Corporal Punishment: When Is It Okay To Hit Your kids?

Corporal Punishment
Is corporal punishment a parent’s right, or a grotesquery imbedded and accepted in the fabric of society?

To be clear from the outset, I don’t have kids.  The subject on how I’d raise mine has always been something I’ve thought about though and I used to be in favour of hitting children.  It sounds terrible when I put it like that, but it’s true.  For a large portion of my young life I thought it was completely okay to give a kid a smack when they were being an asshole, or a brat, if you prefer.

Hitting your kids is a form of discipline that goes way back throughout history. The common and more scientific terminology is corporal punishment.  It’s just what we’ve always done and the practice continues to persist into the 21st century.  So let’s look at hitting kids for a minute and see what’s up with that?

What Does Science Say About Corporal Punishment?

Scientific literature is surprisingly undecided on the subject of corporal punishment.  A review of literature conducted in 2000 (Larzelere et al ) examined 38 research papers and concluded that further research is needed to establish whether childhood corporal punishment is harmful or not.  Out of the 38 papers 32% concluded outcomes were positive, 34% concluded in the negative and 34% were neutral.

A more comprehensive review was conducted in 2002 (Gershoff et al) which again concluded that more research was necessary although pointed out the very strong potential for misuse of corporal punishment and the negative outcomes that can follow.  There is a fine line between discipline and child abuse.

The problem here is the ability to standardize research and eliminate other possible contributing factors.  It’s rather hard in the real world to measure the impact of corporal punishment simply due to the ambiguous nature of the term.  One man’s corporal punishment is another man’s child abuse and so the results remain inconclusive for the time being.

The one thing that most papers do agree on is that corporal punishment has short term benefits in behavioural control and that physical discipline between the ages of 2 and 12 is effective in stopping undesirable or dangerous behaviour in the immediate.  The problem here is that there is nothing conclusive on whether or not that immediate stoppage transfers over to a lesson learned and whether or not it may be potentially harmful to a developing child in the long term.

So at present there is no scientific consensus on whether there is an appropriate time to hit your child.  Perhaps, at the very most, a mild smack is appropriate if your child is doing something dangerous such as reaching towards a pot of boiling water or sticking a fork in an electrical socket but that smack should not be the beginning or the end of the lesson on why it is bad to do those things.  Certainly walloping your child in the middle of a supermarket is not permissible, either scientifically or in my eyes, morally.

Experiment Time!

Let’s do a little experiment. Are you ready?

You will need:
A significant other, friend, brother, sister, parent, sworn enemy etc. They must be an adult of consenting age.
A public place like a supermarket, park or subway or whatever.

Firstly head down to your chosen place with your chosen partner.  Now, have them make a scene.  Get them to start crying and screaming and really carrying on until you’ve got plenty of attention.  Now spank your friend on the ass.  I’m not talking about a little playful slap here. Hit them on the ass hard enough to make them cry.  Do it a second time so they get the point.  Maybe grab them by the arm and shake them hard and say loudly and firmly, “STOP IT. I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT YOU LITTLE BASTARD!”

See what happened there?  You just got your ass kicked by someone didn’t you?  Especially if your vict… er… partner was female.

Kids Are The Only People In The World That It’s Okay To Hit

So why, in this same scenario, are kids the only people in society who it’s okay to hit?  Even the addition of a female child to this equation usually doesn’t result in the public censure of the parent involved.  It is permissible to hit your child in public and it is not permissible for anyone else to question your judgement on the matter.  I believe there is a fair amount of cognitive dissonance going on here.  It is certainly your right to raise your child how you see fit within the bounds of the law and I would never argue against that right.  But, if ‘how you see fit’ involves an unacceptable level of violence towards your child then that child should be taken away from you before you have a chance to deprive them of their right to an abuse free life.

If I punch the cashier behind the local Starbucks counter because he made my coffee wrong, I’m going to jail. What about if I hit my wife in the supermarket because I perceive that she’s nagging and being a bitch?  Yep, jail.  “But I was just trying to teach her not to do it again!” doesn’t sound like a very good excuse in that situation does it?  In the experiment above, if a police officer saw you, you would likely be up on assault charges.  Yet I see parents hitting their kids in public all the time, and if I say something about it I’m the asshole!?

I once witnessed a lady literally grab her child violently by the arm, hold him up off the ground and spank his ass five or six times, hard enough that I’m sure it would have even hurt me.  That’s crazy!  What could the child possibly have done to deserve that?  He was crying and begging for a lolly.  That’s it.  Certainly that’s not the only thing the child had done that day to provoke a response and  I understand that being a parent is probably the most frustrating and stressful job that anyone will ever go through in life, but was that really proportionate to the child’s bad behaviour?  Even if that bad behaviour had persisted the entire day?

Kids are the only people in society that you’re allowed to hit.  There’s something really fucked up about that mentality and I personally think it needs to change, even if the science does turn out to be in support of corporal punishment.  At the very least, it is simply not permissible to hit your child in public and especially in the case of a trivial thing or frustration on your own part.

I Don’t Have The Answers

I didn’t write this article to give you my views on how you should raise your children.  In Australia and America, corporal punishment in the home is legal and you should raise your children however you see fit.  I wrote this article in the hopes of at least getting you to think about what it means to hit a child and to perhaps consider what benefit it brings into a child’s life.  The discussion is one worth having.

And with that, I’ll leave you with the controversial humour of Louis CK who will explain why he thinks hitting kids is wrong.  Skip 3 minutes and 45 seconds in to get to that part, or just enjoy the whole clip:

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2 thoughts on “Corporal Punishment: When Is It Okay To Hit Your kids?”

  1. How about corporal punishment in schools? Over 30,000 kids get a taste of the ruler, or the backhand, in Alabama alone each year.
    Alabama 33,716 students hit / 4.5% of the total students
    Read more: Corporal Punishment in Public Schools, by State

    I don’t think a light slap upside the bottom – one that leaves no bruises, is the same as striking a child with the intent to cause pain, pain intended to deliver a ‘lesson’. There’s degrees to all things, and perhaps there’s a time and a place for such a spanking – preferably one strike, over the clothing, without enough force to cause any pain. And that followed by hugs, an explanation, and a long discussion. I know a lot of parents don’t think their kids are listening, or that they can process verbal communications, but don’t undersell your kid’s intelligence. Their brains are working at a far greater rate to our own. Evidence A: kids pick up foreign languages around 12,000,000 times faster than adults *that number was made up, but the concept was not*. Alright, I’ll leave the floor now for further discussion.

  2. I have a daughter of five years of age. My personal opinion is that hitting children is wrong, and if I see someone hitting a child in a supermarket, I would like to think I’d present them with a broken nose. Perhaps I wouldn’t though, perhaps I’d be constrained by societal norms. It does depend on the degree of what I’m witnessing. If it’s a smack upside the ass, one open palm across the face, followed by a hug and a talk, I’m less inclined to make a scene. I would probably just ensure I caught the person’s attention to allow my momentary eye contact to send chills of fear down their spine. Although at 130 pounds and lithe of stature, those chills would most likely exist in the confines of my imagination. As to why people hit children, it has more to do with the person striking the child than it does the child’s behavior. What studies have shown is that children who are physically disciplined are more likely to become parents who physically discipline their kids. The same logic is applied to children raised by alcoholic parents, or parents that smoke in front of them – they’re more likely to adopt these behaviors too. ‘Do I as I tell you, not as I do’, never seems to play out so well in reality. Children are defenseless, they’re easy targets for a parent to vent their frustration. Often that frustration has little to nothing to do with the child. The child just happens to be ‘the last straw’ – the other straws being negative mind patterns wearing them down – their job, their relationships, financial woes, and any number of other variables. The child also can’t strike back, and it is most certainly more cowardly to attack a being that presents no threat in return. I personally have an urge to emerge, as if by magic, into the home of a child about to be struck by an over aggressive parent, and break a few bones, Batman style. I’m sure many people feel the same way. Though there’s a massive disconnect between what we profess to feel we wish to do, and that which we would do given the opportunity. Ok – now for the next response. -c-

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