Spanking is a common practice among parents of young children in the United States. “Individuals with higher educational attainment are less likely to agree that spanking children is an acceptable form of discipline” (Child Trends 1). In the United States, corporal punishment is legal in the child’s home; on the other hand, it is illegal to use this method in the majority of states as a form of punishment, in schools, and at child care centers. “Corporal punishment is defined as the use of physical force towards a child for the purpose of control and/or correction. It is a disciplinary penalty inflicted on the body with the intention of causing some degree of pain or discomfort, however mild.” (Rajalakshmi 28).
This type of child rearing has had conflicting attitudes in society since scientific researchers have linked cognitive delays and social/ emotional complications in early childhood development. It can be difficult to separate the effects of spanking from a child’s ecological system.
For example, a child living in poverty will suffer more stress, due to financial hardship, lack of quality education, and family dysfunction that will later contribute to developmental delays. Parents of children in poverty; consequently, lack higher education in knowing how to provide proper and healthy guidance for their children. These parents will often resort to physical discipline because their own social/emotional skills are not fully mature. Throughout the generations, these parenting practices have become the social norm in society.
Spanking has many negative effects on a young child’s social, emotional, and cognitive development. First, young children are still forming brain connections and learning to build strong attachments within their microsystems. This vulnerable growth period leaves the young child vulnerable to misinterpretation due to their underdeveloped brains. Spanking may control the momentary actions of the child with instilling fear through control, but the long term effects on the child are correlated with poor developmental outcomes later in life. When a child is given life skills and is surrounded by a warm and loving environment, the child will be motivated to mimic their role models and will have a higher chance of developing into a healthy adult.
Childhood Educator, Elizabeth T. Gershoff, Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, emphasizes “that spanking is ineffective in reducing the recurrence of the undesirable behavior, for the benefit of a desirable behavior” (Gershoff 133-137). Spanking is a form of punishment and if punishment controlled the child’s actions, then parents would not need to repeat the method for the same behavior. Corporal punishment does not give a young child time to cognitively think or develop healthy problem-solving skills in how their actions are affecting others. Instead, the child learns pain is associated with the punisher; therefore, trust issues, and detachment occurs between the parent and child.
The young child does not yet possess concrete operational thought. Similarly, young children from ages two to seven years old, tend to be egocentric and struggle to see things from the perspective of others. “According to Jean Piaget, a well-known psychologist, the concrete operational thought stage takes place between seven to eleven years old, when the child’s brain begins using inductive logic, or reasoning from specific information to a general principle” (Berger 52). Therefore, spanking young children with an expectation that they can comprehend fully how society expects them to socialize, is unrealistic.
Children learn through the example of their caregivers and will immediate the family members on how to respond or react, to the unfamiliar world that they are growing up in. Another consequence in spanking a young child during a very sensitive brain developing stage is that they learn through the example of the parent, that hitting is an acceptable social outlet when people disagree. Additionally, they may learn when a person feels frustrated, physical coping methods that are fueled by impatience is acceptable. According to Lee, Altschul, & Gershoff, “In one study of more than 3,000 preschoolers, increases in spanking from ages 1 to 3 predicted increases in children’s aggression from ages 3 to 5, over and above initial levels and maternal warmth” (Lee, Altschul, & Gershoff 2017-2028).
Many abusive adult relationships can be linked to the adult’s relationships with their caregivers, during the early childhood stage. For example, spanking is usually done by parents who practice the authoritarian parenting style. This parenting style is described by parents who take the “it’s my way or the highway approach.” Authoritarian parents take little consideration of the child’s feelings and are more legalistic when it comes to social connections. They are strong in punishment and rarely communicate appropriately with the child. The children of this type of parenting style usually suffer from low self-esteem because their thoughts and opinions are not valued. They can develop an unhealthy dependency on parents (from lack of independent problem-solving skills), or lose complete attachment to the parent altogether because the child was not able to form a healthy attachment with the parent in the beginning. Dobbs, Smith, & Taylor found that, “Hitting, by its nature, causes physical pain, and it can be confusing and frightening for children to be hit by someone they love and respect, and on whom they are dependent. Children report fear, anger, and sadness when they are spanked” (Dobbs, Smith, & Taylor 137-156).
These feelings interfere with a child’s ability to internalize parents’ disciplinary messages. Lastly, spanking a child can be viewed as violating their human rights according to seven human rights treaties, because it severely affects the human dignity of the child, encourages violence among them, thereby reducing his/her self-esteem and self-confidence. Corporal punishment violates Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from all forms of physical or mental violence. Article 19 says, “Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally” (UNICEF 2).
Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse, and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after them. Culturally, corporal punishment is used on young children throughout the United States and has been linked to escalated problem behaviors rather than increased ongoing behavior control on the part of the parent. The sooner parents realize the effects of spanking on their child as a whole, the fewer behavior problems will continue to dominate their children later on in life. Young children respond most effectively to a form of discipline that enhances their developmental areas of cognitive, social/emotional, language, physical, and moral. By providing parents with family resources, alternative disciplinary methods education, and face to face intervention we can greatly improve the current violent culture that we have cultivated in society.
Children are the foundation of our future and are influenced by the way society and culture value them. An African Proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” A village consists of families, neighbors, friends, educators, employers, and government leaders. If a child fails to thrive, do we blame the village or the child? Do we blame the culture or the biological makeup? Instead, of blaming others we need to take personal responsibility in changing the world we live in by first recognizing the things we need to change as individuals. So that, our actions can contribute positively affect the future and life of a young child.
- Attitudes Toward Spanking. www.childtrends.org/indicators/attitudes-toward-spanking. Berger, Kathleen Stassen. The Developing Person through Childhood and Adolescence. Worth Publishers, a Macmillan Education Imprint, 2015.
- FACT SHEET: A Summary of the Rights under the Convention…www.unicef.org/crc/files/Rights_overview.pdf. Gershoff, Elizabeth T. “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children.” Child Development Perspectives, vol. 7, no. 3, 2013, pp. 133–137., doi:10.1111/cdep.12038.
- Piaget, Jean. “The Development of Object Concept.” The Construction of Reality in the Child, pp. 3–96., doi:10.1037/11168-001. Lee, Shawna J., and Inna Altschul.
- “Warmth Does Not Moderate Longitudinal Associations between Spanking and Aggression in Early Childhood.” PsycEXTRA Dataset, 2013, pp. 2017–2028.,doi:10.1037/e591842013-001.
- Rajalakshmi, M. A. (2018).
- “A Review of the Effects of Corporal Punishment on Brain Development in Young Children”. International Journal of Advanced Scientific Research and Management. 3. 28-32. Smith, A., Dobbs, T. A., & Taylor, N. (2006).
- ‘No, we don’t get a say, children just suffer the consequences: Children Talk about Family Discipline”. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 14(2), 137-156.doi:10.1163/15718180677792269