The topic of physical punishment is a controversial one. It is commonly thought of as a topic most Asians can relate with, yet it is also not unfamiliar to parents in the West.
Physical punishment includes caning, smacking and spanking a child as a response to deter or correct their unacceptable behaviours. Are these means still relevant and right?
The topic is still very much contended by two sides. One side advocates for physical punishment as still relevant and important and the other disagrees with reasons backed up by research data and influenced by personal experiences.
The purpose of this article is to help younger parents of today to seriously consider the ethics and the underlying reasons for or against physical punishment before jumping too quickly to conclusions that are biased and unfounded.
Many young parents have at one point of time tasted their parents’ “wrath” since young whenever they misbehave. They are usually manifested in the combination of a barbaric scream and the usage of a household object intended for harm. It is usually the outcome of an uncontrollable temper that reveals itself in an excessive use of violence.
That is what one party perceives of the “typical Asian parenting”, or in this issue - physical punishment. While the description sounds uncomfortably familiar and “accurate”, it may not register to be that horrendous as many perceive it to be.
Many parents now have lived through it and many are even thankful for the strict parenting. This one side would contend that physical punishments were not uncalled for or necessarily stemming from a loss of temper. Through the means of physical punishments, parents were simply disciplining their children in the way they know best. And they were not acts of violence that are arbitrary, but they are in response to negative behaviours or attitudes. The objective of such a response is to correct and deter the child from a persistence in such misconduct, or worse negative attitudes that may fester to adulthood. Through physical punishments, valuable lessons and principles are being conveyed.
The socially-acceptable and morally upright persons that many can say they are right now are mainly because of what parents of the past have taught them through the various means of punishment that involve physical pains.
With this sentiment being raised, there are several objections being laid out and questions to ponder further.
Some questions raised are “Why the need to adopt physical punishment as a disciplinary action given the alternatives?” or “Does physical punishment have an intrinsic value that other alternative punishment means do not?”
Many have argued that physical punishment is out-dated in a progressive and modern time like this. “The times have changed and there are more positive and effective ways to discipline children without hurting them."
Alternative disciplinary actions with functions to correct and deter children from misconduct include reasoning with them, providing stern warnings, grounding, calling for time-outs, and giving consequences beforehand. Furthermore, researches have shown that physical punishment causes children to be emotionally-scarred. The matter now concerns the health and wellbeing of the child. Their growth and development is in view.
Some who are in support of the banning of physical punishment voiced that they were filled with fear and confusion instead of having learnt the lesson when they were punished physically as a child. Others agree that lessons are learnt only after parents explain to their children that their wrongdoings are unacceptable, and not through the act of physical punishment itself. One quotes: “My fear came from the pain he (the father) inflicted and the confusion from my certainty that he couldn’t love me if he could hurt me. It did not make me respect him at any level.”.
Adding on, physical punishment has been claimed to have the tendency to encourage children to use violence to resolve problems. One quotes that “I firmly believe an act of violence doesn’t inform children in any way other than for them to think that it is an acceptable way to behave. If I hit my child, he is going to hit his classmate if things don’t go his way.”.
An article claims that many studies have shown that physical punishment including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behaviour, physical injury and mental health problems for children.
Fourthly, people have claimed that physical punishment doesn’t confer any effectiveness at all. In other words “it doesn’t work”. A parent quotes “I have to confess, I did once smack my eldest on the bum when he was about four or five. He had repeatedly, and very blatantly, disobeyed me and my lack of reasoning got the better of me. He cried and I dissolved into a mess of tears, regret, anguish, guilt, fear and sadness. It did not happen again.”.
Another prominent argument against physical punishment is that it violates the human rights of children. Given that it is socially unacceptable for a man to hit his wife, or a woman to hit her husband, there is a discrepancy in how people think. Many think that it is alright and even commendable to hit children. No one including children - if not especially - deserves violence.
However, on the other side, despite some research backings, many support and advocate for physical punishments on their children.
Contending against some of the raised points above, a mother disagrees by giving a personal testimony. “On one occasion with my eldest son I tried talking and enforcing withdrawal of privileges and got nowhere. After I gave him a smack, he apologized and made proper amends. Years on, he credits that moment with turning his behaviour around and he was never needed to be punished like it again. Does he feel scarred or abused? No.”.
Another parameter was hardly considered or if present, it is given less prominence, and that is none other than immediate compliance. While it is not a factor that can justify all occasions of inappropriate call for physical punishments, it is nonetheless a valid variable. Parents in varying circumstances may require some liberty to control a situation that is going out of hand. Some think that physical punishment more effective than its alternatives to deter and bring to an end of a child’s misconduct in an immediate context. Explanations and verbal corrections can and should follow suit after.
Some also posed questions to the research conducted regarding the negative effects of physical punishment. Are the circumstances by which physical punishment was apparent considered as a variable? And to what extend? Are the experiments accurately pinpointing physical punishment as the sole or primary "culprit" of children's negative development?
Moreover, those who disagree strongly against physical punishments by parents may have often misunderstood physical punishment as a parent’s inability to monitor and regulate their own emotions, resulting in a loss of temper and leading to the child’s negative emotional development or worse, a case of child abuse. This assumption may be misplaced leading to a consequently misplaced conclusion as well.
Other parents would argue that physical punishment may help in training a child’s emotional resilience as they eventually are bound to face hardships in life, both mental and physical ones.
We have opened up a can of worms to this complex matter and responsibility of parenting. While it is not our immediate objective to arrive at a conclusion on this matter at the present, it is certainly our desire for parents to not take this lightly, but to carefully weigh the arguments on both sides. Both sides have presented valid concerns for a child’s healthy development, while keeping in close consideration of the risk of child abuse and a subtle and slippery slope to a failure in disciplining children rightly and effectively.
So, would you as a parent adopt physical punishment?
Let us know what you think in the comment below.