Would you spank your child?
BY KUSH AZRAEL
Many parents still spank their children, although probably less often than their parents did. It is estimated that 85 percent of children will have received a spanking or something harsher by the time they reach high school.
There is still a lot of controversy around whether or not to use physical discipline.
According to the Committee for Children, the purpose of discipline is “to encourage moral, physical and intellectual development and a sense of responsibility in children.”
Some experts say that physical discipline leads to lower self-esteem, increases anxiety and fear, makes children more aggressive and increases resistance.
“I whoop my kids when they need it, but I don’t think I’m abusing them,” said Renee Hunter of Euclid, a mother of two.
However, most child-abuse cases don’t come from people trying to hurt their children, but instead from parents trying to teach the child a lesson that leads to an injury happening.
Physical discipline is increasingly being viewed as a violation of children’s rights, all around the world. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a directive in 2006 calling physical punishment “legalized violence against children” that should be eliminated in all settings.
Nineteen states still allow physical discipline in schools.
Both California and Massachusetts have attempted, without success, to pass bills that would ban physical discipline by parents.
Delawarehas become the first state to pass a controversial law that outlaws physical discipline of children.
Twenty-four countries, mostly in Europe, but also South America, Israel and New Zealand, have bans on physical discipline.
Evette Moton, a local Guardian Ad Litem (an advocate for a child whose welfare is a matter of concern for the court), agrees that research has shown that physical discipline is not effective.
“It teaches children to resolve problems with aggression,” said Moton.
A child’s sex also seems to play a role. Boys are usually stereotyped as being more unruly than girls and tend to be spanked more often.
“Studies suggest parents feel boys need more physical punishment because their behaviors are perceived as being more aggressive or because moms and dads want to ‘toughen them up,’ says spanking researcher, Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D, a child development professor at the University of Texas.
The studies used by proponents and opponents can be misleading. You can’t study physical discipline the same way you do with drugs. The findings may point to an association between spanking and negative or positive outcomes rather than clear cut cause and effect.
Physical discipline advocate and psychologist, Dr. Diana Baurmind of the University of California, believes social scientists have overstepped the evidence by saying that spanking caused lasting harm to a child.
Baurmind says that the studies cited by opponents of physical punishment often do not adequately distinguish the effects of spanking, as practiced by non-abusive parents, from the impact of severe physical punishment and abuse. Nor do they consider other factors that might account for problems later in life, like whether parents are rejecting or whether defiant or aggressive children might be more likely to be spanked in the first place.
According to the Report on Physical Punishment in theUnited Statessome research has found that physical discipline has negative effects on White children but not Black children.
A 2007 study published in Family Relations found that Black parents are 9 percent more likely to spank their children than White parents are.
Some researchers believe that Black parents spank their children because of the legacy of slavery and the Jim Crow era, where Black parents had to be diligent in teaching their children racial etiquette. Others say that it’s rooted in fear in that if parents don’t demand obedience someone else will.
Many Black parents will tell you that they use physical discipline so their children don’t get in trouble outside the home. They also say the consequences for a Black child who steps out of line are more dangerous than for a White child.
In a USA Weekend interview, even First Lady Michelle Obama admitted to spanking her daughter, Malia, once or twice when she was little but said it was “completely ineffective.”
There are many people trying to change Black parents’ attitude toward physical discipline.
The Harlem Children’s Zone, a non-profit organization that provides education and social services to a 100-block area inNew York, is trying to teach Black parents that physical discipline isn’t the answer. The organization has classes for parents that talk about why physical discipline can be harmful and why it shouldn’t be used.
“I think it’s a lazy way to discipline children,” said Moton.