According to new research published in the Journal of Pediatrics, using physical violence as a form of punishment against children can set them up for significant relationship violence in adulthood. It appears that the old adage “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is no longer entirely valid, according to certain groups.
This comprehensive study considered evaluated the behavior of 758 young adults between the ages of 19 and 20. These young adults were asked how frequently they had been subjected to corporal punishment such as spanking, slapping, or being struck by objects when they were children. Lead researcher and author Jeff Temple, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Unit, said that the results of the analysis indicate that adults who had experienced corporal punishment were more inclined to bring this violence into dating and relationships.
The study results were the same even when attributes such as ethnic background, parents’ education, sex, age, and abuse in childhood were taken out of the equation. The researchers defined child abuse as being hit by a belt or board-like object which led to noticeable bruises or a doctor/hospital visit.
Temple, who is a well-known specialist in dating and relationship brutality, further said that child abuse notwithstanding, spanking itself was enough to predict dating violence behaviors.
AAP Speaks Out Against Corporal Punishment
The outcome of this recent study did not come as a surprise to Dr. Bob Sege, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatricians who specializes in the determent of childhood violence. The academy is fiercely against corporal punishment inflicted on a child for any reason, believing that striking children can lead to psychological disorders and violent behavioral patterns in adulthood.
Dr. Sege, who was not a part of this research initiative, states that the results of this study further strengthen previous research findings that children who experience violence at home are more prone to violent tendencies later in life, even if this kind of punishment is presented as being for their benefit.
He further added that children view their parents as the most important people in their lives and learn social etiquette and norms from them. Kids understand how to treat other people based on their parents’ behavior and actions. The demarcation between love and violence gets confusing for kids when they are struck, leading to them behaving similarly in adult relationships.
Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University and a specialist in partner aggression, concurs that when children experience violence directed towards them, it raises the probability that they will resort to aggression when in fight or flight mode. Being physically punished by a parent can increase stress levels for a child and diminish their coping abilities, leading them to act out and be aggressive.
Prevalence of Spanking
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has defined corporal punishment as any punishment or physical violence aimed at causing pain or discomfiture, no matter how light. According to the committee, spanking or slapping is the most common form of corporal punishment, but the list also includes pinching, pulling hair, making a child sit in an uncomfortable position, burning, and forced ingestion of any substance such as soap.
The Committee believes that all forms of physical punishment inflicted on a child can be quite degrading, and as a result of its declaration, 53 nations have banned inflicting corporal punishment on children, even at home. According to the committee, another 56 governments are preparing to pass similar laws against corporal punishment.
In the United States, it is entirely legal for parents to inflict physical violence on their children to punish them, and many believe that this is the right thing to do. Starting in 1986, NORC (University of Chicago) has asked US residents whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree that spanking is sometimes required to discipline a child. According to the latest results from 2016, 73.6 percent of Americans agree or strongly agree with corporal punishment as a means to discipline children.Related: Mental Issues Associated with Spanking
Rothman states that this topic has been controversial for many years, with some sections of the nation, such as the South, subscribing more than others to the idea of corporal punishment. Rothman further highlights that religious fundamentalists strongly believe in corporal punishment and think of it as a parenting technique.
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.