Just like we don’t smoke on airplanes or litter carelessly anymore, I thought that smacking our kids around to get them to mind had rightly gone out of style. Yes, kids need to be disciplined. That truth remains but when discipline crosses a line and we continually hear tragic stories on the news of parents severely beating their kids, what are we to do?
Why Corporal Punishment Doesn’t Work
The reason corporal punishment is waning isn’t because it’s gone out of style. It’s because we’ve learned a lot about human psychology over the past century. And the more we learn, the more we find that negative reinforcement activities, like spanking, just don’t work.
For one thing, very little kids are too small to associate the punishment with the abstract behavior they’re engaged in. (Plus, how hard is it to just pick them up and put them in their crib?) Older kids can understand and communicate through language, so spanking just seems like giving up.
Oh sure, your kid will start minding with a little pain to reinforce your parental authority, but it’s not because he understands what he did was wrong; it’s because he associates disobeying you — and therefore associates you personally — with pain. A child who is hit doesn’t respect his parents. Nor does he always understand their reasons for their requests and commands. He’s just afraid. That’s not a good foundation for your authority, and it inevitably erodes as your child gets older rather than solidifying into an abiding understanding and respect.
Hitting Your Kids Does Real Harm
One of the best reasons to find other ways of discipline is the long term affects associated with corporal punishment. Kids who are spanked or otherwise hit have a much greater likelihood of criminal/antisocial behavior and aggression. The likelihood that a person will physically abuse their own child or their spouse goes up if corporal punishment was used on them, as do risks for mental health problems.
Spanking can easily cross the line into abuse, too. Parents may not think that they’re letting anger into the equation, but that’s often not the case. Parents who use corporal punishment often underestimate the intensity of beatings, as evidenced by the unapologetic response of an Arkansas judge, whose daughter posted a video of him beating her savagely.
I’m not saying that all parents who spank go to such lengths, and I’m not saying that all corporal punishment is the same, or that it differs only in intensity. I’m just saying that this kind of physical, negative reinforcement short-circuits the reasoning abilities of both children and their parents when what they really want is to develop a kid that will mind them willingly. Spanking your kids doesn’t do what we want it to.
Talking is Easier and It Works
One of the reasons I think people choose corporal punishment is because they think other methods are weak or ineffective. But that’s really a cop out. I’m a big fan of Supernanny, Jo Frost. She understands that human beings, especially children, are complex creatures with psychological reasons for doing what we do, and she uses that knowledge to get results for parents with a mixture of positive reinforcement and non-physical disapproval systems.
These methods work because kids idolize their parents, and crave our approval. By using approval and disapproval to shape behavior, we can prepare them for life in greater society, which reserves much less merciful methods for punishing errant behavior.
Are your kids hard to discipline? Do you disagree about the effects of corporal punishment? I’m sure this will start an all-out flame war in the comments.