Sparing the Rod
- 1 Article
- Age 19
The first time that I saw my friend cry was when she talked about her childhood. One afternoon, we were happily chatting when at some point we started to talk about our childhoods. Words like “beating” and “spanking” suddenly came up. That was when I discovered that my friend was a victim of corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment is “ any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.”. It may be done using only the hand, or it may involve instruments such as belts and sticks. Making children stay in uncomfortable positions like squatting or kneeling is also considered as corporal punishment. It is common in many countries, including mine. In fact, globally, 4 out of 5 between the ages of 2 and 14 experience some kind of harsh discipline practice in the home. Corporal punishment also happens a lot in schools.
When I was in my elementary and high school years, I witnessed some of my teachers spank my classmates, for being naughty, or failing to answer a question. Back then, I did not know that it was bad; it never seemed bad. I was socialized to accept that corporal punishment is part of growing up,. Being/ having been spanked by parents was something to be proud of because it is the “ideal” way of raising a child. My own father proudly narrated to us how his father used to spank him with a thick piece of wood. Needless to say, spanking was deemed necessary to raise good and obedient children.
I have to admit that for most of my life, I believed in the necessity of corporal punishment. After all, I did have a fair share of my own personal experience when it comes to it. Back then, I was one of the many who laughed as my teacher pulled my classmate’s hair. I was one of the people who thought that the same classmate was a joykill when she reported the teacher to the authorities. Admittedly, it was only when I witnessed how my friend had been so broken by it, and after I researched it, that I realized that corporal punishment is just plain wrong.
Discipline is not punishment — this is one of the most important things I learned from research. Why is it that when an adult is hit, it is considered as an assault, whereas when the same thing is done to a child, it is seen as discipline?
Parents and teachers tend to use corporal punishment because it usually stops a child from misbehaving immediately. However, research has shown that corporal punishment does not really teach children why their behavior is wrong, making them more likely to repeat their mistakes in the long run. Personally, there were times when as a child, I learned what behaviors were wrong, but I did not really know why.
Some parents also tend to justify corporal punishment as an expression of love-- that is, they spank their children because they love them and only want the best for them. This is problematic because one should never hurt someone they love. Corporal punishment is not a demonstration of love, it is an assertion of power; and this assertion of power may be detrimental for the relationship of the child to the parent. Research has found that children who are violently disciplined report feelings of humiliation, discomfort, sadness, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, frustration, loss of trust in and fear of their parents - especially when corporal punishment is accompanied by verbal abuse. There were times when as a child, because I was afraid of my parent’s rage, instead of confessing, I ended up hitting myself without telling my parents to ease my guilt without making them angry.
Aside from negative consequences on parent-child relationships, corporal punishment has also been linked to an increase in aggression and criminal behavior in adulthood, as well as alcohol abuse and depression. Adults who were violently disciplined as children were found to be more likely to physically abuse their partners and children. This should not be surprising since physical punishment sends a message that violence is an effective way to make others do what they want --- which is of course, not true.
The good news is there’s a more effective alternative approach called “Positive Discipline” or “Positive Parenting”. It is a holistic, non-violent, respectful, rights-based, and solution-focused approach to parenting and teaching. It banks on the philosophy that the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to punish. Thus, instead of focusing on mistakes and misdemeanors, Positive Discipline supports learning and growth by giving clear and consistent rules (structure) and responsive care (warmth) through open communication between the parent and the child. It aims to guide children towards understanding why certain behaviors are acceptable, whereas others are not. Positive Discipline has generally been shown to have positive effects on child well-being, development, and their parental relationship. To know more about it, feel free to read Joan Durrant’s Positive Discipline for Everyday Parenting and Positive Discipline for Everyday Teaching.
What is common and traditional does not mean that it is correct and acceptable. Corporal punishment hurts more than it seems, and the pain sometimes lasts long after it happens. Thus, it is time to put an end to this culture of violence against children. Systemic changes need to be done to do so. Globally, NGOs have been pushing for the total prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. So far, 52 countries have already done this, and the results are generally positive. Countries such as Sweden have seen a decline in youth theft and substance use since the total ban of the practice. Public tolerance of corporal punishment also decreased.
It is never acceptable to hit a child, or anyone for that matter, even within the context of discipline. We must work together to end this tradition of violence once and for all. End corporal punishment NOW.