I just read a post by Renee at Womanist Musings, written in response to an article called, "8 Reasons to Spank Your Kids." I agree with Renee's take entirely. Corporal punishment is something I have strong opinions about, and intend to write a full post on at some point. For now I'll just say that corporal punishment is not about what's best for the child, but about breaking their will, as one breaks-in a horse. And I'll quote from an article by Anne McGillivray, in which she summarizes the results of Elizabeth T. Gershoff's meta-analysis of over eighty studies on the effects of corporal punishment:
Before anyone comments on it, I'd like to point out that these studies found relationships between corporal punishment and various outcomes, not one-to-one causation. So no, I'm not arguing that if you were spanked as a child you must be a criminal now. But there is a relationship between the two.
- 12 of 12 studies of the association between corporal punishment and mental health found that it was associated with poorer mental health in children.
- 13 of 13 studies examining parent-child relationships found that corporal punishment was associated with poorer quality in relationships between the child and the parent, including fear and resentment of the parent, aggression against the parent, and erosion of trust and closeness between child and parent.
- 27 of 27 studies on the relationship between corporal punishment and the level of aggression in children found corporal punishment to be associated with increased aggression -- bullying, fighting, and 'acting out' against siblings, peers, and parents.
- 12 of 13 studies on the relationship between physical punishment and antisocial behaviour found that physical punishment is associated with increased delinquency and other anti-social behaviour.
- 13 of 15 studies documented a relationship between physical punishment and lower levels of moral internalization -- children who receive physical punishment are less likely to internalize moral reasoning and values, and are more likely to demonstrate lower levels of empathy and pro-social reasoning (i.e. thinking about others and about consequences for other people).
- 4 of 4 studies on adult aggression confirmed the relationship between corporal punishment and heightened aggression in adulthood.
- 5 of 5 studies on adults who abuse a spouse or a child confirmed the relationship between receiving corporal punishment as a child, and violence against a spouse or child (domestic violence) as adults.
- 5 of 5 studies on adult criminal and anti-social behaviour confirmed the relationship between corporal punishment in childhood and criminal activities in adulthood.
- 8 of 8 studies on adult mental health problems confirmed the relationship between corporal punishment in childhood and depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other mental health problems in adulthood.
I think finding number five is the most interesting and thought-provoking. Instead of learning to empathize with others and make moral judgements, children who experience corporal punishment are taught to act based on fear of punishment. Of course, depending on the individual, one may or may not internalize this lesson. It makes me think of the religious conservative types, who have more patriarchal families and long for the good-old-days (when beating children was more socially acceptable). The ones who fear hell, and tell everyone else that they're going to hell, and can't seem to empathize with LGBTQ people, or women, or immigrants. It also reminds me of my friend's son, who is not spanked, and is a sweet, helpful boy. When he was three he warned his parents not to squash a bug, because, "it wants to live!" I just about died when I heard that story - how many three year-olds empathize with bugs?
Ultimately, corporal punishment is about asserting power and control through pain and fear, and that can't be a good environment for a child to grow up in.
Anne McGillivray, “Child Physical Assault: Law, Equality and Intervention,” (2004) 30 Man. L.J. 133, summarizing Elizabeth T. Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associate Child Behaviors and Experiendes: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review” (2002) 128 Psychological Bulletin 539-579.