Parental Corporal Punishment

Last Updated: 05 Mar 2020
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In different households across the nation many parents pk, whip, swat, or paddle children in order to punish them for doing wrong or to act as a buffer against unacceptable behavior. These types of actions are acts of corporal punishment. Researchers Abraham Andero and Allen Stewart of Alabama State University define corporal punishment as “a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child’s unacceptable behavior” ( Andero and Stewart 90). Proponents of corporal punishment argue there is no harm in using corporal punishment in order to correct a child’s behavior.

Corporal punishment is a controversial subject among parents, teachers, and the medical community. It is agreed among researchers that children should be disciplined for their improper behavior; however, corporal punishment is an unacceptable disciplining tool because it teaches children to use violence, causes physical and psychological damage, and there are other ways to discipline a child besides corporal punishment. Corporal punishment teaches children to use acts of violence against their peers or other members of society.

Douglas Fry, a well- known anthropologist, noted that “Psychological research shows that parents or adults that use physical punishment, there is a tendency for recipient child to imitate the adult and act aggressively” (Fry 53). Fry conducted an observation on children ages three to eight years from two different communities: La Paz and San Andres. Fry recorded data on the children’s fighting and play fighting behavior. The results of his study concluded that the children of La Paz had lower levels of serious aggression and play aggression than the children of San Andres.

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The reason the children of La Paz had lower levels of aggression was because their parents used nonviolent techniques to discipline them (Fry 51-54). The conclusion of this particular study coincides with the social learning theory. Researchers Jennifer Lansford and Kenneth Dodge, in a similar study of cultures concluded that “ the more frequently a society employs corporal punishment of its children, the more prevalent adult violence is at a societal level and the more adults endorse the use of violence” (Landsford and Dodge 265).

Children are committing more and more violent crimes every day and some studies have shown a link between children that are physically disciplined and children who use violence against each other. Lansford and Dodge also noted that “an individual could become violent later on in life if their parents condone violence” (265). Parents need to be especially mindful of their behavior because children tend to model their parent’s behavior. Parent’s attitudes concerning corporal punishment can affect how their children behave. A phone interview was given to 134 parent child dyads.

The children that were interviewed ranged in ages from 10 to 13. The parents were asked questions in reference to their parenting style, their mental health, and questions in relation to their over all relationship with their children. The children were asked questions about being bullied and being involved in fights and how well they interact with their parents. The findings of this surveyed revealed forty percent of parents interviewed admitted that they would tell their child to defend themselves if they were hit or pushed.

Two out of three children reported that they would fight another student if they became angry enough. The survey also revealed that children whose parents physically punished them had higher instances of fighting and bullying within their last school term (“Parents” 3-4). Parents are wise to tell their children what their expectations are regarding violence and children need to be taught how to handle conflict in a nonviolent manner. Advocates of corporal punishment rarely seem to take into account the physical and psychological damage incurred to children who have been physically punished.

The most obvious damage done is that which can be seen by the eye. Often times, when a parent administers corporal punishment, they are angry and allow his or her emotions to get the best of them. Some parents do not know when to stop hitting their child. Elizabeth Gershoff, a researcher from Columbia University, notes in one of her studies that “if corporal punishment is administered too frequently or severely it can lead to child abuse” (Gershoff 542). Unfortunately the child suffers the most from being hit out of anger and frustration.

Lacerations, cuts, welts, and discoloration of skin can be visual effects of corporal punishment. While more attention maybe given to the physical effects of corporal punishment, in no way should we not be cognizant of the psychological effects of corporal punishment. The psychological effects are not as visible and noticeable as the physical effects of corporal punishment. Although there is no definite clear cause and effect evidence, many psychologists find correlations strong enough to find that corporal punishment causes lasting harm such as low-self esteem, depression, and even suicide.

Researchers at Old Dominion University conducted a study of 274 undergraduate students that concluded “respondents who experienced the highest level of physical punishment in their families of origin reported higher family conflict…greater family worries…more depressive symptoms…and more negative social relationships” (Leary, et al. 1). Similar research has also shown that children who have been physically punished can also show signs of stress. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire concluded that “receiving physical punishment from a parent is likely to be stressful” (Mulvaney and Merbert 390).

The stress incurred to children can lead to “mental health disorders…including decreased emotion processing” (Mulvaney and Merbert 390). The stress can be overwhelming to a child and the affects of the stress can have a negative impact leading into adulthood. There are alternative methods to discipline a child besides corporal punishment. These methods will not cause physical harm and can be quite effective. One way to discipline a child is to “tolerate or ignore the behavior” with the hopes that the child will change his or her unwarranted behavior (Fry 23).

Dr. Waterston, a pediatrician, recommends timeout which means “to withdraw attention for a period of time” and is “effective in increasing compliance” (Waterston 261). This method of discipline usually works well with younger children. The effectiveness of timeout depends on if it is used “consistently…for an appropriate duration…not excessively” (American” 725). A type of punishment that is more appropriate for older children is to remove privileges or deny them the right to participate in their favorite activity.

In order for this type of discipline to be effective it is recommended that “a valued privilege or reinforcer is removed” (“American” 725). For example, instead of lashing Little Johnny with a belt because he talked back to his teacher, a parent could instead deny Little Johnny the right to attend the movies with his friends on Friday night. Denying Little Johnny the right to attend the movies with his friends will probably hurt him more than the lash of a belt. Parents can also use verbal reprimands as a form of discipline.

Parents need to be especially careful of how they verbally reprimand their children, or this form of discipline can lose its effectiveness. The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that “verbal reprimands should reference the undesirable behavior and should not slander the child’s character” (“American” 725). It is best that parents are not fueled by anger when employing this type of discipline. The subject of corporal punishment will continue to be a debated topic. There are parents, doctors, and teachers that see no harm in parents using corporal punishment to discipline their children.

Physically punishing a child teaches them to use violence as children tend to learn by example. Physical punishment affects children physically and psychologically which could causes problems as they enter adulthood. Clearly, there are other methods to discipline children which can be effective and will not cause harm to children. Ultimately, it is the parent’s choice whether or not they want to use corporal punishment as a disciplining tool. As more research is conducted on the effects of corporal punishment, hopefully parents will learn through education and awareness that corporal punishment is an unacceptable discipline tool.

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Parental Corporal Punishment. (2017, Mar 14). Retrieved from

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