included the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Orthopsychiatry Association, American Psychological Association, National Center on Child Abuse Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Bar Association, American Medical Association, Parent-Teacher Association, National Education Association, and Society for Adolescent Medicine. These and over 20 other groups united to ban the practice of physically punishing children and youth in school. Currently 75% of states in the United States have legally banned corporal punishment in schools.
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