Discipline and Punishment (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Physical Punishment of Children

Physical punishment includes spanking, slapping, grabbing, shoving (with more force than needed to move the child), and hitting a child with an object (Straus, 1991). Spanking is the most controversial method of discipline and continues to be used as an acceptable form of "discipline." Some parents define spanking as slapping a child on the buttocks (Straus, 1995), while this and other reports use spanking to cover any corporal punishment that does not cause injury. Many parents believe spanking will teach children not to repeat forbidden behavior while other parents spank because they are not aware of more effective ways of changing behavior. Some parents do not believe that nonphysical forms of punishment, such as denial of privileges, are effective. In 1994, a parental opinion poll conducted by the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse showed for the first time that a majority of parents reported not spanking their children in the previous year. Denying privileges was used by 79 percent, confinement to a room by 59 percent, 49 percent spanked or hit their child, and 45 percent insulted or swore at their child. (Straus, 1995).

Does Physical Punishment Lead to Child Abuse and Later Violence?

Social science researcher, Murray Straus, and professor of criminology Joan McCord, agree that physical punishment during childhood often leads children to violence when they are teenagers and adults. However, McCord believes that all punishment accounts for later violence in adults (DelCampo and DelCampo, 1995). Straus reports that, as adults, the children whose parents spanked them, compared to children who were not spanked, have higher rates of juvenile delinquency, spouse abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, and lower economic achievements (Straus, 1994). McCord reports that a study on criminals found that the largest number of criminals came from punitive and unaffectionate homes. The next highest number came from punitive but affectionate homes and the fewest came from nonpunitive homes. McCord believes that the use of reward and punishment models the norm of self-interest over the welfare of others while Straus argues that the act of spanking sends a message that the use of violence is a legitimate way to solve problems (DelCampo and DelCampo, 1995).

Societal Norms Supporting Punishment and Violence

Physical punishment has always been a part of European American religious and legal traditions (Straus, 1991). One definition of violence is any act carried out with the intention or perceived intention of causing physical pain or injury to another person (Straus, 1991). Not only is some physical punishment legal, so is some violence. Society models violence in many ways.

One can legally use violence or force to defend oneself and, in some cases, one's property. The law in most states permits capital punishment. When violence increases in our society, the response is to increase punishment. For example, California enacted a law placing convicted third-time offenders in jail for life. It's known as "Three Strikes and You're Out." The age for trying youth offenders for specific violent crimes under the adult penal system has been lowered in many states and in recent federal legislation (Children's Defense Fund, 1998, 1999).

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