|In 47 countries around the world, it is illegal for
a parent, teacher, or anyone else to spank a child, and 124
countries prohibit corporal punishment in schools.1
Yet in all of North America, physical punishment by a parent, as
long as it is not severe, is still seen by many as necessary
discipline, and condoned, or sadly, even encouraged.
For the past several years, many psychiatrists, sociological
researchers, and parents have recommended that we seriously consider
banning the physical punishment of children. The most important
reason, according to Dr. Peter Newell, coordinator of the
organization End Punishment of Children (EPOCH)2,
is that "all people have the right to protection of their
physical integrity, and children are people too."
1. Hitting children teaches them to become hitters
themselves. Extensive research data is now available to support a
direct correlation between corporal punishment in childhood and
aggressive or violent behavior in the teenage and adult years.
Virtually all of the most dangerous criminals were regularly
threatened and punished in childhood. It is nature's plan that
children learn attitudes and behaviors through observation and
imitation of their parents' actions, for good or ill. Thus it is the
responsibility of parents to set an example of empathy and wisdom.
2. In many cases of so-called "bad behavior",
the child is simply responding in the only way he can, given his age
and experience, to neglect of basic needs. Among these needs are:
proper sleep and nutrition, treatment of hidden allergy, fresh air,
exercise, and sufficient freedom to explore the world around him.
But his greatest need is for his parents' undivided attention. In
these busy times, few children receive sufficient time and attention
from their parents, who are often too distracted by their own
problems and worries to treat their children with patience and
empathy. It is surely wrong and unfair to punish a child for
responding in a natural way to having important needs neglected. For
this reason, punishment is not only ineffective in the long run, it
is also clearly unjust.
3. Punishment distracts the child from learning how to
resolve conflict in an effective and humane way. As the educator
John Holt wrote, "When we make a child afraid, we stop learning
dead in its tracks." A punished child becomes preoccupied
with feelings of anger and fantasies of revenge, and is thus
deprived of the opportunity to learn more effective methods of
solving the problem at hand. Thus, a punished child learns little
about how to handle or prevent similar situations in the
4. Punishment interferes with the bond between parent and
child, as it is not human nature to feel loving toward someone who
hurts us. The true spirit of cooperation which every parent desires
can arise only through a strong bond based on mutual feelings of
love and respect. Punishment, even when it appears to work, can
produce only superficially good behavior based on fear, which can
only take place until the child is old enough to resist. In
contrast, cooperation based on respect will last permanently,
bringing many years of mutual happiness as the child and parent grow
5. Many parents never learned in their own childhood that
there are positive ways of relating to children. When punishment
does not accomplish the desired goals, and if the parent is unaware
of alternative methods, punishment can escalate to more frequent and
dangerous actions against the child.
6. Anger and frustration which cannot be safely expressed
by a child become stored inside; angry teenagers do not fall from
the sky. Anger that has been accumulating for many years can come as
a shock to parents whose child now feels strong enough to express
this rage. Punishment may appear to produce "good
behavior" in the early years, but always at a high price, paid
by parents and by society as a whole, as the child enters
adolescence and early adulthood.
7. Spanking on the buttocks, an erogenous zone in
childhood, can create in the child's mind an association between
pain and sexual pleasure, and lead to difficulties in adulthood.
"Spanking wanted" ads in alternative newspapers attest to
the sad consequences of this confusion of pain and pleasure. If a
child receives little parental attention except when being punished,
this will further merge the concepts of pain and pleasure in the
child's mind. A child in this situation will have little
self-esteem, believing he deserves nothing better. For more on this
topic, see "The
Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children" (also in French).
8. Even relatively moderate spanking can be physically
dangerous. Blows to the lower end of the spinal column send shock
waves along the length of the spine, and may injure the child. The
prevalence of lower back pain among adults in our society may well
have its origins in childhood punishment. Some children have become
paralyzed through nerve damage from spanking, and some have died
after mild paddlings, due to undiagnosed medical complications.
9. Physical punishment gives the dangerous and unfair
message that "might makes right", that it is permissible
to hurt someone else, provided they are smaller and less powerful
than you are. The child then concludes that it is permissible to
mistreat younger or smaller children. When he becomes an adult, he
can feel little compassion for those less fortunate than he is, and
fears those who are more powerful. This will hinder the
establishment of meaningful relationships so essential to an
emotionally fulfilling life.
10. Because children learn through parental modeling,
physical punishment gives the message that hitting is an appropriate
way to express feelings and to solve problems. If a child does not
observe a parent solving problems in a creative and humane way, it
can be difficult for him to learn to do this himself. For this
reason, unskilled parenting often continues into the next
Gentle instruction, supported by a strong foundation of love and
respect, is the only truly effective way to bring about commendable
behavior based on strong inner values, instead of superficially
"good" behavior based only on fear.