Corporal Punishment

By definition, punishment is a process whereby a consequence is added to a particular behaviour in an effort to weaken that behaviour (Huitt & Hummel, 1997). Corporal punishment in turn refers to actual physical punishment to correct behaviour. There are two main institutions within which children are disciplined, namely, the home and the school. Sociologists describe the home as the primary socializing agent as such the home expectedly has the most far reaching impact. The school, as a secondary socialization agent will either reinforce or de-emphasize those values taught within the home. One common feature between the home and the school is that in some cultures, corporal punishment is often utilized within the two with the hope that children will be better individuals. The issue of effective child rearing is a very important one it may be argued that for this to be achieved corporal punishment is needed to instill discipline in children. This discipline is based on the rule of consequences and these consequences include reinforcements and rewards which allow for introspection, this ideally results in better choices, not just in its immediacy but over the long term. It may be argued that by doing this children are given the freedom to choose actions and by extension their consequences. It is hoped that children will be smarter in their choices and thus have improved life chances. For the purposes of this paper, the impact of corporal punishment on children will be explored with the use of evidence based research, personal views will also be highlighted and recommendations provided.
The two main arenas in which children may receive corporal punishment are within the home and the school. The home for many can be described as the mitochondrion of wider society. It represents that entity which greatly moulds individuals, with the support of other such institutions. Values thought within the home have proven to be significant since the household is the first place where these are reinforced on a consistent basis. Persons are placed in wider society from this ???power house??™ and they impact the world with the values that they hold true. Like the home, society operates on principles of rewards and punishment and it may even be argued that consequences typically experienced in a stable home environment may well be less harsh when compared to those meted out in wider society.
Numerous social scientists have examined the effects of corporal punishment on children and the way corporal punishment is used as a technique to discipline children. It has been noted that the difference between abuse and discipline is unclear for many caregivers within the household, it is clear is that the desired outcome be known by the caregiver n order for corporal punishment to be effective. For some, it is difficult to draw conclusions about spanking when compared to abuse. Holden stated that in research on corporal punishment he has reviewed, parents may not be honest in their responses (Holden, 2002). Another interesting issue that may be emphasized is that at home ???spanking??™ is used in conjunction with other forms of discipline, indeed on may argue that this is often a last resort. Holden sees corporal punishment as reinforcement for other parenting techniques, he specifically described this as ???back up??™ intervention (Holden, 2002). Baurmrind highlighted the fact that corporal punishment often acts as a short-term parenting technique that sets out to alter noncompliance, this is done with the hope that non-corporal techniques can be used in the long-term (Baurmrind, 2002).
Within the school, corporal punishment serves a similar purpose as within the home, to correct misbehavior. It typically involves striking the student in a prescribed manner, normally across the buttocks or on the hands with a cane, paddle or strap (Student/Parent Information Guide and Code of Conduct 2008-2009). Proponents or corporal punishment in schools may articulate that it provides immediate response to discipline, this method is more advantageous as when compared to suspension since students are not taken out of the class setting for any extended period of time. In the past, corporal punishment was widely practiced in schools in many parts of the world, but in recent decades it has been outlawed in most of Europe and in Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand. Corporal punishment remains popular in African and, Middle Eastern schools and s such necessitate discipline in children.
“Numerous human rights bodies??¦have made it clear that corporal punishment of children breaches childrens fundamental human rights to respect for their dignity and physical integrity. This reality provides an immediate imperative for ending the practice??¦??? This sentiment was expressed by Mieke Schuurman, Secretary General of the European Childrens Network, speaking at the launch of the Council of Europes initiative against corporal punishment of children – Zagreb, June 2008. Throughout history physical discipline has been a salient feature in many homes and schools across different societies. This however does not mean that the phenomenon is a necessity, accepted or even that beating children does more good than harm developmentally, especially from a behavioural standpoint. “Research into the harmful physical and psychological effects of corporal punishment, into the relative significance of links with other forms of violence, in childhood and later life, add further compelling arguments for condemning and ending the practice, suggesting that it is an essential strategy for reducing all forms of violence, in childhood and later life” (Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children). Another argument made against corporal punishments is that some research has shown it to be not as effective as positive means for managing student behaviour. These studies have linked corporal punishment to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes including, ???increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive classroom behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teacher??? (Poole, 1991:162-7).
Support for the necessity of corporal punishment is significantly questioned by numerous international child welfare entities, these include American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Australian Psychological Society. School corporal punishment is also opposed by the (U.S.) National Association of Secondary School Principals. The provisions of the Convention of the Rights of the Child 1989 is also important for child punishment, as Article 19 states: ???Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.???
In a survey conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on corporal punishment uncovered that use of corporal punishment was generally frowned upon by AAP pediatrician members. Findings demonstrated that roughly fifty-three percent of respondents generally oppose the use of corporal punishment by parents, but an occasional spanking under certain circumstances can be an effective form of discipline. Thirty-one percent completely oppose the use of corporal punishment by parents under any circumstances and only fourteen percent supported, in principle, the limited use of corporal punishment by parents. Less than two percent of pediatricians were unsure of opinion on the use of corporal punishment. Forty-two percent of persons recommended that corporal punishment be used only under limited circumstances and/or with specific conditions or rules.
As it relates to a personal standpoint regarding corporal punishment, I am a proponent of the view. My personal viewpoint has been strongly influenced by my upbringing within the household and the church I attended. I have observed possible linkages between how I was punished as a child and the possible effect it may have had in my current adult interactions. It should be noted that occasional spankings where necessary are warranted in my view. As a mother, I believe it is imperative that guardians not strike their wards out of anger but of a need to guide children into making wiser choices that will attract benefits to their overall life experiences. Certain values that were upheld within my household growing up, such as showing respect to elders and cleanliness were typically reinforced with physical punishment when rules were not followed.
In addition to my childhood home serving as a major influence, the church for me, being the basis of my moral consciousness, has tremendously impacted my personal view that corporal punishment is a necessity for the discipline of children. The bible, it may be recalled, has highlighted that corporal punishment is an acceptable form of punishment for children. Done out of love and within reason, corporal punishment is beneficial to the upbringing of young ones. The book of Proverbs offers five verses that explicitly mention the use of a rod to beat a child, in the biblical context the rod may refer to that which was used by shepherds to gently guide their sheep out of harm??™s way. This was not done to physically harm the animals but was a necessary act that limited the amount of harm that came to the sheep and ultimately extended its life. This is the view that I personally adopt as it concerns the raring of my own children, and up to this point the practice has apparently worked.
There are a variety of recommendations which may be, and have been offered with regard corporal punishment and its effect on children. Suggestions may typically advocate for the elimination of corporal punishment or its infusion with other disciplinary techniques. David Osher et. al. have outlined, examined three key ways in which improvement may be seen in student behavior and school discipline. Namely, school-wide positive behavioural supports, ecological approaches to classroom management and social and emotional learning. For Osher these approaches can be combinative or applied in singularly (Osher, 2010:48-58). It is also recommended that positive, non-violent forms of child-rearing, education and conflict resolution among parents, caregivers and the greater public be encouraged. By doing this, a certain level of cohesion and functionality can be achieved, as such stable environments may be provided for children. Parents should seek, and be offered the necessary advice should they experience, or are experiencing difficulties with child-rearing, on the other hand, it should be ensured that facilities are in place for children who wish to confidentially access counseling and legal representation in response to violence against them. It is imperative that children are offered the opportunity to express their views and are actively involved in the eradication of corporal punishment, this will augment the efforts should it be decided that corporal punishment is un-necessary in disciplining of children.
The importance of protecting their rights and encouraging their overall mental and physical health cannot be over emphasized. Indeed, it widely accepted that disciplinary techniques are a needed component of the over process of child rearing, however, to say that corporal punishment is key to discipline leaves great room for disagreement. Corporal punishment??™s impact, largely negative, has been proven to be profound, however appropriate alternatives have been offered for all parties involved.
Baumrind, D., Larzelere, R. E., & Cowan, P. A. (2002). Ordinary Physical Punishment: Is It Harmful Comment on Gershoff Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 580-589
Gershoff, E. T. Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review. Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 539-579
Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children: July, 2008. Retrieved [15/8/2010] from,$366656.htm
Holden, G. W. (2002). Perspectives on the Effects of Corporal Punishment: Comment on Gershoff Psychological Bulletin, 128(4), 590-595
Huitt, W., & Hummel, J. (1997). An introduction to Operant (instrumental) Conditioning. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [19/8/2010] from,
Osher, D., Bear, G.G., Sprague, J.R., Doyle, W. (2010). How Can We Improve School Discipline Educational Research, January 1; 39(1):48-58.
Poole, S.R., Ushkow, M.C, Nader, P.R, (1991). The Role of the Pediatrician in Abolishing Corporal Punishment in Schools. Pediatrics 88 (1) July: 162??“7.
Student/Parent Information Guide and Code of Conduct 2008-2009, Alexander City Schools, Alabama, USA, p.44.

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