Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?

He that spareth the rod hateth his own son but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes/Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.   Proverbs 13:24, King James Version

Whatever your personal views, there is no question that the use of corporal punishment for children is a controversial subject.    Though banned from most schools  these days, I am old enough to remember when "the strap" was used on schoolchildren found guilty of various infractions (at least where I happened to live)  and  it still remains legal in various jurisdictions across the United States.   As for corporal punishment in the home, parents continue to advocate its use when dealing with their own children though it has since been banned in some European and Latin American countries.  Despite calls for many U.S. states to pass no-spanking laws, many parents continue to insist on the right to use corporal punishment to discipline their own children.   Long regarded as a parental duty, especially in traditional cultures,  advocates of corporal punishment often cite the importance of physical punishments in training children in appropriate behaviour.    Recent surveys show that 24 percent of one-year-old children and 33 percent of three-year-old children are spanked in a given month with boys being more likely in general to experience physical discipline than girls.  

But what are the long-term consequences of using corporal punishment, especially in young children?   While there has been extensive research looking at how physical discipline affects children, the results have usually been inconclusive.  Even though the general consensus appears to be that corporal punishment can lead to later problems, including aggressive behaviour and acting-out episodes that can occur in children as young as two or three years of age.   Still,  there are other factors that seem to play a greater role in how children experiencing corporal punishment develop later in life.  One of the most important of these factors is the quality of parenting that children experience.   For example, children who experience positive parenting, i.e., positive verbal encouragement, positive displays of affection, and and positive physical contact, tend not to be as affected by corporal punishment as children who are raised more harshly.  There can be important gender differences as well with warm maternal parenting often overcoming the problems that boys might otherwise experience from a father's harsh discipline (though this can be the other way around for girls).  

 To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.



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