Parental corporal punishment has been one of the prevalent disciplinary techniques employed to correct or control the child’s behaviour since the dawn of human civilisation. Corporal punishment, as conceptualised by Straus in 1994a, is defined as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury for the purposes of correction or control of the child’s behavior”. The usage of corporal punishment may be attributed to the observation that, it generally leads to the immediate compliance of the child’s behaviour which, in turn, favourably reinforces the parental attitude towards its use. The parents feel compelled to use corporal punishment especially when they find their children engaged in dangerous behaviour wherein the immediate compliance, on the part of the child, is absolutely necessary.
The use of parental corporal punishment is still an accepted practice in many countries including India. Parents at large still believe that the use of corporal punishment is necessary for securing and serving the best interests of the child and its disuse will certainly lead to the consequences as summarised in the phrase, ‘to spare the rod is to spoil the child’. Some research studies have concluded that the use of parental corporal punishment is effective in gaining immediate child compliance in the short run and especially with younger children. The general perception about the long-term benefits of the use of parental corporal punishment is that it is helpful for the appropriate and proper socialisation of the child and without it—as is the case with permissive parenting style—the overall developmental outcomes for the child are not progressive and positive.
Despite some research findings and popular perception in favour of the use of parental corporal punishment, many other countries including Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Israel, Cyprus, Italy, Latvia, Croatia, Austria, Norway and Germany have officially banned the use of parental corporal punishment in their own countries. In fact, Sweden was the first country which officially banned it in 1979. The ban against parental corporal punishment is justified and backed up by the research studies dealing with the nature, strength and direction of association between parental corporal punishment and its short-term and long-term child developmental outcomes. Is the use of parental corporal punishment a ‘necessary evil’ for controlling or correcting the child’s behaviour? In order to develop better understanding and appreciation about the negative child outcomes, which are contingent upon the use of parental corporal punishment, you need to go through the following paras:
The impulsive use of corporal punishment has been found to get escalated into child physical abuse which, in all its forms, is not good for child developmental outcomes. ‘Physical abuse is characterised by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking or otherwise harming a child. The parent or caretaker may not have intended to hurt the child; rather the injury may have resulted from over-discipline or physical punishment (National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information, 2000).’ The frequency and severity of physical punishment will decide a lot about the achievement of the intended child outcomes. In other words, it can be stated that corporal punishment has the ootential to take the shape of physical abuse if its administration is more or less impulsive and excessive in nature.
The potential for parental corporal punishment to disrupt the parent-child relationship is thought to be a main disadvantage of its use. The painful nature of corporal punishment can evoke feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger in children; if these emotions are generalised to the parent, they can interfere with a positive parent-child relationship by inciting children to be fearful of and to avoid the parent. If corporal punishment does lead children to avoid their parents, such avoidance may in turn erode bonds of trust and closeness between parents and children.
The experience of corporal punishment teaches the child that sometimes it is okay to use physical means of punishment like hitting, pinching, beating, etc, to make others behave the way you want them to behave. This modeling of violent or aggressive behaviour will not do any favours to the society which is already challenged with different forms of strife and violence. By and large, this learning outcome for the child, and later on, for the adult, is not conducive for the development of a civilised and peaceful society.
In most of the circumstances, physical/corporal punishment informs the child what not to do but remains completely clueless about what to do or gives no information or direction about what the child is supposed to do. In this scenario, parental corporal punishment as a means of disciplining the child’s behaviour loses its intended and expected benefits in the long-run.
The long term exposure and experience of the child with corporal punishment may lead to the demonstration of aggressive tendencies in adolescence and adulthood especially when they interact with their adversive environment which, in itself, is a sign of maladjustment. Even at the time of actual administration of the corporal punishment, the child may display aggression, either directly or indirectly, against the parent(s).
Another important long-term consequence of the parental corporal punishment—for the child—may be the development of fear not only of the behaviour which invited punishment at the first place but of all other factors which the child naturally associates with punishment, like the person who administered the punishment to the child or the context in which the punishment took place.
One of the short-term objectives of parental corporal punishment is to gain the immediate compliance and obedience from the child. The long-term and primary goal behind this parental practice may be the internalisation of moral values and social norms. Parents may have been getting satisfied when it comes to the achievement of child’s immediate compliance through corporal punishment but they may not experience success when it comes to the moral internalisation by the child. Moral internalisation is defined as “taking over the values and attitudes of society as one’s own so that socially acceptable behaviour is motivated not by anticipation of external consequences but by intrinsic or internal factors” (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994). Parents who used to employ least physical power and supplement it with parental love and affection and also with reasonable explanations about the effect of child’s behaviour on others, are effective in meeting the goals associated with moral internalisation rather than the parents who simply believe in slogan that, ‘to spare the rod is to spoil the child.’
Many research studies on severe parental corporal punishment have concluded that its excessive use in childhood may result in the development of delinquency, criminal and antisocial behaviour in children, adolescents and adults. According to social control theory, the use of parental corporal punishment may erode the relationship between the child and parent, thus making difficult for the child to internalise the values of his parents and society and also, the child, and, later on, the adult may show signs of low self-control.
Finally, excessive corporal punishment may have deleterious effects on mental health of children and adolescents. The effects may take the forms of feelings of helplessness and the lack of self-confidence and assertiveness on the part of children and adolescents.
In the backdrop of the above discussion, it can be concluded that parental corporal punishment needs to be avoided as long as possible and should be replaced with more humane and effective ways of child disciplinary techniques, like: parents should be themselves the real models of good behaviour; parents should explain and reason as to why you should not engage in this or that activity; parents should establish and maintain the bond of love, warmth and affection with their child; parents should provide reasonable space and autonomy to their child for their optimal growth and development and provide quality environment wherein the possibility of engaging in negative behaviour is potentially reduced to minimum.
The writer us Assistant Professor at Department of Education, Central University of Kashmir. [email protected]