IN PUBLIC FORUMS on the internet, we have lively debates over whether Hitler was a hero or whether or not the holocaust ever occurred. We could also probably find a debate over whether slavery ever existed in the United States. We might even get an argument that the Earth is flat and always has been. And, given what has also yet to become common knowledge, we can still find arguments in favor of hitting young children as a form of punishment.

For example, those who developed through their formative years having adopted as a part of their belief system that adults hit children as an acceptable practice will take on this treatment of children as a belief not dissimilar to the religious beliefs they’ve adopted during this same stage of development. And, these are beliefs that tend to become deeply ingrained.

Those who happen to overcome and evolve beyond such irrational belief systems seem to be the exception to the rule. Sadly, it would seem that few children are able to avoid early childhood brainwashing to a particular religion or orientation. Typically, our little ones will buy into what we feed them lock, stock and barrel.

Herein lies the problem of change in the face of overwhelming evidence. Let’s liken this change to telling a grown man that his name is actually Archibald instead of Joe. Lot’s of luck. It’s going to take awhile, no doubt, and repeated efforts are in order.

So, once again, let’s try driving home the facts that carry with them the hope of breaking through just a few more of those bigoted obstacles still standing in the way of social progress.

To begin with, I feel it’s most important to make it very clearly known to any and all concerned that the debate on spanking within the scientific and academic communities is dead and has been for a number of years. The most substantial indicator of this development is evidenced by the fact that virtually every professional organization in the U.S. and Canada concerned with the care and treatment of children has taken a public stance against the practice of spanking.

Based on the overwhelming accumulation of research conducted over the past 50 plus years linking spanking to a number of risk factors, the professional consensus against this practice has grown to world-wide proportions … even to the extent that Sweden, Finland, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Denmark, Hungary, Israel, Cyprus, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Germany, Latvia, Iceland, Romania, Greece, New Zealand, Venezuela, Spain, Portugal, Chile, Uruguay, and Ukraine have all legislated total bans on spanking … with Italy, South Africa, Scotland, Canada, and Ireland apparently in the process of following suit. It should also be noted that every industrialized country in the world has banned spanking in schools. The evidence is in, and the evidence has found against the practice of spanking in a compellingly conclusive manner.

Just as one might find supportive views toward spanking being promoted (typically) on web sites sponsored by fundamentalist Christian sects, so can one find supportive views promoting Homophobia, Racism, Misogyny, and other “hate group” propaganda. Because the actual agendas of these sites are often deceptively disguised by organizational titles such as “Family Council”, “People’s Choice”, “Rights and Freedoms”, etc., people are forced to exercise a highly judicious discernment of the information being made available on the Internet. Some web surfers have had to learn the hard way that the Internet abounds with persuasive presentations of “facts and figures” that can prove to represent nothing more than religious, political, or philosophical attempts to spread self-serving misinformation.

Having spent over 30 years examining and evaluating the research on spanking children, I am able to state with a high degree of confidence that there has never been a peer-reviewed study that has been able to establish the efficacy of spanking as a means of long-term behavior modification; as an effective teaching modality; as an effective punishment or as a means of instilling self-discipline. Nor has there been published research findings in peer-reviewed professional journals that served to refute previous research. This previous research found spanking to be associated with a risk for undesirable emotional consequences; a risk for physical injury; a risk of counter-productive behavioral outcomes; a risk for the onset of dependence on external controls and a proclivity toward authority-directed behavior. Moreover, there has never been research data finding that spanking carries no risk to the quality of the parent-child relationship (and I should add that conservative editorial reviews of previous research findings do not constitute actual research, as is sometimes claimed to be the case).

Nevertheless, there are some spankers who will find reasons to dismiss, ignore, or discount the research findings of field conducted experimental studies related to the Social Sciences. It is especially these folks that I’d like to address concerning alarming new research findings which represent the most severe consequences of physical punishment yet discovered … while doing so in the form of documented scientific proof.*

These revelations have come through studies in brain research having provided Cat Scan images showing an abnormal lack of brain development (within the portion of the brain responsible for emotional functioning) in children who had been subject to spankings as a punitive measure. For the sake of sample homogeneity, the researchers chose subjects for their study that had been categorized as “abused” children. Common sense tells us that this does not eliminate the possibility of a lesser degree of brain damage occurring to spanked children who are subjected to a lesser degree of non-injurious violence. In other words, it would be ludicrous to assume that a child must first suffer bruises, cuts, or welts (or other injuries), before brain damage can take place as a result of the physical punishments. Rather, it is much more logical to deduce that acts of physical aggression toward young children can disrupt or prevent the optimal conditions necessary to facilitate a normal process of healthy brain development.

As far as I’m concerned, this new area of research (apparently not yet freely available on the Internet) represents the most compelling, undeniable reason that has yet been discovered to persuade parents to stop (or never start) striking their children as a punitive measure. And I hope any pro-spankers reading this feel the same way. It’s difficult to imagine any parent who would be willing to treat their child in a way that might carry even a remote risk of causing a measure of brain damage to their child.

In spite of having said all of that, we should not need research to end the practice of striking children any more than we needed research to end the practice of striking wives. As a society, there was no need for research findings to convince us of the harmful effects associated with the practice of wives being physically punished.

Instead, when society reached the point of being no longer willing to grant social tolerance to the tradition of husbands physically disciplining their wives, our decision to do so was based on our having progressed socially into the higher morality of a greater humanity. Perhaps, the next step in forward progress should come by way of reaching a decision to begin recognizing children as also being deserving of those same protections against being struck.

No longer do we see any adult members of our society remaining outside the jurisdiction of the protective laws once enjoyed by only the more privileged and “deserving” (namely white males who made the laws), regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic group or sexual orientation. None of our adult citizens remain legally unprotected from being violated through harassment, threats, defamation, discrimination or being victimized by violence to any degree or form. So, given our heritage of bestowing a greater humanity upon those of a lower social status by welcoming them as our equals in the eyes of the law (in terms of violent treatment), would it be so out of character for us to also shelter the younger, weaker members of our society by allowing them to join those of us already sharing in the security and comfort of safety that is provided under the umbrella of legal protections from violence?

Bringing our little ones into the fold really doesn’t seem all that magnanimous if we keep in mind that we’ve already been willing to share the shelter of our umbrella of assault laws with even the most vicious of hardened adult criminals. After all, children are the very last segment of our shared human collective who still remain as fair game for being subjected to acts of physical aggression. We display a strange sense of priorities when we don’t allow the prison guard to break-out a paddle and start whacking away on the disobedient buttocks of a sociopathic death-row inmate who kills for the rush it gives him, yet we find helpless, defenseless young children deserving of such treatment.

We characterize corporal punishments of prison inmates as Cruel and Unusual Punishment, Guard Brutality and Aggravated Assault. And, should the physical punishments be repeated as a routine punitive measure, such treatment of prisoners would fall under the definition of torture.

Why would a murderous inmate be less subject to physical discipline than a helpless 3-year-old child?

Logically, morally, humanely and scientifically, the debate on spanking is dead … save for those who would object to further social progress.

As we evolve as a society, we have to keep in mind that historically there was a time when it was acceptable to legally own other people; a time when the mentally ill were generally considered to be possessed by evil spirits; a time when men legally shot each other in officiated duels; a time when public hangings were attended as a family outing complete with picnic basket; a time when public floggings were considered acceptable punishment; a time when it was a gentleman’s agreement that husbands should not beat their wives with a switch that was ‘bigger-round than your thumb’ (which later became known as ‘the rule of thumb’); and there was a time when there were no laws against parents severely beating their children (killing children was unacceptable, of course, but an occasional accidental maiming as a result of disciplinary measures was tolerated).

Obviously, we no longer permit these punishments. The time has come for us to further our level of social sophistication by coming to a general agreement that any degree of physical punishment used against children is as socially unacceptable and repugnant as those past violent behaviors we have chosen to put behind us.

© 2001  James C. Talbot

Author of The Road To Positive Discipline: A Parent’s Guide