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To Spank or Not to Spank

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Has Discipline Gone Too Far? What is acceptable and for whom?

English 105

Since the beginning of time it has been heavily debated about the use physical discipline in homes and schools around the world. It has been speculated that physical punishment is an extreme and inappropriate. Why punishment on a physical level in the eyes of so many is labeled wrong but in the eyes of others they believe it’s not only right, but effective. Who is right in this matter? Who has the right to tell a parent that they should not be spanking their child? How do we draw a line between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and should the government step in and make an anti-physical punishment law? About 30 years ago this form of reprimanding a child was a norm. Many child psychologists and other health care professionals have been discussing and debating this very topic for many years now. In fact according to Dr. Gregory K Fritz’s article “Should Spanking a Child Be unlawful,” a survey was conducted 15 years ago of family practitioners and pediatricians and it was found that about two thirds supported mild spanking in some disciplinary situations. However, times have changed and so has the way we discipline our children.
As time passes our world changes and adapts. Things are different, technology and the human life is constantly revolving. Therefore the way we raise our children has evolved to. Punishment for a child can be as simple as taking away their electronics. Many people once thought that spanking children was an effective and acceptable form of punishment. This was not only the norm in many homes 30 years ago but other parents and authority figures where disciplining other people’s children in this form as well. In today’s society if someone else were to strike another’s child police reports would be made and social workers would be involved. I can remember the stories my mom told me when I was growing up about the physical punishment that she had endured. My mom once told me that her father made her go outside and find her own switch; so that he could whip her with it and if the switch was too small he would make her go back outside and find the biggest switch she could find. I remember how I felt when she told me this story back then, it was comical in a sense. Now today, if that was to happen what would people think? Is this right or wrong? It could raise many questions for a debate. Did this mean that she was going to grow up and be a bad person, an unproductive member of society because she was spanked as a child?
Some advocates for the non-spanking rule think that spanking your children make them grow up to be aggressive individuals with potential mental health issues. It has been debated that the long term effects of physical punishment may out-weigh the benefits of the short term gain. In fact a study was done by Eric Slade and Lawrence Wissow that was published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal in 2004 on this matter. It was concluded in the study that found evidence suggesting the spanking frequency before the age of 2 is a risk factor for significant child behavior problems among white-non Hispanic school-aged children. No evidence was found that the spanking frequency before age 2 predicts either greater or lesser risk of behavior problems at school age among children from Hispanic and African American backgrounds. These finding indicate that positive associations of spanking frequency with child behavior problems, which have previously been identified in older children, are found in children who are spanked at a relatively early age (Slade and Wissow 2004). Now, Slade and Wissow indicate that there is a risk factor, not that there is sufficient evidence to support childhood behavioral problems later on in life. Not to mention they tied this to racial difference as well saying the white-non Hispanic school aged children showed having the risk factor for post behavioral problems and that Hispanic and African American children don’t. What this evidence suggests is that there is no definitive way to know which children will suffer any mental or physical issues later on in life.
Also, there was also another study done that same year and published in the National Institute of Health (NIH) called Ethnic Differences in the link between physical discipline and later adolescent externalizing behaviors (Lansford, Deckard, Dodge, Bates and Pettit 2004) this study also concluded racial differences in long term effects of physical discipline on externalizing behaviors problems. According to the findings different ecological niches may affect the manner in which parents use physical discipline, the meaning that children attach to the experience of physical discipline, and the effects on the adjustment of children and adolescents. This study also showed that physical discipline at each time point was related to higher levels of subsequent externalizing behaviors for the European American Adolescents but lower levels of externalizing behaviors for African American adolescents (Lansford et al., 2004). While I understand that it is impossible to really know the long term effects on the psyche of the children who are spanked frequently, and what may take place later on in adolescents and even into adult hood, but parents still need to discipline. On the other hand, some children may only respond to the physical aspect of punishment rather than the “you are going to write 100 times I will not hit another person,” and later that day they are hitting the neighbor kid again. How many chances does a child get to straighten up and “fly right”. In reality sometimes physical punishment achieves the best result. So, what do parents do with unruly children who won’t behave based on the previous non-physical attempts of discipline? Many child activists say there are other options to discipline without physical discipline first and this option would be the middle of the road option. One of these options is discussed in the work of Robert Larzelere in his article Combining Love and Limits in Authoritative Parenting: A Conditional Sequence Model of Disciplinary Responses. Larzelere goes on to say that we should combine reasoning with punishment ( Lazerele 1998). Here he is telling the parents that they need to be Authoritative parents because this combines reasoning and firm control rather than being an Authoritarian parent who tends to skip the reasoning and go right to the physical punishment while the permissive parent uses one or the other. Larzelere thinks that by combining reasoning with firm control we should see a better response in the behavior. First you should reason with the child by making him or her see why what they did wrong should not happen again and the consequences behind that behavior. Second, when the child acts up again then there will be other consequences for that action i.e. time-out, standing in a corner, some type of non-physical punishment tactic. Finally, the third option would be physical punishment (non-abusive) to the child. Larzelere still believes that physical punishment should be a last resort. In spite of the many attempts to discipline a child without physical punishment many parents may not see a change in the behavior because these other forms of discipline just don’t faze the child. While I understand the need to tell parents not to hit their children because they may take it too far or accidently injure the child, some of these parents in fact get results. I am sure some parents just don’t know when enough is enough and things can get out of hand due to the fact that some parents can’t keep their emotional state of mind out of the equation. Physical punishment if not controlled can lead to severe damage to the child mentally and physically and even death in some cases. Parents need to understand that yes, they have the right to discipline but they need to know their limits and their expectation levels of the results they wish to achieve.
What constitutes whether or not the type of punishment used is abusive other than the obvious signs? Who draws that line? Does the government have the right to step in when there is no credible evidence that suggests the infrequent, non-abusive spanking by loving, caring parents’ damages children (Lazerele 1998). There is such a fine line in today’s society between abuse and discipline and sometimes parents go too far. No matter what, it is the parent’s right to decide what form of discipline is to be used. However, in recent years virtually every professional organization involved with the care of children in the U.S. has officially endorsed statements discouraging the use of physical punishment (Fritz 2008). While, I understand the need for the government to protect the child’s rights, I still believe the parents should have the finally say. The government can advocate for the child’s rights by bringing to the table methods for educating parents on the discipline of children. Even though every child is different and may react different to the types of punishment used, however every child still needs discipline. Parents should be educated on proper techniques of physical punishment rather than stripped of the right to physically discipline their children. This type of education could prevent future incidents of physical punishment gone wrong.


Fritz, Dr. Gregory K. Should spanking a child be unlawful? The Brown University
Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter November 2008
Lansford, Jennifer E., Deater-Deckard, Kirby, Dodge, Kenneth A., Bates, John E., And Pettit, Gregory S. Ethnic differences in the link between physical
Discipline and later adolescent externalizing behaviors. National Institute
Of Health J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2004 May
Slade, Eric P and Wissow, Lawrence S. Spanking in Early Childhood and Later
Behavior Problems: A Prospective Study of Infants and Young Toddlers
Pediatrics 2004; 113:5 1321-1330
Lazelere, Robert E. PhD Combining love and Limits in Authoritative Parenting: A
Conditional Sequence model of Disciplinary Responses Parenthood in America 1998

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