Corporal Punishment and Its Effects on a Child’s Behavior
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Historically, corporal punishment has been has been identified as whipping, flogging and branding. Recently, though, spanking children as punishment for misbehavior has become the definition of corporal punishment. Parents use corporal punishment to correct a child’s behavior and to show authority. Traditionally, corporal punishment has been popular among Protestant Christians as a form of correction for their children because of its Biblical roots. Reverend Michael Pearl wrote his book To Train Up a Child based on the Biblical references to corporal punishment. Corporal punishment has become popular because it is an easy and quick form of discipline, and in today’s fast paced society, parents do not want to take time to correct a child’s behavior in a more time consuming way. Although corporal punishment is seen as a useful method by many parents, it has been proven to cause antisocial behavior, impulsive aggression and other behavioral problems and should not be used as a form of punishment. Children who have been physically punished are more aggressive and antisocial than those children who have not been exposed to corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment has been justified for thousands of years by Protestant Christians and their interpretation of the Old Testament. Versus in the book of Proverbs refer to physical punishment by use of a rod or other hitting device. One verse from Proverbs states, a path of life is his who heeds admonition, bet he who disregards reproof goes astray (Proverbs 10:17). This verse is saying that any person who does not use reproof of punishment will stray from the correct path of life. Parents have used versus such as this one to justify physical punishment to their children.
Reverend Michael Pearl and his wife co-author a book entitled To Train Up a Child, which justifies the use of corporal punishment based on the biblical references. Several cases of children’s death and serious injury due to corporal punishment have been linked to Pearl’s book. An article written by Bryan Lowder tells the story of a couple from Washington was held accountable for the death of their 13-year-old adopted daughter. She was beaten with a plumbing tool, starved, made to sleep and go to the bathroom outside and was found 30 pounds underweight wrapped in a sheet in the backyard. The couple had read Pearl’s book and used it as a guide to punishing children. Other cases similar to this have been directly linked to Pearl’s evangelical book using biblical roots to justify harsh corporal punishment inflicted on children (Lowder).
In Philip Greven’s book Spare the Child he discusses the true message of the Bible regarding corporal punishment. He argues that in the New Testament, Jesus is loving and nurturing towards children and never advocates the use of physical punishment. He states that parents have used corporal punishment because it is the will of God, and if they did not use corporal punishment they do not love their child and care about his well-being (Greven).
The use of corporal punishment on children has shown to increase the amount of anti-social behavior and other behavioral problems in children. Murray A. Straus and Vera E. Mouradian conducted a study to show the relationship between the use of corporal punishment and the behavior of children. They interviewed 1,003 mothers over the phone to gather information about whether or not they used corporal punishment, how frequent the use was, if it was impulsive or not and if they were nurturing to their children all over the course of a six-month period. They also asked questions about the children’s behavior in order to correlate the use of CP and the child’s behavior. They asked if children were acting out against other people including the child’s family, teachers, and peers (Straus et. Al. 360) as well as if the child was cruel, mean, or destroyed possessions. These aggressive behaviors are categorized as anti-social behavior in Straus and Mouradian’s study. They found, after interviewing the mothers, that the more corporal punishment that was used by the mother, the more anti-social behavior the child exhibited. They also asked mothers how frequent temper tantrums were and if a child committed any unpredictable explosive acts, which were categorized as impulsive behavior. Similar to the result of anti-social behavior, the amount of impulsive behavior in children was directly related to greater amounts of corporal punishment. Straus and Mouradian not only looked at corporal punishment in general, but they broke it down into two categories of impulsive and controlled corporal punishment.
The use of cororal punishment can also lead to another issue, impulsive corporal punishment. This occurs when a parent loses control while punishing a child, causing the parent to exceed the necessary amount of punishment. This could simply be acting out of anger instead of intent to correct behavior. Straus and Mouradian wanted to test if impulsive corporal punishment had a larger effect on children than controlled corporal punishment. Mothers were asked if they ever lost control or came close to losing control and the data showed that the more frequently corporal punishment was used, the more impulsive it became and the heavier the effects were on the child. The end result of this study showed that the more corporal punishment is used and the more impulsive it is, the more anti-social behavior and the more impulsive behavior by children (Straus et. al. 372). Corporal punishment has a direct correlation with increased amounts of impulsive aggression and anti-social behavior in children.
A child’s genetic and cultural surroundings could increase the negative effects on children and cause them to be more distinct. A study conducted by Brian B. Boutwell et al. looks at the effects of several different genetic and cultural risk factors that could also be playing a role in children’s behavior. Instead of just looking at the correlation between corporal punishment and a child’s behavior, like the study done by Straus and Mouradian, this study looks at the several genetic risk factors such as race, sex, maternal depression , family adversity, the use of corporal punishment and self-control and their relationship to a child’s behavior problems. Each child was given a score by adding up the scores given to each factor and its intensity. For example, for the factor of family adversity mothers were asked how often they argued with their spouses, and the more frequent the arguing, the higher the score given to the child in that environment. This study concluded that both corporal punishment and genetic risk increased behavior problems individually. When comparing the statistics of corporal punishment and behavioral problems and genetic risk factors and behavioral problems this study discovered that corporal punishment has a more pronounced effect for children with greater genetic risk (Boutwell et.al 565). This study confirms that corporal punishment increases behavioral problems in children, but it also shows that a child’s surroundings can increase the impact of the use of corporal punishment on children.
A study done by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor discusses the relationship between corporal punishment and children’s behavior. Similar to the studies by Stratus and Mouradian and Boutwell et. al, this study asked parents questions about the frequency of both their use of corporal punishment and specific behavioral problems exhibited by the child. They also looked at the relationship of age, race and sex and antisocial behavior. One conclusion they came to was that children’s age had an effect on levels of anti-social behavior, in that older children exhibited higher levels of anti-social behavior (Grogan-Kaylor 158) They found that older children, over the age of 10, exhibited more antisocial behavior than younger children. Race and sex, however, did not have any effect on the behavior of the children. Through all of the testing that was conducted, it was found that corporal punishment increased the anti-social behavior in children. In fact, the study showed that low levels of corporal punishment impacted behavior just as much as higher levels of corporal punishement. Other studies, such as the ones done by Straus and Mouradian and Bouwtell et. al, studied to find a direct correlation between increased corporal punishment and increased antisocial behavior. These two studies confirmed that increased levels of corporal punishment result in increased anti-social behavior. However, the study done by Grogan-Kaylor found that the effect of of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior is nonlinear (Grogan-Kaylor 161). According to this study, small amounts of corporal punishment increase the amount of antisocial behavior in children just as much as higher levels of corporal punishment.
It is understandable as to why parents would use corporal punishment, justified by the bible or simply to keep children in line. Never is it understandable to beat a child, but a spanking as punishment is quick and easy. But, knowing the impact of this type of physical punishment on a child changes things. As a parent one should know that corporal punishment can cause anti-social and impulsive behavior. If a parent stops and thinks about the long term effects instead of the short term expediency of spanking, they very well may look at the other options. Options such as rewarding positive behavior, talking about the issue, time outs, et cetera. Corporal punishment has been found to have negative effects on children, and therefore it should simply not be used.
Corporal Punishment and Its Effects on a Child's Behavior. (2019, Jul 30).
Retrieved September 28, 2022 , from
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