Category Archives: Essay

On the hypocrisy of corporal punishment for children…

Imagine you’re at your job and your boss confronts you and demands to know why you didn’t get your work done on time. You begin explaining your reasons but your words are cut short—the boss yells at you, berating you for making the same old excuses. You try to continue speaking when suddenly your boss slaps you across the face and says, “Don’t talk back to me!”

Or imagine you’re that boss or manager or supervisor and your employee screws up on the job—or simply refuses to acquiesce to your demands. Do you believe, since they’re under your management, that you have the right to demand that they drop their pants and bend over your lap so you can spank their bare ass with your hand or with a belt?

What if that scenario was an acceptable dynamic in the relationship between employer and employee and that your boss or manager or supervisor was permitted to beat you as a form of discipline if you did some something they thought was bad or wrong?

Now, let’s switch out the word “boss” for “parent” and the word “employee” for “child” and imagine the same scenario.

Welcome to the double standard of corporal punishment for children—brought to you by a tone deaf society that has socially conditioned you to accept it’s justifiable to beat a child if they do something you don’t like.

Well, I call bullshit on the concept of acceptable violence against children under any circumstances. To hit a child, while harboring a belief that hitting others is wrong, is some kind of twisted hypocrisy. It’s one of the most baffling mixed messages we receive when we are children; the assertion that hitting people is wrong.

And the assertion that “you shouldn’t hit others” typically comes with extenuating circumstances like “it’s sometimes necessary to hit a person in self-defense” and “sometimes it’s okay to hit someone if you’re protecting someone else.”

This nefarious double standard creates cognitive dissonance in a developing brain.

~ Part 2 ~

When I was fifteen years old I made a vow to myself that I would never use corporal punishment or the threat of physical violence as a form of discipline or corrective behavioral therapy with my own child. This was a non-negotiable promise to my future daughter to ensure that she would never have cause to fear me or to feel humiliated or defenseless in my presence. It was a vow guaranteed to secure our bond of love and trust.

As I grew older I would periodically bring up the subject of corporal punishment in conversations with people and I was continually appalled by the casual acceptance of spanking as a legitimate method of disciplining children. And when I protested the practice as being psychologically harmful to children my opinion was dismissed.

The claim that mild punishment (slaps or smacks) have no detrimental effect is still widespread because we received this message very early from our parents who had taken it over from their parents. This conviction helped the child to minimize his suffering and to endure it. Unfortunately, the main damage it causes is precisely our numbness as well as the lack of sensitivity for our children’s pain. The result of the broad dissemination of this damage is that each successive generation is subjected to the tragic effects of seemingly harmless “correction”. Many parents still think: What didn’t hurt me can’t hurt my child. They don’t realize that their conclusion is wrong because they never challenged their assumption.

That’s Alice Miller, calling bullshit on the assertion that hitting children doesn’t have a lasting effect on their psyche, in an excerpt from Every Smack is a Humiliation – A Manifesto.

And here’s Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Geneva, proposing the revolutionary idea that children should never receive less protection than adults and that we must put an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as ‘tradition’ or disguised as ‘discipline.’

~ Part 3 ~

Accepted as tradition…

Okay, now we come to the part of my essay where I really start calling bullshit in earnest and I’m going to list some of the pervasive justifications I’ve heard supporting violence against children.

Tradition seems to be the default justification for hitting kids. It’s the reason the majority of people I’ve spoken with hit a wall in conversations about corporal punishment. And, while it’s true that tradition is a major roadblock to get past, it’s only one barrier that prevents me from breaking on through to the other side when trying to promote the revolutionary concept that hitting a child as a punitive measure is a really bad disciplinary strategy and just bad human behavior.

But most people are going to defend their convictions to the death and the people I’ve observed with the most certitude are the older generations that think tradition is as necessary as breathing.

It’s like this…

“Back in my day we didn’t coddle children the way some of you youngsters do with your time-outs and your calm reasoning. Corporal punishment has been an acceptable practice for thousands of years in civilized society—people didn’t have a problem with spanking in olden times.”

Well, I’m sorry-not-sorry to break it to you, old timer, but you’re dead wrong. It’s actually not difficult at all to find someone from “back in the day” that has a problem with spanking.

Like this fellow that says,“Children ought to be led to honorable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment.”

That would be Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, calling bullshit on punitive violence against children almost two thousand years ago.

And, to illustrate the illustrious nature of Plutarch as a personage of respect with regard to his opinions, I will add that Plutarch was also the fellow that wrote many stories that would be mined by William Shakespeare for the plots to a dozen or more of his plays.

~ Part 4 ~

Speaking of Shakespeare…

There was school teacher in England by the name of Roger Ascham who wrote a book called The Scholemaster which was published in 1570 when William was a boy of six. And while it’s true that it was a common practice to beat a child as a form of disciplinary punishment at school in England in the 16th century, not all teachers did it—and especially not one of England’s most famous teachers of the day.

So, if people still believe that children were better off when teachers were stern disciplinarians and lament that teachers in most schools are no longer permitted to mete out physical punishment they are believing a fiction and lamenting the demise of a barbaric practice.

I’m old enough to have been at school when corporal punishment was still permitted in some areas of my country in the early seventies and, though it wasn’t practiced at my elementary school in Berkeley, California, it was used aggressively at a school I went to in central Florida. Those were the worst teachers.

The best teachers—those that teach from a place of love and empathy for their students—already know the following:

“Chide not the pupil hastily, for that will both dull his wit and discourage his diligence, but admonish him gently, which shall make him both willing to amend and glad to go forward in love and hope of learning. Let the master say, ‘Here ye do well.’ For, I assure you, there is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a love of learning as his praise.”

And that’s Roger Ascham, who was also tutor to Queen Elizabeth when she was a girl, promoting a gentle and encouraging approach to educating children and calling bullshit on being a dick to kids in school.

Furthermore, in saying, “In mine opinion, love is fitter than fear, gentleness better than beating, to bring up a child rightly in learning,” he’s also calling bullshit on using punitive violence against children.

~ Part 5 ~

And then there is the religious justification regarding violence against children…

This justification is perhaps the trickiest one to unravel because it is tightly bound by fervent belief and faith and unquestioning obedience to the ultimate authority figure: Almighty God.

God told me to hit my children.”

But, really…did He?

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Spare the rod and spoil the child is that old biblical chestnut that proposes it’s better to beat a child than not beat a child and that version comes from the King James Bible published in 1611.

Most religions are steeped in judgment and extremely high expectations and children raised in religious families are hardwired to resonate with a structure that has a clearly defined family hierarchy with adults as the authority figures at the top and children at the bottom; expected to be subservient to the wishes and whims and expectations of their parents.

No child can meet those expectations. Ever.

So when those wishes become demands that cannot be met and punitive measures are measured out in blows…

Bottom line here:

Adults are larger and much more powerful than children. Therefore, hitting children is a flagrant abuse of power that can cause physical and emotional damage that may last a lifetime.

Here’s this from Ashley Montagu, a 20th century humanist and anthropologist that popularized the study of race and gender:

“Any form of corporal punishment or ‘spanking’ is a violent attack upon another human being’s integrity.”

Montagu believed the effect of that attack:

Remains with the victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her personality—a massive frustration resulting in a hostility which will seek expression in later life in violent acts towards others.

The sooner we understand that love and gentleness are the only kinds of called-for behavior towards children, the better. The child, especially, learns to become the kind of human being that he or she has experienced.”

***

Postscript: This essay is divided into five parts with each part containing 336 words. I intend on writing a sixth part, eventually, when I’m ready to come back to the piece with something new. ~RLR

Image Credit: Child Abuse by Mauro Fermariello

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