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Spanking-Effective Discipline or Not


Spanking among children is one of the many issues that school institutions, family related organizations and even most governments around the world have been dealing with.  As it happens, all sides have their own perspective why violent punishments are necessary for the children’s growth and development.

For the teachers and other educational facilitators, they view violent punishments (such as spanking) as a way to correct the bad behaviors of the children-students.  Teachers reveal that it should only be in special occasions when corporal punishment should be imposed to children-students, and when it does it should be in a way that will motivate the students to do better and learn what is right and what is not.

As for the family members, particularly the parents, violent punishments are seen to be part of the normal family life. Most parents believe that spanking and sometimes hitting their children is needed especially if their children are naughty and hyperactive. They need to do that so that they will learn to behave and act properly with or without them around.  Bad words, as part of violent punishments, are not necessary but sometimes most parents could not help giving it to their children particularly during the times that they could not control their emotions anymore (as cased by extreme anger, tiredness and/or depression).

With these differences in point of views, the impact of such violent punishments to children has then become worth studying.  Now, the biggest issue circulating concerning this is: What are the effects of violent punishments to children’s overall behavior and social development? And is it advisable to spanking or punish the children when they commit mistakes?

Spanking and other Forms of Punishment to Children

There are many discipline techniques used in American homes today, including spanking, time-out, verbal reprimand, grounding and removal of privileges. There is no doubt many are speaking out against one of these forms of discipline, spanking. Many believe any form of hitting a child is abuse. Thanks to some, like a California assemblywoman by the name of Sallie Lieber, “the California Legislature considered criminalizing the spanking of toddlers. But at least half of parents, and according to some surveys as many as 94 percent, consider a swat on the bottom to be an appropriate form of discipline” (Shute).

It should be noted that violent punishment, as the word implies, is imposing a punishment once a child or a person committed a serious mistakes.  In the classroom setting and home setting, violent punishments are usually in the form of spanking the child on his/her buttocks and some are spanking the hands.  Normally the teachers’ or parents’ bare hands or sometimes a small stick is being used to facilitate the said form of punishment – the action form of violent punishment.  Meanwhile, it is usually in the homes where the verbal form of punishment takes place. Bad words and shouting at the child are the most common forms of punishments by most mothers who find it hard to control their emotions.

Such forms of punishments are aimed at not merely punishing the child because he/she has committed a mistake but also to instill to the child’s mind that what he/she has done is wrong and that it should not be done again.

Based on varied peer reviewed journals, violent punishments are proven methods of disciplining the children, especially when at school.  In countries where corporal or violent punishment is banned in schools, many teachers have been complaining about the hardships and ordeals they have to deal with everyday with the children.

The list of most common corporal or violent punishments, which is categorized as action form, includes (Strauss, etal., 1990):

  • spanking the child’s buttock either by bare hands, a stick or a belt
  • asking the child to kneel, with both arms raised and holding several piles of books
  • hitting the child on the face especially is he/she shouts back at the parents or teachers
  • hitting the child on his/her hands particularly in cases where he/she used his/her hands as act of misdemeanor (such as stealing, hurting other children of his/her age etc.)

Meanwhile, the most common verbal form of violent punishment to children include:

  • shouting at the child
  • name calling
  • talking to the child in a soft voice but in a way that brutally attacks the mind of the child

Impacts of Punishment to Children

Positive Effects

Punishment is the most effective way to eliminating bad behavior. Spanking can be effective when used properly and at the right time. In certain situations, spanking will stop an unwanted behavior immediately. For example, a child is about to touch a hot barbeque pit, a quick slap on the hand will save them from being burned. Verbal reprimands and time-out do not inflict physical pain the way spanking does. Spanking is readily available; unlike time-out, which cannot be done in certain instances because it takes time. Imagine running late, rushing out the door and a child decides to throw a tantrum; time-out would not be appropriate in this instance, but a quick spanking might. The AAP states verbal reprimands given during time-out are a major cause of reduced effectiveness of this form of discipline (725). Indeed, spanking, verbal reprimand and time-out are forms of discipline, but their intended use is for training or modifying the unwanted behavior of a child.

Negative Effects

Meanwhile, there are also studies which have proven that corporal punishment offers nothing but negative effects to both the psychological and emotional aspects of a child.  Some of the proven negative impacts of punishments like spanking and/or verbal reprimands are:

The punishment in the form of physical punishment enhances various deviant behavior of the children like “lying, stealing, cheating, bullying, assaulting a sibling or peers, and lack of remorse for wrongdoing”.  This is particularly evident when the punishment is done in a regular basis (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).

It should be noted that children would of course fear being “punished”.  If they consistently receive punishment, their tendency is to prevent the parents or their teachers from having any reason of punishing them.  Part of their prevention technique is to hide and or lie about the misconducts that they have done, or stop anybody who will act as the “witness” of such misconduct, thus the bullying behavior.

Violent punishment increases the risk of child abuse (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).
Teachers and parents who will not be prevented to do any form of violent punishment will have the tendency to “enjoy” punishing the children even if it is not necessary.  This is the very reason why there are reports of child abuse committed either in the homes or school premises.

Teachers and parents impose violent or corporal punishment are not serving a good example for the children, instead they are serving as the models for “aggressive behavior and for inappropriate ways of dealing with conflict” (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).
The idea of “an eye for an eye” will be instilled in the young minds of the children.  There will be heightened tendency for the children to think that asking for forgiveness or sorry will never be enough to amend things.  
Punishments are ways of “eroding trust” between a child and a teacher or parent (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).

The children will have the tendency of not entrusting their lives with their own parents or teachers.  They will be hiding information that they think will only result from punishing them.  At the same time, children who have been given corporal punishments for more than once will be tagged as the ‘trouble initiator’ and will result from the parent not trusting the child anymore.  The parent or teacher will always think that whenever there will be chaos in the area, that particular child caused it or has great participation for it.

It is believed that violent punishment like spanking or verbal reprimands affect the cognitive development of the children (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).

Spanking the student’s buttocks and/or hands and doing other forms of punishments can of course hurt the children’s body.  If this is done more than once or twice a week, the child’s growth physically, emotionally and intellectually may be slowed down.
It is believed that children who have regularly received punishment will grow as an adult who suffer “from depression and other negative social and mental health outcomes” (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).

This is the long term effect of violent or corporal punishment.  The impact can be felt even until the adult years of the child.  He/she will be continuously suffering from “lowered self esteem, anxiety, depression and other forms of mental problems” (Lombardo and Polonko, 2000).

Other important concepts related to punishments on children include:

Parents who are used to giving punishment to their children for the sole purpose of controlling the children’s “antisocial behavior  show more antisocial behavior themselves over a long period of time, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, and regardless of whether the mother provides cognitive stimulation and emotional support” (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997)

The harder the parents push their children not to become anti-social, the more they have become.  This is because the approach of the parents in pursuing it is not proper because it only triggers shame and emotional disturbance among children.  They have become too afraid to be with other people for the fear that they may be punished or shouted at.

The higher the frequency that a child is hit, the more he/she will likely to hit his or her own children, spouse, or friends (Julian & McKenry, 1993)

As it has become a habit that a child was hit or being shouted at by his/her parents or teachers, he/she will then think that the kind of punishment that he/she has been receiving is just normal and thus he/she should also be doing that to his/her own family in the future.  This is just like operant conditioning. parents and teachers who impose violent punishments are only conditioning the child’s mind that hitting or spanking is needed response anytime the child displeases them.  Thus, when that particular child grows old and gain his/her own family, he/she will just normally hurt his/her wife/husband and children every time they disappoint or displease him/her.

Discipline and culture

Arabs tend to administer corporal punishment than do the Westerners. Children are trained to conduct themselves in a certain way in order to sustain an up to standard social image. They are not accustomed to judge or disapprove of their own behavior in terms of accurate or incorrect, which would give rise to guiltiness for bad behavior, but in terms of acceptability, which gives rise to embarrassment for bad behavior that does not meet social expectations. As a result, children are more concerned with how other people see them than how they see themselves and there is great social force to conform. The strong religious background of Arab culture intensifies such conformity and establishes in the child’s mind a close connection between sin and nonconformity.

In addition, we now know that inadequate frustration in early life, i.e. unsatisfactory and intermittently delayed fulfillment, is an indispensable constituent of a healthy character.  kids who get too much satisfaction, just as those who receive insufficient gratification in early life, are prone to developing selfish and borderline character traits, such as, among others, poor affect control, poor frustration tolerance and over-reliance on the surroundings to help normalize inner mood conditions (Nydell 76).

With the caution that there are always going to be many exceptions and that even children brought up under pathogenic conditions can grow up to be in high spirits, psychologically healthy adults, we can already make a distinction of some patterns that are disturbing.  The extended period of immediate gratification, treatment on demand, predisposes Arab boys to be demanding, with little capacity to delay gratifications in the interest of long term goals, with poor frustration tolerance and poorly empathic. Even though I have so far focused primarily on the Arab boy, the impacts of his experiences are just as significant as for the Arab girl.  Handled as a disgraceful individual from birth, weaned early and uncared for emotionally, Arab girls pay a high price for the "crime" of being born the incorrect gender.

Some knowledgeable or open-minded thinking Arabs find the pressure from the family to conform to rigid social principles to be oppressive. Much of what has been written on the subject of Arab character and personality growth is tremendously negative, particularly statements made by the Arabs themselves. Undoubtedly many Arabs feel aggrieved by the requirements forced by their families and by society and believe that conformity leads to the development of unattractive personal traits (Hosseini 64).

Many Arabs feel that while their early days were, in numerous ways, a time of a severe training, it was also a time of indulgence and openly expressed love, particularly from their mothers. Failure to conform is punished, but methods of discipline are usually not harsh.

In Arab culture, the most vital requirement for a good child is respectful behavior in front of adults. Different from the Westerners, all adults may share in correcting a child, because parents know that all adults have the same values. Children grow up without misunderstanding of social necessities. Children must greet adults with a handshake, stay to talk for a few minutes if asked, and avoid interrupting or talking back. Children often help to dish up guests and thus gain knowledge of the requirements of hospitality early.

Amongst the Arabs it is an exceedingly important responsibility to bring children up so that they will reflect well on the family. It is an insult to accuse someone of not being well raised. Children’s character and success in life reflect directly on their parents. Arabs tend to give credit to parents for their children’s successes and much of the blame for their failures. Parents willingly make sacrifices for their children’s wellbeing and they expect these efforts to be accredited and their parental authority to continue through out the child’s lifetime.

Many Western parents begin to prepare their children at an early age to become independent and self-reliant. They give the children token jobs and habitual allowance money and regularly encourage them to make their own decisions. This training helps children to avoid being dependent on their parents after they have reached maturity.

On the other hand, Arab parents receive their children’s dependence with joy. Mothers, particularly try to keep their children tied to them emotionally. Young people go on with living at their parents’ home until they are married. It is expected for the parents of a newly married couple to furnish the couple’s home entirely and to continue financing them (McDermott 56).

To Punish or Not?

As it is discussed, parents responsible for motivating the children not only to maintaining achievements but also to maintaining good values and right conduct.  It has become one of the strategies of parents to use various forms of punishment to ensure that the children will learn how to behave well by not doing and redoing deviant acts. 

Punishments like spanking may be serving as one of the most effective way of disciplining the children, but there are also negative impacts that such kind of punishment brings to children.  Now the question is, is it not advisable to impose corporal punishment to children? Is corporal punishment the only way to motivate and intervene with the children?

Because of the above-stated information, it can be safely assumed that violent or corporal punishments can be the intervening factors why some children show deviant behaviors as they grow old. Thus, it would be better to use other form of behavior-changing tasks to children instead of punishing them when they commit mistakes.

Some of the noted alternatives to punishment include:

Setting strong, “consistent, age-appropriate, and acceptable limits” (Julian & McKenry, 1993)
If the parent says no to a child’s certain activity or request, he/she should stick to it whatever happens.  At the same time, the parents must ensure that he/she is giving a command or limitation taking into consideration the child’s age and mental and emotional status. A limitation for a 12-year old child is entirely different from the limitation of a 5-year old child. Needless to say, the parents must be aware that they have to make the child understand why a limit should be set. They have to make the child understand that it is only for his good why the limitation is imposed. Such clear explanation will prevent the child from being confused that will result for him to force what he/she wants even if it is prohibited.

Parents should make the children realize how to resolve conflicts and to use proper mediation skills such as “listening actively, speaking clearly, showing trust and being trustworthy, accepting differences, setting group goals, negotiating, and mediating conflicts” (Julian & McKenry, 1993).

Children are at a most vulnerable time of their lives. The way they are treated by the people in their environment can either make or break them. People will dislike them if they are showing signs of being unlikable.  Nobody will befriend them if they have poor socialization skills.  By this reason alone, parents need to motivate the children and intervene to their very actions in a way that their self –esteem and self recognition will be enhanced thereby also developing their socialization skills.

Learn how to reason and talk with children in age-appropriate ways. “Verbal parent-child interactions enhance children's cognitive ability”  (Julian & McKenry, 1993)

Again, this reiterates the need to create age-appropriate limits.  Parents should talk with their children in a manner that is understandable to them. It should be noted that there might be age gap parents/teachers-children/student relationship, but this can all be prevented if the older one will know how to stoop and reach down to the level of the child.

Compassionate Approach To Punishments.

Juvenile courts display compassion in their punishments. The judges should be able to recognize the reasons why the offenders committed crimes and offenses, so that long-term recommendations will benefit the youth. The options do not normally include long separations from family or incarceration. Any form of detention aims for the white youth to reflect on its wrongdoings and inculcate that crime pays, and even the youth must pay to some extent while the black youth is detained without these considerations.

The psychological well-being of the youth forces juvenile courts to identify the youth offenders’ specific needs and to try fulfilling them. Juvenile courts do not represent the adversaries of black youths, but symbolize their inspiration and hope.

What if children and teenagers were tried as adults? What if the juvenile courts are abolished? There have been ongoing debates regarding abolishing juvenile courts because of concern over public safety. As long as juvenile delinquents continue to increase, the impact and relevance of juvenile courts continue to be assailed too. For three  decades social analysts have been involving themselves in trying to find out, with little achievement, how the race of a person influences the result of criminal cases. Now investigators have established missing link court information prepared before sentencing by trial officers that constantly depict black and white juvenile delinquent differently, hence resulting to cruel sentencing suggestions for blacks.

The most astonishing thing is the profoundly different ways the reports describe kids who are apparently different only by their race. Mostly regardless of the crimes committed by the children, they would be incriminated with the same offense, be of the same age and have similar history of crime, but they are described in different way which is shocking because it is normally based on race differences (Vivian, 1990). Crimes being committed by the blacks are being depicted as being caused by inner attributes or feature of their character, for example being ill-mannered toward authority or overlook criminal behavior, whereas white juvenile offense was more probably to be responsible of negative ecological aspects, example too much exposure to family arguments or involving themselves with the activities of other delinquents.

We as a society tend to perceive people more accountable for their personality than for their social setting. This action is based on how we explicate the behavior of other people. It is also linked to insensible racial typecasting that many people hold of other racial groupings. People have the trend of viewing and classifying people in their own ways, it ought not to be a surprise that even the probation officers pass judgment to the juvenile the same way others do.


Many discipline techniques vary from home to home and none of them, if used in the right manner, are child abuse. Always discipline children out of love and concern, never anger. Always take the time to explain to a child what wrong was done and why the discipline is being received. In short, spanking is readily available, over quickly and will stop misbehavior immediately. Remember, any form of child discipline can be considered child abuse if taken to extreme. Clearly, child abuse should be stopped, but banning spanking is not the answer. Spanking should be used carefully. There are specific times when spanking should be used as a first resort, when your child does something dangerous, lies or disobeys you. Spanking should also be used when other punishments have failed. Spanking should not be used in excess or the child may become immune to it.

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