Thursday, April 9, 2015



I didn't realize how prominent this issue was until one day in my Courtship & Marriage class. My professor asked the 50 or 60 of us, the students, how many had never ever been spanked (slapped, hit, belted, or any other form of corporal punishment) as a child... Only two of us raised our hands.

The other student, unfortunately, shied away, but I kept my hand up, astonished. My professor asked me why, and, having made an image for myself as the Finnish girl in class, I responded, "Well, it's illegal in Finland."

I've been at the supermarket countless of times and seen small children, tired and irritated, struggling in the shopping cart, as the mother or father yanks on her child's arm, growls in his face and threatens, "Do you want a spanking?!" Some elementary school teachers will call home, practically asking, "Your child did this and this. Will you give him the belt, or shall I?"

Currently, corporal punishment is allowed in public schools in 19 states, including Texas. It's also legal in every American home, so it seems to have become this norm. This is scary for a lot of people from outside of the United States, specifically many Europeans like myself, who have never been physically disciplined, in school or at home, and who see the physical punishment of children as completely appalling. You might say that this is a cultural issue, but this is about ethics, and the rights of the child.

So, I used an assignment in English as an opportunity for me to explore the issue...

Should corporal punishment of children be legal in the United States (in schools and at home)?

Corporal punishment can be defined as “the use of physical force towards a child for the purpose of control and/or correction, and as a disciplinary penalty inflicted on the body with the intention of causing some degree of pain or discomfort,” (Australian Institute of Family Studies). Some commonly used forms of corporal punishment include hitting, smacking, spanking, and belting (Cashmore & de Haas). Although recent research has been unclear about the exact consequences of corporal punishment, a total of 37 countries, even third world countries such as Turkmenistan, Kenya, Sudan, and the Republic of Congo, have declared corporal punishment of children “prohibited in all settings in legislation,” (Australian Institute of Family Studies).

The United States should act likewise, making corporal punishment illegal in schools and domestically because (1) of the punishment’s inhumane nature, (2) children have individual rights, and (3) each nation is responsible for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of its children. Some opinions deny these reasons, mainly because of cultural standards and beliefs, by arguing that corporal punishment is harmless, a part of parenting, and a private matter.


Necessity Counterargument

Corporal punishment is essentially harmless and mostly used as the last resort punishment for bad behavior; therefore, it is unnecessary to declare such a discipline illegal.

Necessity Rebuttal

Experts in the field of family studies have researched and debated the effects of corporal punishment on children for years. The one result that opposing researches can agree on indicates, “The type of punishment a parent engages in has some causal influence on a child's behavioral and emotional outcomes,” (Australian Institute of Family Studies). In other words, whichever kind of discipline a parent engages in, the discipline will influence the child’s behavior and emotions in the long run. There is no evidence yet that the use of “controlled” corporal punishment, which includes spanking and smacking, is harmful to the child. There is also no evidence that its use is beneficial either, emotionally or behaviorally. The use of corporal punishment, even as a last resort, sets a bad example for children; it teaches them that conflicts can be dealt with by using physical aggression. Corporal punishment also reflects upon the immaturity of the parent in his or her inability to express him or herself verbally, showing a lack of control. So, one cannot conclude that corporal punishment is entirely harmless.

Physical punishment is unnecessary because a wide variety of other disciplinary measures can be taken with some parental education; therefore, corporal punishment is never a necessary form of discipline, not even as a “last resort.” Furthermore, there is a serious need for a law in the United States to prohibit corporal punishment when the fundamental protection of children in the U.S. is already failing. A report by The Children’s Advocacy Institute found that due to the federal government being “derelict in their duties to protect America’s most vulnerable children,” all 50 states fall short of the minimum federal law standards in protecting abused and neglected children (Children's Advocacy Institute). Abuse is widely underreported, and there is little investigation of suspected child abuse unless clear signs of physical abuse are present. Unfortunately, signs of physical abuse are similar to the consequences of the legally protected corporal punishment. There are grave issues in policy when acts of physical abuse, such as smacking, beating, and belting, can be protected under the law as “reasonable discipline.” Under Texas law, for example, “physical abuse” means “physical injury that results in substantial harm to the child requiring emergency medical treatment and excluding… reasonable discipline by a parent,” (Texas Const. ch. 261, sec. 410). Clearly, it is no wonder child abuse is so difficult to investigate.

Justice Counterargument

Implementing corporal punishment as discipline is just because “children are property… [and] do not have the right to negotiate their treatment by parents,” (Gershoff 610).

Justice Rebuttal

Although children are claimed as dependents of their parents, they are also individual persons with their own rights. International human rights organizations, such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, have declared some of these innate rights of children, such as access to healthcare and education. All children also have the civil right be treated like individuals in their given society, meaning they have the right to be protected from inhumane treatment and discipline. -- Interestingly, the U.S., along with Somalia, has yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. -- This does not mean that children should be able to negotiate their discipline; for example, parents can use the phrase “because I say so,” instead of attempting to negotiate with the child. Essentially, it is the parent’s, guardian’s, and teacher’s responsibility to ensure that the rights of the child are respected, providing a secure environment for the child to grow in through support and encouragement. A secure environment does not consist of any form of physical aggression or violence.

Privacy Counterargument

“Behaviors within families are private,” (Gershoff 610), and the government has no business in concerning itself with the disciplinary forms of parents.

Privacy Rebuttal

Each nation is not only responsible for ensuring the rights but also the safety and wellbeing of its children. Therefore, in order to ensure each child’s individual wellbeing, the treatment of American children regarding their physical discipline is in the interests of the U.S. government. Prohibiting corporal punishment would protect America’s children from all forms of violence and prevent their mistreatment. A family’s need for privacy ought not override that protection. Additionally, family behaviors are not entirely private as child advocates must be able to take appropriate actions efficiently in order to investigate suspicions of mistreatment, provide refuge for abused children, and yield assistance to families and schools.


Corporal punishment has become far too widely accepted in American society, causing the U.S. to fall behind in assuring the civil rights of its people. At the very least, the United States child physical abuse policy must be entirely redefined, reformed, and implemented. The best course of action the U.S. can take is prohibiting the use of corporal punishment on children to secure the individual rights of children, to ensure the wellbeing of children, and to protect children from any violence. Only then can states be doing their part in helping families create a more positive and secure environment for children to grow up in.

To end, here is a video of a demonstration by the Fin Al Maltrato (End to Abuse) campaign of UNICEF Uruguay.

Works Cited

Gershoff, Elizabeth Thompson. "Corporal Punishment, Physical Abuse, And The Burden Of Proof: Reply To Baumrind, Larzelere, And Cowan (2002), Holden (2002), And Parke (2002)." Psychological Bulletin 128 (4): 602-611 (2002): 602-611. PsycARTICLES. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
Cashmore, J., and de Haas, N. "Discussion Paper: Legal And Social Aspects Of The Physical Punishment Of Children." Family & Society Studies Worldwide, 1995. SocINDEX Web. 29 Mar. 2015.
Australian Institute of Family Studies. Corporal punishment: Key issues. March 2014. 29 March 2015 <>.
Children's Advocacy Institute. “SHAME ON U.S.”. Press Release. WASHINGTON, D.C.: Children’s Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law, 2015.
Texas Constitution and Statutes. Chapter 261. Sec. 261.410. Report Of Abuse By Other Children. <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment