It is one of the biggest challenges for most parents to manage their children’s behaviour. Physical punishment is a discipline method used to cause a child to experience pain to control or correct his or her unacceptable behaviour. In physical punishment, parents usually hit a child with hands or objects such as a cane, belt, whip, shoe and so on (Harper, Horno, Lansdown, Martin, Newell, & Nilsson, 2005). According to Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GIEACPC, 2009), among 197 countries and regions in the world, only 25 countries have commitment to the prohibition of physical punishment in the home. Wherever people travel in this world, policy-makers, politicians, and parents always tell them that children deserve the best because they are the future of a society. Furthermore, most countries (192 out of 194) in the world have signed an international agreement to be committed to take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical violence (Harper et al., 2005). However, they are violating the most fundamental human rights of every child, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child because only 12.7 percent of countries are free of physical violence against children at home (GIEACPC, 2009).
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Should parents use physical punishment when disciplining their children? This question must be answered by politicians, parents, educators, and social workers because physical punishment has profoundly affected children, parents and a society (Durrant, Sigvaldason, & Bednar, 2008). However, it’s difficult for everyone to agree upon an answer to this question because of the different perspectives people have on this issue. What are some of the different arguments that advocates and opponents of physical punishment use?
Parents, who support the use of physical punishment for disciplining children, claim there a many benefits of this parenting tool. First, they feel that at a certain age, 2-6 years of age, children cannot easily understand logic and reasoning; physical punishment is the only language children can understand instantaneously. Physical punishment can be effective on a short-term basis in getting children to change any negative behaviour. Therefore, it is better not to waste time on teaching them how to behave. Instead, show them the fear of doing something wrong and children will obey and behave absolutely right when they are afraid of punishment.
A second argument used to support physical punishment of children is that some adults point to the physical discipline they received as a contributing factor to their success. Not only did they not suffer harm from their parent hitting; they learned valuable lessons that benefited them into their adult lives. Many of today’s parents received spankings from their own parents when they misbehaved as children. They grew up healthily and productively as members of society. They thus feel that this is a proper form of discipline for their own children. They are not violent and do not hit their children.
A third argument for physical punishment is its deterrent effect. In a large family, if one child is physically punished in front of other children, not only that child learns to behave, others also learn a lesson to behave.
Some parents do not think that physical punishment such as spanking is physical abuse. By contrast, they do not like to hit their children. They just want their children to be well-behaved and well-educated as adults prepared to make contribution to a society. They use physical punishment to deal with immediate problems. Larzelere (1994) also argued that it shouldn’t be assumed that all physical punishment should be considered abusive. So it is necessary to clarify the distinctions between abusive and beneficial forms of physical punishment. Further, parental spanking is generally beneficial to children at 2 to 6 years old when spanking is limited to a maximum of two slaps, used to supplement positive parenting, and used primarily to back up less aversive discipline responses (Larzelere, 1994). In addition, the public survey held in 2004 in Canada showed that of 636 written statements, 473 (74%) expressed positive views of physical punishment spanking improves behaviour (Durrant et al., 2008).
Regarding the claims that antisocial violence and criminal activities is associated with physical punishment, there is no clear evidence to confirm that the strong relationships between those negative consequences and using physical punishment, in particular, the nonabusive physical punishment. For example, Larzelere, Cox, & Smith (2010) tried to find the difference of antisocial behaviours between nonphysical and physical punishments, but their research results did not show spanking to be causally linked to subsequent antisocial behaviour. Therefore, parents can choose appropriate nonabusive disciplines when they are necessary.
Nevertheless, most parents love their children and want them to be successful in their future life. As responsible parents, they are committed to make their children well-educated and behave properly. Nonabusive physical punishment is the last option when the reasoning is not effective. Similarly, a research result showed that African-American children had beneficial or neutral outcomes when applied a non-abusive physical punishment (Horn, Joseph, & Cheng, 2004). Therefore, parental right to retain spanking as one disciplinary option should be also guaranteed (Larzelere et al., 2010).
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Critics of physical punishment can point to a number of studies, which concluded that the more parents use physical punishment, the more disobedient and aggressive their children will be (Gershoff, 2002; 2008). Through a statistical analysis, Gershoff (2002) found that physical punishment was associated with less moral internalization of norms for appropriate behaviour and long-term compliance. This study also showed that parental physical punishment was associated with the higher levels of temporary compliance, aggression, and mental health. In other words, the more children get physical punishment, the more disobedient they are and the less they understand others.
Additionally, some experts claim that physical punishment is equivalent to abuse (Durrant et al., 2008). Canadian public opinion was collected based on a total of 636 statements reflecting public conceptualizations of physical punishment when the Supreme Court of Canada supported physical punishment under limited conditions in 2004. Of course, the survey results included positive and negative opinions on physical punishment. For the opponents of physical punishment, 28 percent of them think that physical punishment is a form of physical abuse. Physical punishment can be escalated gradually from minor spanking to more extreme actions that can cause serious injury to a child. From the survey of Canadian attitudes, 19 % of them believed that physical punishment could be distinguished from abuse and 21 % thought that children who were not spanked are more likely to be poorly socialized. Over time, it may take more and more force to have the same effect. Using physical punishment does not protect the family’s right to freely raise their children, but rather to freely abuse their children (Durrant et al., 2008).
The research from social sciences has confirmed that physical punishment puts children at risk for a range of unintended negative consequences (Gershoff, 2008). Because physical punishment can result in adult aggression and antisocial behaviour, people affected by those negative consequences are absolutely unsuccessful in their life. Straus and Mouradian (1998) found that the more physical punishment experienced by the child, the greater the tendency for the child to engage in antisocial behaviour and to act impulsively. For example, the more physical punishment people experienced as children, the greater the percentage who, only a few years later in life, hit their spouses (Straus, 1994). Similarly, the more physical punishment experienced in the teen years, the higher the percentage people have a drinking problem, depressive symptoms, and thought about killing themselves.
Opponents of physical punishment think that hitting children is unacceptable in today’s democratic societies; and assert that it violates those human rights of children. The trend in the world is that more and more countries have passed bills to protect children from the practice of physical abuse as a disciplinary measure both at home and in school settings (Trocme, & Durrant, 2003).
In conclusion, physical punishment is a controversial topic. It is hard to answer whether parents should use physical punishment of their children or not when disciplining them. In fact, a large number of parents still use some form of punishment that involves inflicting physical pain when disciplining their children. They think that disciplining children is their rights and responsibility. Some parents’ success today results from their parents’ physical punishment disciplines. Also, those parents think that parents think that physical punishment is a highly efficient and immediately effective disciplinary option for correcting misbehaviour. Not only does one child behave properly, but all other children in a family follow as well. On the contrary, the supporters of physical punishment ban advocate that physical punishment is a kind of physical abuse and violate the human rights children. In addition, research studies discussed above, demonstrate that physical punishment can lead to emotional and behavioural problems, such as depression, antisocial behaviours, family violence, and other criminal activities. If children are physically punished by their parents, they learn that when they are angry and upset in the future, hitting is appropriate behaviour for relief. Therefore, physical punishment opponents think that disciplining children by means of hitting them is not harmonious with today’s modern societies. Research and expert opinion strongly suggests that due to the negative outcomes associated with regular physical punishment, it is recommended that parents primarily use non-physical methods of discipline such as reasoning and time outs with the cautious use non-abusive physical punishment such as spanking.
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