Little Sense of Remorse
Temple also notes that adults who were spanked as kids tend to believe that they turned out fine, and that makes it okay for them to use physical violence as a form of punishment on their children. Both Temple and Sege believe that this mindset is counterproductive and does not account for over 20 years of research showing no gain from corporal punishment.
Temple points out that there is no indication that physically punishing a child has any benefit, but there is a whole range of research highlighting the negative results of corporal punishment. He states that the goal of these studies is to ensure that kids are happier and better adjusted than earlier generations.
Sege concurs, stating that positive changes such as making seat belts mandatory for children can result from detailed research on various topics. And studies indicate that corporal punishment is not advantageous for children.
The Defenders of Spanking
A small minority, which includes doctors and researchers, still believes that corporal punishment is not harmful to the development of children. They argue that physical punishment methods are, at the very least, not detrimental in any manner.
Professor Robert Larzelere from Oklahoma State University believes that any disciplinary technique’s effectiveness is contingent on the context in which it is used. He also states that research indicates the efficacy of spanking between the ages of 2 and 6 when other milder methods of instilling discipline have been rendered ineffective.
Larzelere is the co-author of a paper on spanking for the American College of Pediatricians. This is a cohort of physicians that have a traditional stance on parenting. Larzelere and his co-author, Dr. Den Trumbull, note that parents can spank their children, but this is conditional on ensuring that the child knows that the primary motivation behind the corporal punishment is the parent’s love and concern for him/her. They also recommend that spanking should not be severe, and should always be used as a deterrent to future errant behavior.
Larzelere and Trumbull advocate the use of spanking when other milder forms of disciplinary action have failed and the child continues the harmful behavior. The authors point to the limitations in recent research, stating that such analysis relies on an individual’s memory of childhood punishment and does not distinguish between spanking and more severe forms of corporal punishment. They believe that this leads to false correlations and incorrect conclusions.
Proponents of using physical violence as a form of punishment highlight the other explanations for the contrary results of spanking. For instance, they state that children who are spanked may have had pre-existing behavioral issues. The violent or aggressive behaviors displayed in adulthood could be a result of existing behavioral problems rather than spanking. They also explore the possibility that mentally disturbed adults may be more likely to recall childhood corporal punishments compared to healthy adults.
Alternatives to Spanking
People critical of spanking do note that ideal research on this topic does not exist. This would entail taking a group of children and asking half the group to be spanked by parents while the other group is not spanked. This would then need to be followed by observing these children to understand the impact of spanking on adult behavior. However, they also point out that an analysis of many studies indicates the grave danger that can result from inflicting corporal punishment on kids.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has provided some alternatives to corporal punishment, which can include taking away a favorite toy from the child or suspending privileges. Sege states that the tactic used should depend on the age of the child. In infancy, all children need to learn is about is love and developing new abilities. Parents of infants can distract them or pick the baby up and change the pace of their walking. There is not much else parents can do with infants.
Using techniques such as time-outs or taking attention away work well for toddlers, as they crave attention. Experts recommend that older children and teenagers should be made to learn and understand the consequence of their actions.Related: 10 Warning Signs your Child might have a Mental Disorder
Sege sums it up by saying that parenting is not easy. But the silver lining is that children tend to forgive parents for the well-intentioned mistakes they may make.