The explosion of behavior changes on children has sparked a series of developmental theories to explain this controversy. The theories help in organizing and seeking meaning to the controversial topics. Should parents be allowed to punish their children physically if they want to? Different opinions emerge based on personal, religious, or cultural beliefs. Some states across the world allow spanking but to certain levels. Several research findings have linked corporal punishment to delinquency and anti-social behavior among children. This paper explores the reasoning of those who are for spanking as well as those against it. Secondly, the paper reviews cultural and religious differences and similarities in relation to harsh punishment in child development. Thirdly, the paper takes into account the role and believes of the parents about child upbringing concerning corporal punishment. Finally, it gives a general view regarding the implication of corporal punishment, vis-à-vis parental warmth in contemporary society. This goal will be achieved by analyzing several developmental theories used to guide observation and generate new ideas on this topic.
Studies seeking to establish the effects of harsh punishment in child adjustment have identified several externalizing behaviors. One research focused on cultural variations and similarities between European American and African American families (German, Gonzales, McClain, Dumka, & Millsap, 2013). The study indicated that spanking amongst European Americans led to increased anti-social behavior among adolescents (German et al., 2013). In African American families, anti-social behavior was not linked to the rate at which parents used spanking (German et al., 2013). During early development, behavioral problems were associated with peer influence for most European American children, unlike in the African Americans, where no peer-related influence was associated with corporal punishment (German et al., 2013). The study indicated relatively common trends between harsh punishment and child anti-social behavior, but a looser link for African Americans was observed as compared to European Americans (German et al., 2013). However, few studies have focused on other regions, but they indicate that Asian and Chinese American parents as more incorporating physical punishment in child behavior adjustment than European Americans (Fung & Lau 2009). Other factors related to family history are assessed. Adverse childhood experience can be related to whether the caregiver had a history of mental lapses, had a problem with drug abuse, or had a troubled upbringing (Lansford, Wager, Bates, Petit & Dodge, 2012). These elements affect the personal perception of disciplining.
The arising question hinges on what brings about the variations and similarities across the two cultures. As observed, spanking does not necessarily bring about rebellious behavior or prevent it. Some influencing factors determine outcomes such as religious beliefs, parental warmth, and race, among others. For instance, conservative Protestants advocated spanking following the biblical principles of canning to transform a child’s bad behavior. Christians simply got the translation wrong by assuming that the biblical teaching encouraged harsh discipline. Spanking amongst the low social classes is higher as compared to high-class societies. Parents who create a close relationship with their kids avoid spanking and encourage dialogue, which reforms a child’s bad behavior. However, most studies indicate that harsh punishment is detrimental, and no positives are linked to spanking (Mackenzie, Nicklas, Brooks-Gunn & Waldfogel, 2014).
The argument against physical punishment
Children in their early development are not in a position to internalize the disciplinary aspects that parents convey through spanking. Parents who get involved and create warmth in caregiving find it easy to correct and guide their children during tempting situations. The parental acceptance-rejection theory argues that in a case where a child interprets spanking as a sign of rejection and lack of care, the situation affects the child’s adjustment negatively. In this case, the sense of hopelessness, lack of identity, and rejection develop, thus hampering positive adjustment. However, the perception of the child matters for when the child feels that the punishment is given on a good interest to proper parenting, s/he responds positively.
A similar observation is made in the attachment theory. This theory encourages responsive and involving parenting. According to German et al. (2013), during child development, a series of changes occur. Children pass through several stages, where parental involvement and closeness is required. Parents who manage good relationships with their children find it easy to create encouraging behavior on their children. This notion buffers the child from seeing their parents as harsh or limiting.
Physical abuse cannot be justified regardless of the means used. The implications of harsh child punishment are not only detrimental but also stigmatizing. Most forms of harsh punishment used leave the child with permanent scars. For instance, some cultures allow piercing on faces and other parts of the body. Some parents may injure their children and refer to their culture as a cover from the law. This child has to live with the marks, which act as reminders of the experience. Corporal punishment may teach a short-term lesson, but influence long-term violence.
Argument for physical punishment
The level of command and responsiveness expressed by parents contributes to behavioral displays by children (Lansford et al., 2012). Behavioral control through demand involves the motivation to confront the child who misbehaves. Responsiveness involves parental warmth coupled with being close and ready to listen and share ideas. If exacting is used to control behavior, it is okay as long as it is within the stated limits. Studies express variations in what might be referred to as harsh punishment. What might be termed as detrimental to children in one culture might be perceived differently elsewhere. Most cultures practise ear piercing and male circumcision. Even though these practices are painful and they change the physical appearance, they are highly practiced in many cultures.
Some parents and particularly in the US may argue that it is their right to engage harsh punishment as stipulated by the law. In addition, if the law prohibits spanking absolutely, some critics may argue that every child will run to the court after every single slap, thus causing creating unnecessary scenes.
Scholars in support of the developmental theory argue that children at early stages of adolescence become rebellious. This aspect is associated with peer influence and the physical body growth and changes (Mackenzie et al., 2013). It is necessary for the parent to use force to control the externalizing behavior such as aggression. Studies show that the misconduct amongst adolescents can be related to the reluctance and compromising parenting.
A number of issues arise from studies by different philosophical thinkers. Both complementing and diverging discussions emerge. For instance, the definition of harsh punishment is dependent on many factors, which vary from region to another. This aspect makes the establishment of universal definition a complex task. Despite the efforts to establish a reciprocating relation between child adjustment and parenting styles, many inconsistencies has been reported. This aspect has complicated the integration of the available literature. For example, some studies argue that parental warmth helps to moderate harsh punishment. However, contradicting studies indicate that the harsh discipline might compromise the moderating effect, and thus cause increased misconduct. The majority of research concentrates on early childhood development, thus ignoring adulthood and old age. For instance, the developmental theory examines the positives to shaping a child’s behavior where the effects are short-lived, but the consequences live with the victim for a lifetime.
The theoretical framework provides varied parental styles that might be viewed as offending in one region and not in other regions (Lansford et al., 2012) may be due to personal perspective or culture. Some culture allows practices, which harm children, through either burn or stitching, while conducting traditional medical procedures. Although this aspect is not meant to hurt the child, in other countries such as Canada, these practices are not acceptable. The Canadian description of child neglect is unique.
However, justifying certain parenting styles with cultural and personal experiences should not exceed limits. For example, traditional cultural initiations such as removing front teeth and cutting of the fore skin as well female circumcision might be culturally normal. The practices have long-term side effects, thus calling for advocacy to standardizing harsh practices. Global forums on rights of the children should be conducted to facilitate the protection and elimination of harsh punishment. Most studies agree that negative effects exceed the benefits of corporal punishment. Therefore, every study should focus on inventing new models of correcting child behavior to suit the contemporary society.
My general view on this topic is that harsh punishment is not one of the best options to disciplining children. Alternative and effective ways of correcting behavior exist in the modern society. The most successful and disciplined personalities today may not recall of any time they were exposed to harsh punishment whether at home or in school. The aforementioned studies have little influence to my opinion and I can only agree with some, which identify harsh disciplining as just one of the various disciplining strategies, but not the best.
Regardless the opinion that might emerge pertaining to corporal punishment, the practice is punitive and hurting. No matter how much the effects might differ depending on the circumstance of application, there is no single report that qualifies the absolute benefits of harsh disciplining. This paper has improved the understanding on family dynamics that help in understanding the model of transition and child adjustment. Parents should help their children to understand the changes that they experience during the growth and development phase. In addition, parents should engage children in solving their problems and maintain close relationships. However, arguing against corporal punishment does not explicitly render it a bad practice. What should be emphasized is the idea of coming up with a balanced approach that does not demean the role of parent in disciplining, but protecting the wellbeing of the child. This assertion holds as most medical procedures involve immense pain, but they cannot be banned since they are executed for the wellbeing of the child. In addition, law should state precisely the limits and instances when harsh discipline can be used.
Fung, J., & Lau, A. (2009). Punitive discipline and behavior problems in Chinese-American immigrant families: the moderating effects of indigenous child-rearing ideologies. Journal of Behavioral Development, 33(6), 520-530.
German, M., Gonzales, A., McClain, B., Dumka, L., & Millsap, R. (2013). Maternal warmth moderates the link between harsh discipline and later externalizing behaviors for Mexican American adolescents. Parenting: Science and Practice, 13(3), 169 – 177.
Lansford, E., Wager, B., Bates, E., Petit, S., & Dodge, A. (2012). Forms of spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behaviors. Journal of Family Relations, 61(2) 224-236.
Mackenzie, J., Nicklas, E., Waldfogel, J., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2013). Spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behavior across the First Decade of Life. Pediatrics, 132(5), 1118-25.