What is Happening?
With a robust doctrine of Common Grace in place, what are we to understand about corporal punishment and its effects on our children? An attempt to discover what is happening inside our children when they receive corporal punishment must be sought out. For this Christians must differ to expert psychologists in the areas of parent socialization and punishment of children. Christians must listen to those in the common kingdom who have studied the effects of corporal punishment on children and published in peer reviewed journals. Christians must also understand humanity’s proclivity toward rebellion and therefore while appreciating the expertise of those in the common kingdom, Christians are called to guard everything they receive and recognize bias.(1)
The goal in disciplining is not necessarily immediate compliance but may be better thought of as children developing internal controls to long term socialization.(2) This is commonly referred to as moral internalization, summarily defined by as taking over values as ones own out of motivation by internal factors.(3) Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, PhD, of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University did a meta-analysis of 88 studies of 36,309 children. This research covering 62 years of collected data was published in the July issue of Psychological Bulletin, a publishing of the American Psychological Association.(4) In this research Gershoff was trying to show a how corporal punishment was significantly associated with 11 endpoints when the children became adults.(5) Gershoff writes: There is a general consensus that corporal punishment is effective in getting children to comply immediately while at the same time there is a caution from child abuse researchers that corporal punishment by its nature can escalate into physical maltreatment.(6) Her concern is that corporal punishment is on a continuum to abuse. Thus the benefits must be carefully scrutinized to determine the risk of using this tool to the neglect of other tools equally as effective. One of the significant factors that help determine the long term effects on children is the parent/child relationship according to Gershoff.(7)
Gershoff is not alone in her findings. George W. Holden, Ph.D., from UT Austin has claimed that spanking should not be recommended to parents as a form of discipline because “the growing body of evidence indicating that corporal punishment does no good and may even cause harm.”(8) However, Diana Baumrind, PhD (UC Berkeley) concluded that “a high association between corporal punishment and physical abuse is not evidence that mild or moderate corporal punishment increases the risk of abuse.”(9) Baumrind suggests, in response to Gershoff that those parents who had temperaments that would predispose them to crossing the line from discipline to abuse should be counseled to implement other parenting techniques and not to remove it as a disciplining tool from all parents.(10)
Many would agree with Robert Epstein, a research psychologist and author, former editor of Psychology Today who notes that a parent should never let anger guide his or her parenting. A single slap, insult or shriek can be traumatic for a child and also cause serious damage to the relationship between the parent and child.”(11) Gershoff questions corporal punishment’s use if it can lead children to avoid their parents and erode bonds of trust.(12)
The American Psychological Association has resolved that corporal punishment can have “undesirable responses” in children.(13) Their concern is that corporal punishment can have chronic consequences in children that lowers their self-esteem. Another consideration is the tendency to use one form of discipline. When corporal punishment is used as a tool it tends to become the predominant form of discipline over other more creative less physically damaging means.(14) One of the myths of corporal punishment is that all children who experience corporal punishment will become aggressive or delinquent. Gershoff dismisses this by the fact that 90% of Americans have experienced corporal punishment and clearly 90% of adults are not aggressive or delinquent.(15)1 Gershoff notes that there is a problem with finding contrary findings in literature dealing with corporal punishment because there is a bias in scientific journals to publishing only the negative effects of corporal punishment. Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences,” 548 2 Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences,” 541. 3 Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences,” 541. 4 “In Reply to Gershoff, researchers Diana Baumrind, PhD (Univ. of CA Berkley), Robert E. Larzelere, PhD (Nebraska Medical Center), and Philip Cowan, PhD (Univ. of CA at Berkley), write that because the original studies in Gershoff’s meta-analysis included episodes of extreme and excessive physical punishment, her finding is not an evaluation of normative corporal punishment” Some of her data included means such as “slapping in the face” could have skewed her data. Robert Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. [cited March 1, 2012]. Online: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2002/06/spanking.aspx. 5 Some of the 11 endpoints were “poorer moral internalization, quality of relationship with parent and mental health – as well as increased rates of abuse by a parent in childhood aggression, criminal or antisocial behavior, and abuse of own child or spouse in adulthood.” D Smith, “Journal Article Reignites Debate Over Corporal Punishment,” n.p. [cited March 1, 2012]. Online: http://www.apa.org/monitor/sep02/corporal.aspx. 6 Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. 7 Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. 8 Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. 9 Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. 10 Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. 11 Katia Hetter, “Punishment Without Spanking,” n.p. [cited March 1, 2012]. Online: http://www.alankazdin.com/pdfs/CNN_Punishment_without_spanking.pdf. 12 Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences,” 542. 13 American Psychological Association, “Corporal Punishment,” n.p. [cited March 1, 2012]. Online: http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/corporal-punishment.aspx. American Psychological Association, “Corporal Punishment,” n.p. 14 Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences,”. 15 Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences,” p 551