The disadvantages of physical punishment for children

From 1990 to 2010, there has been a growing trend for adults in the United States to favour alternative discipline methods over physical punishment, according to the Religious Tolerance website. Dr. Peter Newell, of the End Punishment of Children organisation, states, "All people have the right to protection of their physical integrity, and children are people too."


The phrase "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is commonly quoted to justify physical punishment 5. Rather than being from the Bible, this particular phrase is from a 17th century satirical poem by Samuel Butler, called "Hudibras," which pointed out Puritan hypocrisy. However, Butler probably got the idea from the Bible, which does advocate using a rod in Proverbs 13, 22, 23 and 29. Other well-worn arguments include the claim that spanking works better than other methods. The Family Research Lab of New Hampshire University in 1994, cited by the Education Resources Information Center, states that the main reason for the perpetuation of this method is selective inattention by adults who simply fail to notice the times when spanking doesn't work, rather than to challenge their own beliefs 4.


Physically punishing a child teaches them that the adult is displeased, but it may not help them understand the reason for the displeasure. The distress and confusion caused by the punishment is unlikely to allow the child to reflect on his behaviour. Physical punishment teaches children that "might makes right" and makes the child afraid and resentful of the adult administering it. According to educator John Holt, "When we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks."


Physically punishing a child can lead to serious injuries, no matter what the initial intentions are of the person administering it. The International Debate Education Association cites examples of school students requiring treatment for nerve and muscle damage, broken arms and cerebral haemorrhage after receiving corporal punishment 3. Spanking a child's buttocks can damage the spine and the sciatic nerve that leads to the leg. The buttocks also are a sexual region to which some adults can derive pleasure from administering punishment, a situation that can quickly degenerate into abuse.


As of 2010, the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment of Children reports that in 29 countries it is illegal for a parent or anyone else to spank a child 2. According to the International Debate Education Association, all industrialised countries have now banned corporal punishment in schools with the exception of the United States, Canada and one state in Australia 3.

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