1. The practice of hitting children teaches them to become hitters themselves. Extensive research data is now available to support the direct correlation between corporal punishment in childhood and violent behavior in the teenage and adult years. Virtually all of the most dangerous criminals were regularly threatened and punished in childhood.
2. Punishment gives the message that "might makes right," that it is okay to hurt someone smaller and less powerful than you are. The child then feels it is appropriate to mistreat younger or smaller children, and when he becomes an adult, feels little compassion for those less fortunate or powerful than he is, and fears those who are more so. Thus it is difficult for him to find meaningful friendships.
3. Children learn best through parental modeling. Punishment gives the message that hitting is an appropriate way to express one's feelings and to solve problems. If the child rarely sees the parent handle anger and solve problems in a creative and positive way, he can never learn how to do that himself. Thus inadequate parenting continues into the next generation.
4. The oft-quoted spare the rod and spoil the child" is in fact a misinterpretation of biblical teaching. Although the rod is mentioned many times in the Bible, it is only in the Book of Proverbs (the words of King Solomon) that it is used in connection with child rearing. Solomon's methods worked very badly for his own son, Prince Rehoboam. In the Bible, there is no support for hitting children outside of Solomon's Proverbs. Jesus saw children as being close to God and urged love, not punishment.
5. Punishment greatly interferes with the bond between parent and child, as no human being feels loving toward someone who deliberately hurts him. The true cooperative behavior the parent desires can only be accomplished through a strong bond based on loving feelings, and through many examples of kindness and cooperative skills. Punishment, even when it appears to work, can produce only superficially "good" behavior based on fear.
6. Anger which cannot be safely expressed becomes stored inside; angry teenagers do not fall from the sky. Anger that has accumulated for many years can come as a shock to parents whose child now feels strong enough to express this rage. Thus punishment may produce good behavior in the early years, but at a high price,
paid by the parent and society, during adolescence and adulthood.
7. Spanking on the buttocks, an erogenous zone during early childhood, can lead to an association of pain and erotic pleasure, causing sexual difficulties in adulthood.
8. Spanking can be physically damaging. Blows to the lower end of the spinal column send shock waves the length of the column, and may cause subdural hematoma. The prevalence of lower back pain among adults may have its origins in early corporal punishment. Paralysis has occurred through nerve damage, and children have died after relatively mild paddlings, due to undiagnosed medical problems. Many parents are unaware of alternative approaches to try, so that when punishment doesn't accomplish the parent's goals, it escalates, easily crossing the line into child abuse.
9. In many, if not most cases of bad behavior," the child is responding to neglect of basic needs: proper sleep and nutrition, treatment of hidden allergies, fresh air, exercise, freedom to explore the world around him, etc. But his greatest need is for his parents' undivided attention. In these busy times, few children receive sufficient time and attention from their parents, who are often too tired and distracted to treat their children with patience and understanding. Punishing a child for responding in a natural way to having had important needs neglected, is really unfair.
10. Perhaps the most important problem with punishment is that it distracts the child from the problem at hand, as he becomes preoccupied with feelings of anger and revenge. In this way the child is deprived of the best opportunities for learning creative problem-solving, and the parent is deprived of the best opportunities for letting the child learn moral values as they relate to real situations. Thus punishment teaches a child nothing about how to handle similar situations in the future. Loving support is the only way to learn true moral behavior based on strong inner values rather than superficially good" behavior based only on fear.
Strong inner values can only grow in freedom, never under fear.
Want smarter kids? Don't spank them
Reuters, August 3, 1998
WASHINGTON (Reuters)—Children who are never spanked, or
hardly ever spanked, fare better on some intelligence tests than
children who are frequently smacked, researchers say.
It could be because parents who do not spank their children
spend more time talking to them and reasoning with them, the
"Some parents think this is a waste of time, but research
shows that such verbal parent-child interactions enhance the
child's cognitive ability," Murray Straus of the University of
New Hampshire, who worked on the study, said in a statement.
His team studied more than 900 children who were aged 1 to 4
at the start of the trial in 1986. They were given tests of
cognitive ability—which is the ability to learn and to
recognize things—in 1986 and again in 1990.
They then accounted for factors such as whether the father
lived with the family, how many children there were in the
family, how much time the mother spent with the child, ethnic
group, birth weight, age and gender.
They watched mothers with their children and questioned them
about corporal punishment.
The more the children were spanked or otherwise physically
punished, the lower their scores on the test, they told the
World Congress of Sociology in Montreal over the weekend.
"The cognitive ability of the children who were not spanked
in either of the two sample weeks increased, and the cognitive
ability of children who were frequently spanked decreased,"
He said it was not a case of the spanked child losing
ability, but rather not gaining it as quickly as he or she
"The children who were spanked didn't get dumber," Straus
said. "What the study showed is that spanking is associated
with falling behind the average rate of cognitive development,
not an absolute decrease in cognitive ability."
Straus said it seemed that parents who did not hit their
children reasoned more with them to control their behavior.
"We found that the less corporal punishment mothers in this
sample used, the more cognitive stimulation they provided to the
child," Straus said.
Straus said there was a trend against slapping and spanking
children in the United States, but studies show most parents
still do hit their children. He thinks there should be an
"If parents knew the risk they were exposing their children
to when they spank, I am convinced millions would stop," Straus
The Beaten May Become Beaters
by Ralph S. Welsh, Ph. D.
Several days ago, I was interviewing the mother of an angry and
assaultive 12-year-old boy. She said her son was "bad" but she was
trying hard to change his "attitude."
When I asked her what she was doing to teach him how to behave, she
grinned and pulled a man's belt out of her purse saying "I
use this -- so does his father. We're not together, but I sent him
over to visit his father yesterday so his father could beat him
because he got suspended from school."
What I have learned over the years is that virtually all parents of
angry adolescent youths keep the tools of discipline handy—the
belt in the drawer, or the paddle hanging by the kitchen door,
ready for instant action.
After seeing more than 3,000 juvenile delinquents, I can now say
with absolute certainty that:
1. Contrary to popular belief, delinquents are never found in
permissive families. The more aggressive a delinquent is, the more
likely he was beaten with a belt, extension cord, board or a fist.
2. As the severity of punishment in the delinquent's
developmental history increases, so does the probability he will
engage in violent acts.
3. Chronic aggressive offenders who were never hit with a belt,
board, extension cord or fist are virtually non-existent.
4. Children who were born with behavioral disorders (such as
hyperactivity) are hit the most and have the highest probability of
5. Most wife-abusers were beaten children; the most aggressive
wife-abusers also witnessed their mothers being hit.
Since our research is often unsettling to parents who believe in
spanking children, or were hit themselves, they frequently say to
me, "Well, I was raised on the belt and I turned out fine; I've
used the belt on all my children, and they're doing fine too."
Unfortunately, using a small sample as evidence for a theory is
Most children raised on corporal punishment turn out fine, but the
risk of the opposite is clearly there. Corporal punishment is like
a poison; a little bit of it may not hurt you, but who needs it?
In our studies, we found that physically over-punished children who
in many respects appear to be responsible, functional members of
society, also exhibit insensitivity and irritability; bad tempers
and premature heart disease. (We now know that the Type A
personality most prone to heart disease is the one with a lot of
hostility engendered by early and excessive physical discipline.)
They exhibit depression (anger turned inward), over-aggressiveness
toward their own children, behavioral inflexibility and use
of alcohol and drugs. They are more likely to be school dropouts.
Although corporal punishment can at times, temporarily derail
misbehavior, its long-term consequences are clearly negative.
A child is like a fine watch; sometimes a good whack can make it
work temporarily, but it has the potential to permanently damage
the fine mechanism.
For those who are still unconvinced that corporal punishment
produces violent teenagers, try tying up a dog (especially a
potentially aggressive one like a Doberman or a Pit Bull) and beat
it regularly. In time you'll have an attack dog. Do we really
want attack children?
There are a thousand-and-one alternatives to physical punishment for
changing behavior—techniques, by the way, that are a whole lot
more effective in making bad kids good.
Dr. Welsh is a clinical psychologist practicing in Bridgeport, Connecticut.