Janet Belsky (2010) defines corporal punishment as "the use of physical force to discipline a child, or any discipline technique using physical measures such as spanking" (Belsky, 2010; 209). It is often referred to as spanking because it is the main technique used by most parents. Even though this practice on minors within the home is against the law in 25 countries around the world, it is still lawful in all 50 states in the United States. This short research will focus on the effects that such practice can have on children.
According to Murray Straus, a professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Family Research Laboratory, "evidence from a wide variety of studies shows that aggression in one sphere of life tends to be generalized to other spheres. Among children, the effects of watching or taking part in aggressive play tend to spill over to non-play situations" (Kraus, and Donnelly, 2001; 59).
In his book Beating the devil out of them Straus discusses the use of corporal punishment in the United States and how it affects children. He believes that spanking does have detrimental effects. Albert Bandura conducted a study in the 1970s called the Bo-Bo Doll experiment. He found out that children who had watched others hit a doll would most likely hit the doll as well, demonstrating more aggressive behavior than other children who had not witnessed them hit the doll (Pastorino, and Doyle-Portillo, 2008; 188).
Even though it does not apply directly to corporal punishment, it shows that children can be greatly influenced by the comportment of those around them. They watch and copy. It confirms Straus' statement that watching aggressive behavior induces the same kind of behavior in children. "Parents who rely on 'hitting' are implicitly teaching children the message that it is okay to respond in a violent way" (Belsky, 2010; 210).
Straus, who has an impressive background in family violence, conducted a number of surveys and research projects, and according to his published findings spanking has numerous impacts on the child's life, who is affected in all aspects of his inter-social and intra-social behavior. Here are some of the aspects he mentions: "lower IQs" (Straus, 2009), "risk of sexual problems as adults" (Straus, 2008), "antisocial behavior" (Straus, 1997), "and long-term violence" (Straus, & Donnelly, 2005).
The More Spanking, the Greater the Probability of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms. Corporal punishment is extremely stressful and can become a chronic stressor for young children, who typically experience corporal punishment three or more times a week. For many it continues for years. The research found that the stress of corporal punishment shows up as an increase in post-traumatic stress symptoms such as being fearful that terrible things are about to happen and being easily startled. These symptoms are associated with lower IQ (Straus, 2009).
Based on another research published in February 2008, Straus "analyzed the results of four studies and found that spanking and other corporal punishment by parents is associated with an increased probability of three sexual problems as a teen or adult:
- Verbally and physically coercing a dating partner to have sex
- Risky sex such as premarital sex without a condom
- Masochistic sex such as being aroused by being spanked when having sex" (Straus, 2008).
Straus also conducted a study in 1997 entitled "Spanking makes children violent, antisocial." He bases his study on several antisocial behaviors: "cheats or tells lies, bullies or is cruel or mean to others, does not feel sorry after misbehaving, breaks things deliberately, is disobedient at school, and has trouble getting along with teachers" (Straus, 1997).
After measuring the children's antisocial behavior scores through interviews with the mothers, the researchers found that children who were spanked even once during the week prior to the base interview, showed an increase in antisocial behavior two years after the base interview. They also found that the more times a child is spanked, also known as corporal punishment, the more likely the child is to display antisocial behavior (Straus, 1997).
There are many different theories on the topic. In their book Corporal punishment of children in theoretical perspective, Michael Donnelly and Murray Straus provide society with a collection of scholars and researchers' views on the topic of corporal punishment. One of them is Joan McCord, a renowned criminologist. She says in her chapter "Unintended Consequences of Punishment:"
Let me begin with the assumption that children believe their parents are good. If good people do good things, then if they punish, it must be good to give pain. If good people do bad things, then even if giving pain is bad, it is all right to do some bad things. That is, if a parent uses punishments, then either the parent is doing something right and it is right to give pain or the parent is doing something wrong and it is all right to do something wrong. In either case, the use of punishment appears to permit giving physical or mental pain to others (Straus, and Donnelly, 2005).
Murray Straus has had such a great impact in the study of the impacts of corporal punishment. His works are directed toward one unique goal, the banning of corporal punishment in schools, as well as in homes. He convinced many of his theories and experiments. Based on his work it is clear that any form of corporal punishment has detrimental effects on children's behavior, both at a young age and later in life.
The cons of corporal punishment are numerous. It affects children's self-esteem and attitudes toward their environment. It can also have such impact that it affects their future sexual behavior. The consequences of the use of corporal punishment during childhood are based on research conducted over the past decades, mainly by Straus. Finally, even though parents have different views on the benefits of corporal punishment, the studies discussed in this paper show that there are also many detrimental effects on children.
- Belsky, J. (2010). Experiencing the lifespan. 2nd edition. New York: Worth Publishers. 208-210.
- Pastorino, E., and Doyle-Portillo, S. (2008). What is Psychology? Essentials. California: Wadsworth. 188
- Straus, M. A., and Donnelly, D. A. (2001). Beating the devil out of them. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. 59.
- Straus, M. A., and Donnelly, M. (2005). Corporal punishment of children in theoretical perspective. United States: Yale University Press. 165-166.
- Straus, M. A. (2009, September 25). Children who are spanked have lower IQs, new research finds. Retrieved from http://www.physorg.com/news173077612.html
- Straus, M. A. (2008, February 28). Spanking kids increases risk of sexual problems as adults, new research shows. Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/straus14.htm
- Straus, M. A. (1997, August 13). Spanking makes children violent, antisocial; effect same regardless of parenting style, socioeconomic status, sex of child or ethnic background. Retrieved from http://www.nospank.net/straus.htm