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The Problem Of Spanking


Richard Cross traces the history and cultural background of corporal punishment.

And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger.
– St. Paul to the Ephesians

Moral excellence is concerned with pleasures and pains: it is on account of the pleasure that we do bad things, and on account of the pain that we abstain from noble ones. Hence we ought to have been brought up in a particular way from our very youth, as Plato says, so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; for this is the right education.
– Aristotle, Ethics: Book 2


What is happening with corporal punishment?

Spanking, or corporal punishment (CP), may be on the road to becoming an endangered species, and there are people across the political and religious spectrums who will be saying good riddance. Until thirty years ago, CP was nearly universally used by parents on toddlers and was utilized somewhat less with children and adolescents. Despite its popularity among parents and teachers (as a child, I recall having a different take on the matter) CP has been banned in schools by legislation in twenty-six states, up from nine states in 1985, and a mere handful of states in 1975. An "abolitionist" movement has enjoyed legislative success in virtually every state where the ban proposals made it out of committee. One of the few significant defeats occurred in 1994 in Illinois where Governor Jim Edgar vetoed a bill to ban its use in schools (he was in his second term as governor.) The Governor remarked that he had himself found it important to spank his own children on occasion, and didn't wish to deprive the school teachers with the same disciplinary tool that he had found important for the welfare of his own children. [2]

In the arena of law enforcement, police and prosecutors are more vigilant to arrest child abusers, but also parents, who heretofore, would have hardly been suspected of being abusive. Over the last few years the media have reported several cases of parents who were charged, or detained for simply spanking or slapping their children in public. Only time will tell whether these aberrant high-profile cases will remain aberrant, or will blend into the social fabric. A widely publicized incident occurred in May 1994, when Lynn Kivi was shopping with her two children in a Woodstock, Georgia grocery store. Her 9 year old son proceeded to have a temper tantrum because his mother wouldn't let him abscond with store property. The temper tantrum lasted for a few moments when Mrs. Kivi smacked the boy in the face. A store employee attending to the family affair called 911, and police promptly arrested and charged Mrs. Kivi with felony cruelty to children. The mother was released from jail after her husband disposed of his retirement funds by posting bail for a $22,000 bond. The prosecuting attorney for Woodstock finally dropped the charges after several weeks in response to a national backlash. [3] Within a month of the Kivi case in Georgia, a Colorado paper reported that media personality, Bob Enhart, was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in jail for child abuse after a spanking of his child left bruises. [4] In another incident, an Illinois man was detained by Canadian authorities after a call to police from vigilant restaurant employees who saw him spanking his five-year-old daughter's bare behind in a parking lot. Just- before the father "assaulted" his daughter, the girl (still fully clothed), had expressed her displeasure toward the rambunctious two-year-old brother by intentionally slamming the car door on his hand. [5] The children in each of these affairs seemed to have fared legally better than their parents, for to the best of our knowledge, none of them were arrested for larceny, disturbing the peace, or assault.

Political and cultural changes

Political factors

Just before these family matters were brought to the public's attention, prophetically President Clinton was preparing to submit for ratification the treaty on the UN Convention on the Rights of Children, originally drafted in the late 1980's. Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton through the Children's Defense Fund was a major supporter of the treaty. [6] Despite the fact that over 170 nations had already ratified the treaty, including the Vatican, reports on variance proceedings surfaced indicating that some countries, especially Great Britain, were slightly disinclined to run roughshod over legal prerogatives that dated back to Magna Charta. Although virtually all countries added amendments to the treaty that would have exempted compliance in one or more areas (such as the Vatican and Jordan specifically exempting treaty oversight on religious preferences and practices of children) the British added an amendment that specifically exempted the practice of CP as a matter for treaty compliance. Not to be deterred by such insolence, the UN oversight committee slapped the British with a censure, lending support to the fears of some and the hopes of others that the Treaty would, if ratified, have a major influence over domestic family policy here in the US. [7] The UN Treaty Convention on the Rights of Children, which would have probably banned CP altogether, is not now likely to pass through the Senate. In 1996, the hapless British again faced an irate public, a parent this time in international court. A high-profile case has been launched in an attempt to overturn British law on the matter of "reasonable chastisement." The biological father of a boy has brought the case of the lad's step-father to the European court of human fights. Three years ago, the man caned the 12-year old boy for attempting to stab another child with a kitchen knife. The British courts acquitted the step-father of assault, finding that the punishment fit the deed "in the manner, the instrument and the quantity of it." [8]

Although the cultural and philosophical ingredients for the debate over CP were in the making for nearly 200 years, it would not have been brought to the fore-front as a major social concern, even as recently as 40 years ago. [9] Popular child-rearing experts such as Terry Brazelton have preached against its use for many years. A holdout for most of his long career, Benjamin Spock late in his life joined the chorus against CP. But like the issue of homosexual "marriage" only such significant social ruptures occur at a time when the fundamental nature of the institution and its practices have been brought into question." [10] In the last thirty years, child rearing as a family art form, has been brought into question in part as a consequence of the erosion of the institution of marriage. [11] Professional societies as well as educational institutions have placed a high premium on the welfare of children in the context of education and physical welfare and safety, but have been strangely silent on the matter of divorce and the corrosive influence of "single parenting," each of which have demonstrably adverse consequences on children which rival if not surpass the deleterious effects of child abuse in the form of beating. [12]

In 1971 the National Educational Association was the first major professional group to go on record formally opposing the use of CP. [13] Within a few years, numerous professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, also issued formal statements condemning the use of CP in child rearing. In 1975, at the prompting of Adah Maurer [14] whose tenacious opposition dates back to the early 1960's, the American Psychological Association formally declared itself in opposition to the regular use of CP in child disciplinary matters. But the membership was divided. Letters from prominent members objected to the scope of the declaration, and were quick to point out the paucity of research data which at the time seemed to militate against the use of CP. Research evidence notwithstanding, abolitionist groups have been quite successful at lobbying state legislatures to restrict the use of CP in schools, [15] and have begun to propose legislation to ban its use by parents.

On a broader front of family law, to date, only Wisconsin has had a bill introduced to effect an outright ban on all CP including spanking, paddling, slapping, and whipping. This bill quickly died in committee in part due to the testimony of Adrienne Haeuser, a prominent researcher at the University of Wisconsin, who opposes and fears the use of all CP, but who at the time apparently feared even more the influence of government intrusion in the family. [16] Haeuser has long advocated a change in family law that would follow the Swedish example, which would make spanking technically illegal, but the illegality would carry no criminal or civil liabilities.

Haeuser is among several prominent children's rights advocates such as Murray Straus, [17] who characterize their efforts as a social movement primarily not as health care providers or helpers, but as abolitionists in the classical and moral sense of the term. The advancement of children's rights is the next step within the long tradition on the expansion of human rights. [18]

As outlined in his most recent book, one of Straus' goals is to harness the resources of the numerous children's protection services agencies. (These agencies are charged-if not too effectively-to remove children from abusive situations, and attempt to reintegrate them back into a non-abusive environment.) Straus views them as an important vehicle for advancing a ban on all CP at least as a civil sanction. Like Haeuser, he sees the Swedish experience which banned CP in 1978 as something of a model to follow in implementing the change here in the United States. As noted above, opinion polling over the last 25 years suggests that the public mood toward CP has indeed shifted toward a somewhat less favorable stance. [19] Parents are less willing at least to admit publicly that they resort to the use of CP as a routine part of discipline. Whether their reluctance to report their own use of CP reflects a real change in attitude may be difficult to assess particularly now that the practice may be seen to have been criminalized de facto, as in the case of the Kivis. In 1975, some 95% of all parents reported that with their young children they routinely used some form of CP, including spanking and slapping of the hands. This number had dropped to just over 85% ten years later. [20] Current levels are not available.

Cultural significance

Punishment in general and CP in particular bring a peculiar importance to the cultural debate over the definition of the family and the human person. The intentional and explicit use of punishment, whether it be restraint or spanking, carries with it coercion, and coercion is frankly a form of violence. Certainly, with adults, coercion is an attack on the integrity of the person, and is never used reasonably without careful consideration. But it is inescapable fact-to the discomfit of the vast majority of parents who are trying to do their best-that even from moment to moment, the rearing of children carries with it the routine, the inevitable, the banal use of coercion. In one respect, parents use the kind of force that the most enlightened constitutions have set about to restrain within civil society. But this use of force by parents is quite different from almost any other form of violence. Coercion by the parent toward the child has a profoundly different purpose than that of the state-and it is this difference in purpose which seems to have escaped the attention of abolitionists. Commenting on the 1977 Supreme Court ruling, Ingraham v. Wright, that refused to strike down state laws permitting CP of children in public schools, developmental psychologist Jay Belsky asserts:

Although criminals are protected by the Eighth Amendment from cruel and unusual punishment, the majority opinion of the Court ruled that school children have little need for such protection.

Despite the fact that advances are being made in the fight for children's rights, it is doubtful that maltreatment can be eliminated so long as parents rear their offspring in a society in which violence is rampant, corporal punishment is condoned as a childrearing technique, and parenthood itself is construed in terms of ownership. It is likely, moreover, that contemporary cultural developments, such as denigration of the role of child-care provider (as indicated by the low status of teachers, the poor pay of child-care workers, and the widespread exodus of parents from the primary caregiving role) and the feminization of poverty . . works against efforts to prevent child maltreatment . . . (and) place children in contexts that all too many parents will find overtaxes their coping capacity, thereby resulting in child abuse or neglect. [21]

Belsky's allusion to the legal protections of the Constitution begs a question over whether we wish as a society to see the relationship between parent and child defined in the same terms as those between the state and its citizens. Are our attempts to secure the welfare of children advanced by equating the treatment of children who are spanked on the same plane as the coercive restraints directed by the state toward the criminal? This kind of thinking fails to account for two very basic distinctions. First, that the justifiable use of coercion with children is directed principally to the good of the child and the family because it is always intended to be educative. Surely, Dr. Belsky wouldn't describe a parent picking up a resistant child and carrying her to wherever as tantamount to kidnapping. But just as surely, if I forced Dr. Belsky into my car, as I have done many times to my own children, he as a competent adult would rightly feel imposed upon. And this leads to the second point: children aren't competent to make rational judgments about their behavior, because they lack reasoning and experience. Yet they are capable of acting and emoting just the same. In the typical use of CP, especially with young children where it is used most often, the protection of the family or society is not at all the principal or proximate end as it is in incarcerating the criminal (of course, well-behaved children are more prone to be good citizens in the long run.) Rather, at those times when responsible parents coerce their children, they do so to teach them to exercise initiative in things worth pursuing, and to exercise self-restraint in matters that are prone to getting out of hand, such as in the display of anger, and the moderation of impulsive habits that lead to self-indulgence. The role of CP as a kind of coercion in the rearing of children is used precisely as a tool before competence is at hand, and to encourage its development. CP therefore becomes critical not simply as one of several activities that one might argue is within the rights of the parent to exercise, but is also enmeshed in the cultural argument of what the family is and what defines the proper relationships between parents and their children.

In the current cultural and political climate, parents may feel reluctant to exercise their authority in this manner because of their own abusive history, or because in the face of an increasingly violent youth, they feel it important to take a stance against violence even at considerable emotional expense to themselves. Perhaps there are other parents who as a matter of principle, abhor the use of CP since it demeans the dignity of the person, or fear the long-term injury to the child's psychological welfare, such as the self-esteem. Certainly many parents are sensitive to the social pressures of disciplining children in public, during that tantrum you pray that it comes to a quick and quiet end, but fear using the tools that would most rapidly assure the desired outcome. But behind any practical consideration on the use of CP, the inherent morality of its use must be considered. Even if one could show that the use of CP carries with it some very practical and beneficial results, this of itself does not suffice to justify it. Next we can address the question of religious and moral principle of whether CP of any kind demeans the dignity of the person.

Punishment in the Catholic Tradition [22]

Explicit religious support for the use of CP resides in the Old Testament. The New Testament contains no explicit references to CP as such, though both Old and New Testaments contain references relating to child discipline to correct bad dispositions and also to develop character and fear of God. The most extensive reference to child-rearing in the Old Testament is found in Ecclesiastics 30:1-13 (Book of Sirach). We quote it here in context.

He who loves his son chastises him often, that he may be his joy when he grows up. He who disciplines his son will benefit from him, and boast of him among his intimates. He who educates his son makes his enemy jealous, and shows his delight in him among his friends. At the father's death, he will seem not dead; since he leaves after him one like himself, whom he looks upon through life with joy, and even in death, without regret: The avenger he leaves against his foes, and the one to repay his friends with kindness.

He who spoils his son will have wounds to bandage, and will quake inwardly at every outcry. A colt untamed turns out stubborn; a son left to himself grows up unruly. Pamper your child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him and he will bring you grief. Share not in his frivolity lest you share in his sorrow, when finally your teeth are clenched in remorse. Give him not his own way in his youth, and close not your eyes to his follies. Bend him to the yoke when he is young, thrash his sides while he is still small, lest he become stubborn, disobey you, and leave you disconsolate. Discipline your son, make heavy his yoke, lest his folly humiliate you. [23]

The New Testament also alludes to parenting, St. Paul to the Ephesians 6:14 in a gentler fashion:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for that is right. "Honor thy father and thy mother"-such is the first commandment with a promise-"that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest be long-lived upon the earth."

And you fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but rear them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord.

and in Hebrews 12:7-9, in a more forceful manner:

Continue under discipline. God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not correct (chastise)? But if your are without discipline, in which all have had a share, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had fathers of our flesh to correct us, and we reverenced them.

In the modern era, papal teaching on child-rearing is formally addressed by Pius XI in his encyclical, Divini illius Magistri, on Christian education. Pius XI and (especially) Pius XII wrote on matters of education and family life in various formats that entail different levels of formality or teaching authority. The encyclical is one of the more formal teaching tools, but popes also give audiences and write letters for local circulation and diverse matters. A formal expression of the teaching on CP can be found in the Encyclical letter, although less formal, but no less instructive matters are dealt with in numerous letters and addresses." [24]

The Apostle of the Gentiles did not hesitate to descend to such details of practical instruction (on the disciplining of children) in his epistles, especially in his Epistle to the Ephesians, where among other things he gives this advice: "And you, fathers, provoke not your children to anger." (a) This fault is the result not so much of excessive severity, as of impatience and of ignorance of the means best calculated. to effect the desired correction; it is also due to the all too common relaxation of parental discipline which fails to check the growth of evil passions in the hearts of the younger generation. Parents, therefore, and all who take their place in the work of education, should be careful to make right use of the authority given them by God, whose vicars in a true sense they are. This authority is not given for their own advantage, but for the proper upbringing of their children in a holy and filial "fear of God, the beginning of wisdom," (b) on which foundation alone all respect for authority can rest securely; and without which, order, tranquillity and prosperity, whether in the family or in society, will be impossible. [25]

The most recent Church admonitions are in the universal Catechism of the Catholic Church. In its commentary on the fourth commandment, the Catechism references Ecclesiastics 30:1-2, which appears to tolerate if not sanction the use of CP. "He who loves his son chastises him often. . ." In the same paragraph, the Catechism extols parents to create a home where there is ". . . tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service." [26] There is no commentary on the seeming inconsistency between the two prescriptions. Neither the New Testament, nor subsequent Church teachings [27] on the rearing of children specifically prescribe nor prohibit the use of CP, but rather passively acknowledge that it is an option in encouraging discipline-perhaps a pastoral "silence implies consent." The Catechism's juxtaposition of Ecclesiastics 30:1-2, with the surrounding commentary would suggest that the Roman Catholic Church's most recent statement would recommend the principle that virtuous parents may use CP as a disciplinary measure towards their children. It certainly recognizes the importance of disciplining children, and not indulging them. Perhaps to highlight the Sacred Scriptures, the Catechism following in the tradition set down by recent popes, encourages disciplinary behaviors by parents including those that would be consistent with both parental vigilance, affection, and moral integrity. Of course, all of these observations hinge on what one understands to be the boundary between discipline and excessive severity on the one hand, and discipline and indulgence on the other. We will see further on that contemporary psychological research sheds some light on these distinctions, but briefly, it is the joint effect of affection and vigilant discipline (sometimes coercive) that has the most positive and potent effect on children.

Philosophical tradition

Western religious tradition doesn't seem to proscribe the use of CP, but could be seen to encourage its use. But neither the Old nor the New appear to explain its justification. However, the moral philosophy from which the Roman Catholic Church has drawn in the explication of its doctrine, does address in part the problem of punishment, its moral justification, and the manner of its effectiveness. Aristotle is very instructive in this regard, along with his most famous commentator, St. Thomas Aquinas, even though they do not develop a treatise on punishment or childrearing, as such.

This philosophical tradition on punishment cannot be properly conceived without it being positioned within the broader educational context. Punishment of any sort cannot be adequately understood simply as an efficient way to suppress behavior. Punishment in general, and CP in particular are conceived as parts of an educational practice, wherein all the parts-punishment being only one-contribute some essential element to the formation of virtue for the child.

In this educational philosophy, the moral justification of punishment in general entails the justification of CP in particular. The exercise of CP specifically would be simply a matter of prudence on the part of the parents. The judgment is prudential because the point of punishment of any sort is to enforce a mandate of legitimate authority and to be instructive of the mandate. It is essentially a question of prudence over whether any sort of punishment, corporal or otherwise, will serve both purposes.

Is CP in this tradition an essential component in character formation? Frankly, it may not be essential for all children, but certainly it is for most on occasion, especially when they are in the stage of toddlerhood until 5 or 6 years of age. (But we anticipate an extended discussion of these particulars for the next section.) For now, we can briefly reflect on an ancient principle of motivation which is studied also in modern psychology. This motivational principle clarifies the connection between character formation and CP.

Behavior is encouraged by the fruits of its labor and naturally strengthens the bond to some object of desire. A child desires both his own well-being in the freedom from pain, and also his own well-being in being able to enjoy some object of desire, say a piece of candy. By punishing certain behaviors-by whatever means-that lead to the object, the desire for the object is reduced since it entails a loss of well-being that is closer to the child at the time. Punishing the child for, say, telling a lie about eating a piece of candy, places before the child an option. One side of the option is the perceived benefit of lying, the other is well-being derived from the freedom from pain. This demands a choice for one over the other, thereby weakening the impulse to lie. Now if the object of the desire was evil (or the means to it), or if the pleasure attached to its enjoyment was too intense, then punishing the corresponding behavior helped the child to the good, since it weakened his appetite for that particular object, or attenuated the pleasure in the act of acquiring it. There is no attempt to obliterate pleasure or the desire for it (which is impossible anyway), but rather to direct such pleasures toward the appropriate objects and circumstances, and to acquire these objects by suitable behaviors, and in moderation. [28] The hope is that over time the sought after pleasures become aligned with the morally upright. If and when the child passes over from the reaction to punishment to embracing or internalizing the end the parent desires is not addressed by this thinking. The supposition here is that the physical dimension of the experience simply sets the stage for more complex learning, that may or may not occur then or at some future point in time.

Of course, knowing how motivation for a behavior or goal is changed through reward and punishment does not justify actions which effect the change. The moral justification for the use of punishment in general, and CP in particular is vested in the natural authority and the responsibility of the parent in the enforcement of just correction. Parents do not have an absolute moral right to strike their children, but only when the enforcement of just discipline is in question. [29] Further, the rationale for the use of punishment resides in an understanding of the human person which is both psychological and moral. The purpose of reward or punishment of any kind can only be understood in its fullest sense with the goal of virtue in mind. The development of virtue entails suffering, which can be self-imposed or imposed by another. And since children are not willing to subject themselves to suffering to become virtuous, punishment will be at times necessary. Finally – this is where CP enters in – punishment is a complex process; it is always instructive at the emotional level, and can be instructive at the cognitive level. The type of punishment and its intensity must be proportioned both to fit the deed-different deeds demand different responses. Further it must fit the person who did the deed, in terms of age, background, temperament, etc. A severe punishment for one person may only be a pin-prick for another. This observation emphasizes that there is considerable variability between persons on how they develop virtue, and react to correction.

The ancient supposition on the motivational development of the human person was that the person is not born virtuous. Aristotle recognized that there are some who, of excellent temperament and tender conscience, are open to being persuaded to do good by reasonable arguments. However, the majority of people – the young especially – are not inclined by nature to listen at first to what is reasonable. The plainest piece of evidenced for this is found in the fact that when the miscreants' wrong-doings are pointed out to them, they are not given to shame but to fear: "nor do they refrain from evil because of disgrace, but from fear of punishment." Thomas Aquinas comments on this passage of Aristotle's Ethics.

To live a temperate and a hard life by refraining from pleasures and by not abandoning the good on account of labors and pain is unattractive to many, especially to young men who are prone to pleasure, (because they are growing so fast) as we have indicated. For this reason the rearing of children and their activities must be regulated by good laws; thus they will be forced, as it were, to become accustomed to good things which will not be distasteful but pleasant after the habit has been formed. [30]

This point is a key to understanding the psychology of habit formation, so it requires close attention. Although interest and desire to do things are not discounted, the cultivation of good habits can be painful in most cases, and requires force to change. The pleasure in good things does not typically arise from the start, since we are not virtuous by nature but only by exercise, or action which generates habits. However, the development of new habits can be painful, which subsides over time if it is not successfully resisted, with the resulting enjoyment in the new habit. Any change in disposition involves a basic reorientation of the soul which comes about with difficulty and through the use of force and suffering. The force can arise from within, as would be the case, say, with the athlete who undergoes considerable suffering to improve performance. Or the force may come from without, say from parent to child. Since the athlete is internally motivated, the proximity to the goal of the change is clearly much closer than it is for the person who is at first forced from without. One who willingly subjects herself to the rigors of habit development is a great deal closer to achieving her goal than one who is not. However, one who is not at first willing to subject herself to the required suffering in the change process, may become so over time.

These perennial insights recognize first that there is a difference between what is pleasurable and what is good, and second, that the human disposition in behavior and affection is always inclined to do what is pleasurable, or to minimize pain, but is not automatically disposed to do what is morally good. The whole point in the development of virtue is to take pleasure only in those things that are good, and to experience pain when one experiences evil. This of course, requires a change in affection, which does not occur spontaneously, and when it does occur at all, it is accompanied by a natural resistance to change, a resistance which is itself painful.

This resistance is captured by the notion of disposition-a kind of psychological inertia. The term disposition in fact captures the sense of the reluctance to change emotionally, and it is a term used extensively by the ancients. The development of good habits, or virtues, would then entail bringing the person's affections (i.e., what the person finds pleasant) into conformity with what is morally good. Some affections may be naturally aligned with what is morally good, or virtuous, but some may not. Which are so aligned, and which are not, and how many, all differ between individuals.

The philosophy on virtue definitely accounts for what we call today in psychology the problem of individual differences. For any given child, some affections are in accord with what is good, but not all. At bottom, this is something of a statistical question, and a question of temperament. For example, some children may be moderate in their eating habits in one respect but not in another. Since they lack the proper understanding of what good nutrition is, they would only accidentally be temperate, and then only in certain limited sense. Most children are not naturally moderate when it comes to eating candy, though a few are. But even these few children have other tastes in eating that would need to be corrected in order to develop the virtue of temperance. The intemperance (or incontinence) in children is not malicious, since they do not set out to debase themselves knowing all along what would be the right thing to do. They are simply ignorant of the principles of right conduct that are involved in their proper nurturing. Their ignorance consists of two parts: they lack the cognitive understanding of things, but they also lack the emotional tendency to the correct behavior. Here is where all of the early "spade work" is done in child-rearing. It is sometimes tedious for all involved, and requires that the child suffer in the process. For younger children, teaching them the principles of right conduct does not consist mainly in talking to them about such principles. Rather, the emphasis when they are young is simply on the behavioral practices of moderation which takes into account their unique characteristics as individuals. Surely talking should occur, but the main instructional component is in the behaviors themselves. The understanding of why they are behaving in a certain way will come later when their rational abilities develop. However, they must be disposed to accept these reasons first by acting in a manner which conforms to the principle of right conduct. [31]

The behavioral habits that children would normally develop on their own interfere with the moderated behaviors that culture imposes. This is one dimension where punishment plays a role since part of its purpose is to suppress behavior that competes with virtue-forming behavior.

Another more complex consideration of punishment comes into play in the development of the virtue of justice. Most children are not naturally just because they do not yet understand the proper role of authority. This is shown by the obvious fact that virtually all toddlers are indisposed to listen to their parents. Their indisposition is overcome neither by explanation nor encouragement. An example of this seems rather clear during toddlerhood; most children must be coerced to conform-some more than others. Their curiosity and pursuit of pleasure are so powerful that they override all remonstrations to the contrary. At these young ages, authority carries no weight at all without force. Their reply to any half-hearted attempts to exercise authority can often be a temper-tantrum. Toddlers and young children are not anti-authoritarian, because they lack the cognitive capacity to frame their own actions and intentions in this way. They simply act without consideration of it, unless-and this is the key qualification-authority is willing to enforce its directives. [32]

Notice that in this vein of thinking we need not suppose that human nature is at root morally corrupt, since mere disposition involves pleasures and pains and not moral intentions. However, since a disposition may or may not conform to what is morally upright, it is clear human nature is not entirely intact. It is in some sense wounded and its dignity is not complete, lacking virtue. The virtuous life requires that the person be whole, and being whole requires that the person's emotions and behaviors conform to reasonable standards that are derived from a correct understanding of human nature. Emotions and their attending disposition will not simply pop into place. The change takes effort, since it entails a change in disposition, and such a change is always accompanied by some kind of pain. So to lead a happy and virtuous life involves some suffering, until all the parts come into place. Thus correction, perhaps sometimes stern, forceful, or painful (thus they will be forced), is necessary to help children re-align their desires, so that they can be attentive and learn by practice how to behave virtuously.

However, virtuous behavior is not sufficient to make one virtuous. Virtue also requires that behavioral standards must also be understood and embraced. Virtuous persons not only behave well, and have the cultivated disposition to do and enjoy good things, but also they possess an understanding-a conceptual grasp-of why they feel and behave the way they do. Here all children fall short, since their behavior and emotions are deficient in the reasons for them. It takes a fully developed reason and experience to come to an understanding of why we do what we do. Hence, even if we see that children can act virtuously, they cannot be virtuous by that account alone, since they are too young to grasp the reasonableness of their own behavior. Their behavior is voluntary, but is ultimately directed or governed by someone other than themselves-the parents. There are several revealing passages from this philosophical/educational tradition that shed some light on the nature of children and their motivational development, and the role of understanding in justice as the crowning factor in this development.

Below are several small tracts which provide some insight into the educational view discussed thus far. In the first tract, Aristotle speaks of the parts of the soul in the virtuous man, and uses an analogy of the father requiring obedience of the child. It illustrates how he views the paternal relationship:

[T]he concupiscible power (of the soul) and every appetitive power participate (in reason) to some extent because they heed and are obedient to reason. Therefore, we say that reason holds the place of a father and friends but not of mathematicians. Persuasion, reproach, and entreaty in all cases indicate that the irrational principle is somewhat influenced by reason . . ." [33]

Thomas Aquinas expands on this passage in his commentary: [T]he irrational part (of the soul) is apparently twofold. Now the vegetative part, found in plants, does not partake of reason in any way, for it is not obedient to the direction of reason. But the concupiscible power and every appetitive power like the irascible emotion and the will participate in reason in some measure because they heed the movement of the reason and are obedient to its regulations. Hence we say reason holds the place of a father giving guidance and of friends offering advice. But reason here does not play the role of a mere theorist like the reason of a mathematician, for the irrational part of the soul does not partake in any way of reason understood in this sense. [34]

Later, we read that, "Children live in accord with sensual desire and they strive most of all after pleasure." [35] The point of education was to move them from this state, to one of reason. The movement of the soul can be illustrated by analogy by observing the relationship between the teacher and the student:

As a child must live according to the instructions of his tutor, so the concupiscent part must conform to reason; each, that is, the tutor and reason aspires to the good. And the temperate man desires the right things at the right time as reason disposes." [36]

Justice is a significant part of the educational life of the child, and it is one of the cardinal virtues. The exercise of justice requires an understanding of it, and this entails the notion of contrary states-having to make tough choices.

Now the evil that accompanies one good, is the privation of another good. The evil of natural defect, or of punishment, He (God) does will, by willing the good to which such evils are attached. Thus in willing justice He wills punishment; and in willing the preservation of the natural order, He wills some things be naturally corrupted. [37]

In other words, as the cognitive capacity of a person increases, he understands that certain moral movements toward one thing entail a movement away from something else, or as Aquinas suggests, the acquisition of one desirable thing will entail a privation of some other contrary desirable. Living the virtuous life entails a commitment to the life of temperance, for example, which is the contrary of indulgence. If the person is prone to indulgence then the motion toward temperance must entail punishment of the indulgent behaviors, and this produces suffering. [38]

The dimension of justice firmly places the act of punishment in its various forms into the realm of a natural social order where the good of the individual and of the family complement each other. Since the good of the individual and the family are complementary, punishment would not be a matter of personal or collective revenge, as one might be tempted to caricature. [39] Rather it serves as an expiation for, and repair to, a disruption to the natural order of the family. Justice precludes revenge, and punishment, as a means of expiation, is not a form of revenge. As expiation, punishment repays a debt by re-establishing the correct order, as well it serves as an instruction in virtue for the one punished. The form of this instruction may seem very unusual to some parents who would quite naturally think that inflicting violence on a child in the form of a spanking would hardly teach him or her to understand the nature of his or her behavior. But in this ancient educational tradition, instruction takes many forms. Today when we think of education as a form of understanding, usually what comes to mind is instruction in reading, writing, and calculation. This kind of education includes these skills also, but first and foremost focuses on the ordering of the child's desires and emotions. The first form of instruction, and that upon which all others are based, consists in emotional learning rather than academic learning. Today we may think of emotional learning as learning of good manners, or socialization, or adjustment, or adaptability. But it is much more than these descriptions of social courtesy. The formation of the emotions occurs first and foremost by the child learning how to act by observing the parents' and friends' dignified behavior, as well as and especially exposure to the arts, particularly good music, and to the discipline under various forms which helps moderate the child's appetites. Whenever the children's desires significantly impede this formative process, either because the pleasures they seek are so intense, or they seek to usurp the natural authority of the parent, then CP seems to have a role. Only after emotional learning is firmly in place, does the education that we call primary begin and build on the basic emotional learning in the development of virtue.

Now we will look at evidence in modem psychological research to reinforce support for the role of CP in childrearing.

Behavioral research on punishment
The choice of punishment learning as an illustration (in the development of conscience) may serve also to dilute a longstanding and uncritical ideological conviction that children do not learn well in its dominion. It is in fact doubtful that socialization ever takes place without those inherently aversive events which a child must perceive as contingent on his own actions and intended by others to suppress his behavior.

When punishment is defined broadly enough to include rejection, disapproval, and other kinds of "psychological" discipline-and not just the more obvious physical or verbal attacks-it can be clearly seen to be a inevitable part of childrearing. The pervasiveness of punishment, rather than the question of its social desirability, is a proper starting point for scientific investigation.

Moral education must build upon the strong affective dispositions acquired in early experience-that affective values are, as it were, the ultimate axiomatic base upon which moral principle can engage the child's conduct among and toward others. If the wrong emotions (by whatever criterion) have been attached to certain actions during childhood, then affective reeducation and not just moral reeducation will be required.
Justin Aronfreed
Moral Development and General Psychological Theory,p. 57

Basics on punishment - I

Emotions ebb and flow in all of us. In many ways they can provide the spice of life, but also its great burdens, particularly if we are susceptible to emotions in the extremes of too excitable or feeble a manner. In many behaviors, emotions seem to play little role at all. But, as was suggested by Aristotle and abundantly confirmed in "behavioral" psychology today, when it comes time to alter the course of a well-learned behavior or habit, or to learn a new behavior from scratch, or one that runs counter to entrenched habits, emotions become prominent in the changes that follow. In the child's emotional life, CP particularly elevates the significance of behaviors by enhancing the emotions attached to them. For all the thousands of bustling events to which the child can direct his behavior at any moment, those that are "important" are those to which the emotions are attached. The manner in which the emotions arise is partly due to the rewards and punishers that are associated with the child's behavior.

The means of proving these relations between emotions, behavior, and rewards and punishments, come from several modes of discovery, including the laboratory experiment, the field experiment (where we typically find clinical researches), and the field observation. Particularly in the laboratory, the researcher has a high level of control over the conditions under which subjects behave, but such control is necessarily contrived. This contrivance reaches new heights (or depths, depending upon your sensibilities) when we find that the bulk of laboratory research on punishment and aggression has been conducted with animals, from apes to mice to bugs. What one gains in control one loses in its relationship to natural settings. The field experiment has the researcher attempting to exert some control over the subject, but otherwise the subject is in a relatively natural situation. In the field observation, the researcher records what he sees without actively attempting to affect or manipulate the behaviors of the subject; in this class of research we can include the ubiquitous polls and surveys. Each of these modes of discovery enjoys its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Declarations on the process and effects of CP will, of course, have a better claim to validity if they can be corroborated from all possible modes of research. The strongest claims about CP, as to effectiveness or harmful side-effects, will come from many different types of research. With this as a brief summary of the types of research, we can move onto the modern understanding of punishment.

The technical definition of punishment is similar but not identical to the common sense notion. It comes from "learning theory" and defines punishment purely in terms of its function: punishment is any procedure that has the tendency to suppress possible future occurrences of the behavior it follows. This definition can be a little tricky. For example, if a boy breaks a window for the simple pleasure of it, and the mother spanks him (CP), or confines him to his room, he will be less likely to break a window at some later point in time-at least if he knows that mom is likely to catch him. Further occurrences of window breaking (for its own sake) will be diminished, since he knows that the "cost" is too high a price to pay. In the canons of behavioral psychology, the boy's window breaking behavior has been punished. Another example: Suppose a little girl is in the store with her father. She screams to get some candy, and her father spanks her then and there. She will stop screaming (though she may start crying), and will be less likely to scream the next time they're in the store. But suppose the child screams in the store, and her father gives her candy to quiet her. She will stop screaming then and there. But the next time they're in the store, she is much more likely to scream for candy, simply because she has learned that screaming can get daddy to give candy. In this second scenario, the father clearly has not punished the girl, in fact, he has reinforced or rewarded her screaming. Punishment exacts a price from the child, either by way of a direct and temporary loss of her physical well-being, say by spanking, or by way of loss of something which she associates with her wellbeing. Her fear that follows punishment is the emotional influence that prompts the suppression of possible future occurrences of the punished behavior.

It comes hopefully as no surprise that systematic experimental research on the effects of CP in the form of spanking or beatings on normal children are nonexistent. Psychological researchers are still reluctant to ask parents to turn over their children for the purposes of being subjected to the possibility of being physically punished in a totally contrived environment. However, during the 1960's and 70's, there was very extensive clinical research on punishment with mentally retarded persons, [40] and laboratory researchers using various obnoxious stimuli including loud noises but short of actually spanking the child. One of the best literature reviews of this material is by Ross D. Parke, himself a staunch opponent of the use of CP. [41]

Basics on punishment - II

Factors that influence punishment

It is rather obvious that punishment in any of its forms carries with it an emotional component. Either in the narrower or wider sense of the term pain is associated with punishment, since, by its very nature, punishment disrupts a behavior already in place – and this cannot be done without some pain. But punishment's influence over the emotions is not sufficient for it to be effective. [42] Additional factors that have been shown to have influence over the effectiveness of punishment include both its timing and its intensity. These factors are themselves related to the age of the child. For example, the time that transpires between the initiation of the behavior, and the punishing consequence for a young child has a considerable influence over the effectiveness of the punishment. Punishment in close temporal proximity to the behavior is more effective. Too long a delay in punishing the child will nullify any effect that the punishment might otherwise have, because the child has forgotten what it is for which he is being punished, and so the emotional upset, which elevates the importance of the matter, will not be pegged' onto the target behavior. For example, suppose a young child lies to his mother. If she punishes him immediately, say by a spanking, he is much more likely to "think again" if he is tempted to lie at some future point in time. But if the mother waits for the father to come home, the same punishment by the father will likely lose some if not all of its effectiveness. For a young child, the actual behavior of lying in the morning cannot be clearly associated in the child's memory with the importance that the emotion of punishment brings in the evening. The principle is this: the child's association between the behavior of lying and the emotional reaction to the punishment for lying is sensitive to timing. Too long a time span between the behavior and the parent's reaction will lesson the emotional association between the two. If the association is not strong in the child's mind, then the father's punishment will lack educative value. The consistency AND the timeliness of rule enforcement creates what behavioral psychologists call a contingency-where the child can predictably associate his behavior with some response by the parent. Of course, as children mature cognitively, the contingency between the behavior and its punished consequence can be maintained even if there is some time lapse between the two. Still, there are no exact values of timing, given the age of the child, but as a rule of thumb, sooner is better.

As with the timing of punishment, the intensity of a punishment also shows a considerable effect. In general, the more intense the punishment, the more lasting its effects. [43] However, there is an important exception to the rule of intensity. If a child is punished for engaging in some facet of a complex task, that requires considerable concentration, intense punishers directed toward specific aspects of this complex behavior do not have the enduring effect that a milder or more subtle punisher may have. In fact, they can significantly degrade subsequent performance over other aspects of the task, ostensibly because the child loses his concentration over the entire task. [44] The educational significance could be of some importance.

For simple behaviors, however, like pilfering or flagrant lying, the more obtuse punisher is best; subtle punishers seem not to make the point. A child's emotional predisposition to ignore, forget, or knowingly violate standards of conduct, must be counteracted with a direct appeal to the emotions. The most direct and efficacious appeal to the emotions in those situations that would alter the direction of the child's behavior is usually through fear. The quickest way to produce fear in a child is to punish him physically. In a related illustration, animal behavior researchers have recently made the curious discovery that both animals and humans can remember in striking detail the circumstances where bee stings were experienced. [45] Consistent with learning theory, the intensity of a pain seems to be correlated with the context of its experience. This is admittedly very primitive but powerful "gut" learning. [46] Without it, however, we would be hapless indeed.

Justin Aronfreed conducted extensive research on punishment and its dynamic effect on children's affections and emotional reactions. He found that moderate punishment allows the child to internalize the parents' norms more quickly, because it gives the child's emotions moment for pause, which in turn permits of reflection over the course of their own behavior. [47] For a child, the act of pausing before acting in a potentially exciting situation is not an intellectual habit, but rather an emotional one. This habit leads the child to consider the broader context of his behavior, as it fulfills not only his own desire, but also how it is likely to affect those for whom he has affection. In this way, in the home where there is a modicum of affection and consistent discipline, conflicting motives have a chance to arise within the child. This state of conflict impels the child to make a more measured consideration of his behavior. In the excitement to engage in some behaviors, the child cannot be readily diverted even by a patient and understanding parent, who speaks or even scolds to instruct to the contrary. In the child's excitement and distraction, the importance of his own inclinations are just too powerful to be overridden by a parental appeal to reason. The significance of the parent's displeasure is veiled from the child until the parent actively punishes him. This punishment may take on many forms, and may vary in effectiveness depending upon how well the child "reads" the parent, and how well the parent communicates her displeasure through her own actions, and how consistent she is in enforcing rules. Also, the child's developmental level influences whether parent behavior will be recognized by the child as carrying any importance. Those that are important are attended to by the child. Only parental actions that elevate this "importance quotient" (the emotional IQ) can secure the attention of the children to the point where an appeal to reason is likely to be helpful. In addition, once the child's attention has been brought to focus on the parent's displeasure, only then can he realize that the affectionate relationship has been compromised by his own behavior. This realization can then prompt him to re-secure the affection of the parent by some sign of affection and conformity to the parent's desire.

Complex factors in punishment - I

Punishment in human relationships

The foregoing analysis points to an important social dimension of punishment which is made evident when one examines the relationship between the punisher and the child. There seem to be two principal components to this social dimension. One is too familiar with teachers, who punish a child in front of other students only to find that the behavior becomes worse. Here, the punishment, as intended by the teacher, only serves the purposes of the child who is seeking to secure the attention of the other children. A similar dynamic seems to operate in families where children will deliberately get themselves into big trouble as a "cry for help" to secure the love or affection, in the form of attention, from their parents. This kind of behavior is related to the more general dynamic in most children who are more readily discouraged from deviant behavior by their parents than by strangers. The nature of this effect is not entirely understood, but part of the explanation appears to depend upon two factors.

One of these factors relates to the amount of affection that is shown by the parent to the child [48] and the other seems to be related to the capacity of the child to express both empathy and its cousin, guilt. [49] Parents who show more affection to their children are more effective punishers. Parents who are more aloof, cold, or hostile are less effective punishers, even if the punishments meted out are more frequent. Sears et al. were certainly not the first to notice this effect but they were probably the first to actually directly measure it. They suggest that affectionate parents accustom their children to the receipt of affection, and so in the act of punishment, children fear not just the pain of the punishment, but also the concomitant loss of affection and approval. Children will be more inclined to refrain from the deviant behavior for which they were punished, in order to minimize the subsequent loss of affection and approval. This explanation is an extension of the thinking above that the intensity of the punishment enhances its effectiveness, since, in addition to the fear of being punished by either losing some privilege or by suffering some injury, children of affectionate parents also fear the temporary loss of affection. They seem to intuit that they have compromised the filial relationship with their parent. This can enhance the effect of the punishment. [50] Despite the many egocentric behaviors that children are famous for, they reciprocate that affection for their parents, and it is this affection that motivates or inclines them to want to please their parents. [51] The conditions that prompt the child to please the parent are partially under the parents' control, and are regulated by their displeasure. Most research points to the relationship between severely punitive CP and increased risk of emotional or behavioral problems. But if CP of itself doesn't create the problems for the child, what is it about severely punitive CP that does? Preliminary research suggests that the answer to this question is found in the nature of the implied or explicit communication to the child in the overall context of familial relationships. The display of parental attention, affection, or concern conveys to the child the expressed or implied language of acceptance.

Rohner compared the use of CP and the conveyance of rejection and suggests that it is rejection which is a potent cause of emotional and behavioral problems in children. [52] The use of CP compromises the child's sense of attachment to the parent, only if it is used too much or with great intensity, since overuse conveys the notion of rejection. But rejection is not the same as disapproval. Parents can display their disapproval by expressing their displeasure without also displaying rejection. These displays, sometimes accomplished with CP, influence the affectionate response of the child, and will have a significant amount of influence over the child's behavior without compromising the relationship through excessive fear. However, any kind of behavior by the parent that conveys rejection, will be productive of emotional problems in the child rather than a reciprocal expression of affection. We will see below that this is why most studies of family behavior that assess the amount of attention that parents pay toward their children show that neglectful parents (or parents whose discipline is highly erratic, which carries with it the notion of inattention or neglect) have the most disturbed children. CP of itself is not equated in the child's mind with rejection, but rather with disapproval. However, with too frequent punishment relative to attention and affection, rejection is implied.

The parent's display of pleasure and affection toward the child can be a prominent motivator for the child, but so can the parent's displeasure. Here CP plays a potentially indispensable role in childrearing. Once the child's attention to the displeasure of the parent has been captured, he or she may be much more open to simple instructions. In the meantime, punishment may enhance the child's attention, thus making him or her more teachable at least in the simpler behaviors. For children who are particularly inattentive, either because they are temperamentally indisposed, or because of poor training, moderate CP may be indispensable to redirect momentarily their attention to the rules at hand. If an affectionate relationship between parent and child is cultivated, punishment appears to make the child more willing to accept responsibility for subsequent behavior since he or she is now better informed.

The child's deployment of attention seems also to play a significant role in this regard. Moderate fear brings the child's attention to a sharper focus, and she becomes more easily sensitized to those explanations for the right rules of conduct. Perhaps the most striking finding from this line of researches is that punishment facilitates in the child the ability to identify with and show empathy toward the same parent who is doing the punishing. [53] In childrearing an appeal must be made both to the child's understanding, but also to their sensibilities of affection and fear, and it is in this latter capacity that proportionate and moderate fear is a salient and potent motivator. [54] But the fear cannot be too intense or too sustained if the fruits of affection are to be realized.

Fear is also involved in the development of normal guilt, which too is dependent upon the use of punishment, but punishment carries the risk of impeding the development of empathy. Through very long series of researches, spanning some 20 years, Hoffman has been able to show that affection that is consistent and sustained between the parent and the child and is used to correct the child's misdeeds is very productive of empathy in the child. [55] Further, the development of empathy can be easily impeded by punishment, especially if it is harsh and prolonged. Guilt, too, is facilitated by affection for the parent as well as others, and is very dependent upon the presence of empathy, but paradoxically, guilt is also facilitated by punishment. The use of punishment can actually undermine the development of altruism which is the natural extension of empathy, on the one hand, but encourages guilt on the other hand, both of which are critical for the development of pro-social behavior. [56] Precisely how this seeming contradiction can be resolved is not yet understood, but it probably hinges on the utilization of punishment in moderation by parents who in other circumstances have considerable affection for their children. It is likely that CP brings to the attention of the child, not only their own suffering, but also the suffering of those that they have harmed. This would explain why the moderate use of CP, which is neither too weak to secure the attention of the child, nor so strong that the child can think only of himself or conclude that he has suffered rejection, retains the desired effect of the child thinking of both himself and others. It is also a matter of conjecture, but consistent with Hoffman's and Aronfreed's work, that, in the process of capturing the child's attention by inflicting moderate pain, that the child understands that the punishment he suffers is reparative.

Complex factors in punishment - I

Empathy and reparation in the context of CP

Hoffman's work is nothing short of an elegant demonstration of the development of empathy from the first days of birth. Even newborns are responsive to the suffering of others. They will often react emotionally by crying spontaneously when their nursery neighbor begins to cry. The toddler will often give succor to pets, toys, and fellow toddlers who have been injured, whether the cause of injury is due to them or to some other factor. Of course, children, especially the young, are notorious for not noticing the suffering of others, particularly if such notice were to interrupt some ongoing activity of great interest, but once the distress of another is brought to their attention, children do respond with empathy. Our social being is such that we are naturally inclined to help those whose well-being is in question. Hoffman's researches have also pointed out that children from more affectionate homes are more inclined to display empathy towards others in distress, and that this is true especially if the child believes that he or she is accidentally the cause of such distress. Guilt carries with it the motive to correct or to repair the damages done, and in this way is a type of empathy. Here again, CP may assist in facilitating guilt, and thereby enhance the child's natural tendency toward reparation. That is, a child who, capable of empathy, realizes that he or she is responsible for the harm done to another, will be inclined by that realization alone to want to repair the harm done.

Such a tendency would be affected by several factors (such as, if the child thought that he had first suffered unjust injury, he is not as likely to feel guilty for injuring another) but these simply attenuate the natural tendency to right a wrong. Children who do not at least occasionally experience CP for wrong doing, especially younger children temperamentally inclined to aggression or inattention, may have a harder time developing natural guilt, and learning when to respond to the harm done to others. These children will be more prone to anger and especially resentment against the constraints placed upon them by their parents or other authority figures. These children have failed cognitively and especially emotionally to understand the conditions of empathy. Hence, constraints are not interpreted as the conditions for reparation, but rather a violation of their autonomy. Since empathy entails a diminution of autonomy, any increase in the one will be associated with a decrease in the other. This conjecture (since no extensive research has been published that looks specifically at the child's relating CP to reparative justice) would explain why it is the case that assertive parents (those that use restraint and/or CP) even if they do not show a lot of affection, have children who still tend to be respectful of rules. However, children raised by parents who are entirely non-punitive are much more prone to violate social standards, are more easily angered, and are inclined to resentment (see below on childrearing practices).


Many opponents of CP suggest that clear and careful explanation to the child, or an ability of the parent to put herself in the child's place, and to reason with the child from that perspective, is a vital and ultimately more effective form of correcting errant behavior. [57] For very mature children this view is reasonable. But the opposite is more the case for younger and more immature children. A fair amount of research in both the more contrived experimental settings as well as the naturalistic setting in homes has come to the same conclusion, suggesting that reasoning by itself is an inferior form of discipline, and that a direct comparison between reasoning and punishment shows the latter to be somewhat superior in suppressing deviant behavior in the short term (the long-term effects are more complex.) However, far and away, the most effective disciplinary approach is to use both punishment and reasoning. [58] Children who are either punished only, or reasoned with only, do not respond to either as well as children who experience both punishment and an explanation subsequent to the punished behavior. This accords well with the general relationship between capturing the child's attention by some event that she can emotionally gauge as important, and relating it to her natural inclination to show affection toward the parents.

In the process of maturing, children begin to realize that words alone mean things. However, with children who have yet to mature, they may be old enough to know that words mean things but are not old enough to realize when they mean things. Punishment in moderation seems to open the child up to the parent's explanations. This line of explanation has a natural gist to it. If you get burned by touching a hot stove, of course you're upset at the time of the burn, but the next time you're working around the stove you're likely to be more attentive. One is much more likely to be careful around the stove if she has in fact been burned. A verbal warning will for many immature children be insufficient. Of course, being burned is a natural consequence to being inattentive, and the social order (relating to rules for courtesy, honesty, modesty) is far more complex. Social relations demand, in addition to the punishment, some explanation by the parent, since the act of punishing alone, would not provide sufficient instruction for the child to learn what not to do (let alone what to do.)

Some psychologists and the most popular childrearing experts have supposed that direct or occasionally forceful confrontation of deviant behavior is ultimately ineffective as a teaching tool because through punishment the locus of the child's regulation is always some extrinsic source. Children who fear punishment from the parent or teacher do not really regulate their own behavior, but are simply being manipulated by the punisher into compliance. How is it, the thinking goes, that literally forcing a child to do something in any way helps her develop self-control? If left to their own devices, these experts argue, the children who have been punished will readily break rules as soon as the threat of punishment is lifted. But the truth of the matter is probably just the opposite, since punishment is a very important if not critical condition for children to develop self-control, since it mediates in the child's internalizing of the desires of the parent. [59] The centrality of punishment as formative of internal regulation of behavior is based upon the belief that most learning in children is mediated through their emotional life.

Vigilance and the complexity of punishment

Effective discipline requires moderating behavior and providing instruction that is well timed, of right intensity, and with simple but adequate explanation. This constellation of factors combine to pose a considerable challenge to the parents. These demand considerable vigilance and the initiative not to be too timid to intervene without delay. Deviant behaviors that are left unchecked, unexplained, or unregulated are behaviors that are not too likely to just fade away. All of this recalls the observation by Pope Pius XI, that a child's bad habits as well as anger can arise from too little vigilance by the parents. [60]

The art of childrearing

Even though parents, educators and lawmakers are becoming increasingly ambivalent about the efficacy and morality of CP, popular polls continue to suggest that the vast majority of parents still strongly oppose any attempt to ban spanking. [61] This prospect leaves abolitionists with the still difficult public relations task of trying to show the evil effects of CP. The case for CP here will not attempt to defend morally or practically the more brutal forms, such as flogging or caning, which would entail some considerable risk to the long-term health of the child. Rather, the case to be made here is over the milder forms of CP, especially spanking-or moderate CP. Parents will not be inclined to abandon a tool of childrearing if it can be shown that its proper use produces many positive results. But if, as the abolitionists wish to show, even spanking is harmful, then the legislative case can be made for its abolition.

In childrearing practices virtually all researchers agree on two points. First, that poor parenting spills over into society in the form of delinquency and psychopathology and poor educational attainment. Secondly, that poor parenting often involves the use of severe CP, which leads to abuse. But at the crux of the question on the helpful characteristics of CP, researchers show substantive disagreements over whether CP and other coercive disciplinary procedures in fact constitute poor parenting.

With a few exceptions such as Larzelere, [62] Schwartz or Forehand, [63] virtually none from the research community advocates the use of CP, even mild spanking. Some of the most prominent researchers on aggression, such as Ross D. Parke and Albert Bandura fall short of demonstrating its harm, but nevertheless condemn its use. Other researchers, such as Dianne Baumrind, acknowledge its usefulness and its effectiveness but do not advocate it.

There are evils attached to CP. We all know of too many cases where CP is abused and overused by parents, and there are cases where it contributed to long-term problems in children. But the abolitionists go much further in their fervor and claim universally that the good intentions of parents notwithstanding, the use of CP is completely counterproductive because (1) CP doesn't work in the long-run; (2) CP is prone to abuse; and (3) CP creates many inevitable evil side-effects, especially that it teaches children to be violent. [64]

The first claim that CP doesn't work is simply false by the best available evidence, some which we have already reviewed. Most behavioral researchers agree that it is a very potent behavioral suppresser over the short run, and in homes where affection is also readily displayed, it is even more potent. Where disagreements mount is how effective it is in the long-run. Here, the laboratory research is not as useful since laboratory time spans are usually brief. However, considerable field research conducted over several years on the same group of subjects does suggest that CP is very effective in moderating extreme forms of behavior in youth over the long run. Below we pay considerable attention to the research in this regard. But further, to date, there seems to be no attention paid to the educative significance of CP as it may influence the child's perception of justice. This is no small negative, since one's sense of justice, along with the ability to moderate emotional expression, are critical elements in socialization. Lacking a sense of what is just, how one renders justice, and how one accepts punishment, a youth is unable to debut into society as a competent adult.

The second claim that CP is prone to abuse is true, but this can be said of any practical art. There is an adage that the good exercise of a practical art implies its contrary; this means that as a tool becomes more effective in producing some good, so also can it produce more evil. Examples are easy to come by: surgery in the practice of medical arts, military arts, politics, and arguably CP in the practice of childrearing. Surely, because physicians sometimes harm their patients would not justify banning the practice of medicine. Families as well as societies risk certain evils understanding that a great good can result from undertaking the risk. In these kinds of situations, education serves a critical role in teaching people to act responsibly. CP carries some risks that are manageable for most, and can produce real good. For many children CP may even be the sine qua non of effective discipline.

The third claim that there are many inevitably evil side-effects to the use of CP is also false. Domestic violence research pays considerable attention to the relation between aggression and anger, since it is most often believed to be associated with the use of aggression. But we will see below, that although anger can follow from severe punishment, it is just as likely to result from indulgence. Emotional reactions do follow from the use of CP. The single most potent and predictable effect is fear. Oddly, some researchers such as Alan Kazdin who has written the benchmark introduction to behavioral therapy, classify fear as an adverse side-effect. [65] However, as we suggest above, it is most likely through this element of emotional arousal that punishment can have its most enduring positive consequences-if it is used in moderation to preclude the sense of rejection.

Childrearing practices in noraml families

Concerns that many parents and teachers have about the disciplining of children fall into several overlapping topics. One concern is that if I punish my child, particularly by spanking, then the child will not learn what to do, but will only know what not to do. Parents may also be fearful of teaching children the wrong lesson, much like some who would refrain from smoking or swearing around the children for fear of giving a bad example. Still others believe that spanking demeans children to the point of assaulting the dignity of their person. Each of these are legitimate concerns. The response to each of these is, however, that in moderation the use of CP within the context noted above produces quite reasonable results, with a minimum of adverse side effects. The reason I think for this is quite clear.

Children have a natural propensity for understanding that life must be rule governed, and that rule violation carries with it consequences. Not too unlike the rest of us, when they step back and look at a matter from a distance, children can begin to grasp that there is right way to behave. But when they are in the process of violating these rules, then their understanding of the matter as it translates into their own behavior has broken down. At these times when the child fails to live up to the rules, cognitive persuasion is ineffective. All argument is held at the level of the emotions, and here, coercion rather than persuasion is the only method of effective teaching. When children are not immediately riveted to some behavior, they can see both that rules appear reasonable, and that it is important to be consistent in the exercise of the rules. CP then simply becomes one of many different tools for securing the consistent enforcement and encouragement of the rules. CP becomes problematic when the reason for its use is not rational, or if rational, unpredictable in its enforcement. A reasonable and predictable use of CP is readily understood by children, after the fact, and serves as a significant stabilizing factor in their ever-changing lives. Parents may have personal reasons for not wanting to use CP, such as having a bad temper, or having come from an abusive home, where the use of CP is so abhorrent as to preclude its use altogether. But for the numerous parents whose tempers and backgrounds are not so disinclined, the use of CP in moderation is beneficial for the child.

Major psychological researchers on aggression [66] and on childrearing practices [67] make little mention of CP as producing a deleterious influence over the behavior of children. The reason is rather straightforward. After thirty years of investigating the connection between parental use of CP in home settings, and the use of various punishment techniques in laboratory settings, there is virtually no evidence to suggest that occasional or moderate use of CP produces adverse psychological consequences. Even the preeminent researchers on the matter, such as Ross Parke [68] and Albert Bandura [69] (each of whom argue vigorously against even the moderate use of CP), stop far short of stating that it tends to produce bad results as a rule. What these psychologists contend is that there are some risks attached to the use of CP, particularly as the frequency and the intensity of its use increases (a proposition that I wholeheartedly agree with) and that other non-punitive training can be just as effective. But this latter claim is problematic given what we have just argued.

There are fewer than a handful of major psychological studies using random or representative samples of normal or delinquent children and their families that investigate the long-term effects of parenting on children's behavior. We will review most of these below. All of these studies show that CP when used in moderation tends to have a positive effect on boys, particularly where the father plays a prominent role in childrearing. [70]

However, sociological studies are a different matter. [71] Sociological studies on delinquency and domestic violence do place emphasis on the use of spanking and other forms of CP largely because their familiarity of criminal behavior draws attention to the pervasive use of violence. Also, sociologists more so than psychologists tend to focus their attention on social factors such as race, educational background, and economic status, which have been linked to criminal aggression. High profile sociologists such as Straus and McCord place a major focus on CP. Conjoined with other factors of domestic violence, and economic deprivation, CP is viewed as very productive of aggression in the life-styles of the children and youth who suffer it. Children from these dysfunctional homes are most likely very aggressive themselves, as are their parents, who lack the psychological or moral resources to raise their children well. Even the occasional use of CP in the form of moderate spankings, in Straus's thinking, is characterized as the first step down the slippery slope to domestic assault. This may very well be true for people who are temperamentally impulsive, and who have a history of poor impulse control, or inadequate intellectual resources. A close examination of Straus's own data, however, particularly the data from the 1975 and 1985 surveys of family violence, which comprised a national representative sample of all families-including both non-violent and violent families – would suggest that CP exerts no practical influence over the development of deviant behavior in young adults. [72] The major determinants of domestic violence in young adults stem from these people having themselves grown up in homes where there was significant violence between spouses or domestic "partners." Straus's and his colleagues' complete conviction in the power of CP is simply not supported by their own research, and is in fact contradicted by findings from other studies on the psychology of childrearing. However, these obstacles have not dampened their efforts or their zeal to tie long-term family disruption to nascent CP.

It should come as no surprise that psychologist believe that parents have considerable influence over the broad range of their children's behavior, including their aggressiveness. Parents make numerous conscious attempts to redirect, contain, and correct, or sometimes to give focus and encouragement to most of their children's behavior. Strong reprimands, spanking and slapping, angry punishments, and confinement are obvious to both parent and child, and as we saw above these have considerable influence over behavior. But it is just as likely that behaviors, emotions, and attitudes which the parent may wish to go unnoticed by their children are in fact more obvious than hoped. Subtle influences such as the parent's concealed state of being upset, attitude, and careless comments are also quite likely detected by children. It is toward this broad spectrum of behaviors that psychologist Richard Sears turned his attention, and shortly thereafter, Albert Bandura, which gave rise to Social Learning Theory. The seminal research on the influence that parents have over the aggressive conduct of their children was conducted by Sears and his colleagues. [73] His was probably the first study that carefully examined the direct influences of the childrearing practices using CP of normal parents on normal children and is certainly the most widely referenced study of its kind. His research suggested that parents who used CP frequently produced more aggressive children. Shortly after Sears' early work, Bandura showed that such adverse influences on child socialization, such as teaching children to use aggression as a problem solving alternative, need not be directly encouraged or reinforced by parents or peers. Children need simply witness the parent or some other model who appears to the child to derive some gain or reinforcement from their aggressive behavior for this to be seen as an effective course of action. Reward or reinforcement will encourage the child in a particular situation to engage in the modeled behavior, but reward is not necessary for the aggressive behavior to be understood as efficacious.

Social learning theory

Researches into human behavior are usually conducted within the context of some theory or set of pre-suppositions. The theory can be understood and stated by the researcher, or it can have a less noticeable but no less effective influence on the manner in which the research is conducted. Research into the effects of CP are typically conducted within the context of some theory, which guides the manner in which the researcher frames his questions, establishes the measures of the relevant phenomena, and conducts analyses on the results of the measurements. Much research on CP in the last forty years has been conducted with the theoretical backdrop of behavioral psychology, or Bandura's Social Learning Theory (SLT). [74]

Psychological research on the development of aggression in animals expanded considerably under the behavioral school in the 1950's. Behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner postulated that learning occurred only during the actual performance of behavior that produced some consequence, either a positive reinforcer or some punisher. In regards to aggression and the use of "aversives" behavioral researchers generally supported the finding that an animal that is subjected to some aversive stimuli would almost certainly resort to some kind of aggressive reaction, but only under certain conditions. "Elicited aggression" in animals occurred when the animal was trapped, or otherwise had no means of escape. If it was not only trapped but also in close proximity to another animal it would almost certainly become aggressive, but if it was allowed some means of escape, or a way to attenuate the punishment, it would not aggress. That is, aggression was elicited under conditions when the animal just had to sit there and take it, with no alternative behaviors allowed. [75] The conditions of elicited aggression in children are considerably more complex, although the general characteristics of the effects of CP on children and animals are similar.

A child who witnessed aggression would not be inclined or disinclined by that alone to perform aggressively. Rather, according to the traditional behavioral view, a child had to actually engage in aggressive behavior and gain something from it-the reinforcer-in order for an aggressive habit to develop. Albert Bandura developed the researches into Social Learning Theory (SLT) in the late 1950's as an extension of the behavioral school of learning. SLT puts some psychological rigor into what parents take to be self-evident: that children learn by watching others and not simply by performing behaviors themselves. Indirect or vicarious experience of reward or punishment is sufficient to provide the incentive to perform. Bandura demonstrated that children could be easily prompted to engage in aggressive behavior by observing others successfully engaging in the same. [76] When a child observes the behaviors of others, the child evaluates both the goal that is achieved and the steps to achieve it. Each kind of information contributes both cognitive and emotional components to the child's behavioral routines which enhances the child's flexibility (for good or for ill). Laboratory investigations suggested that models seen on TV, in the movies, as well as live models had an effect of expanding the behavioral repertoire of the child both by making pre-potent rewards that the child had not yet directly experienced, as well as suggesting cognitively the means to acquire such rewards. Children would readily imitate others' aggressive behaviors in unusual or novel situations. The famous Bobo doll experiments had children observe how another child or an authority figure who displayed aggression toward toys could rather easily affect the behavior of the witnessing children. Models would attack a giant Bobo doll with impunity, and shortly thereafter the witnessing children would also attack the doll. The situation of parents who punish too much, serving as aggressive models for their children, indicated that SLT was applicable. This reasoning would naturally follow from the early work of Sears.

Bandura's SLT is an improvement over the "classical" behavioral view since the starting point is so intuitively appealing-surely, children learn by watching others. But SLT does not account for another equally important and apparent influence, the rules of the household. SLT does not directly account for the influence of family rule structures and the use of aggression under the auspices of a rule system. Clearly, these are critical factors that would have to be taken into account when one discusses the transmission of aggression from one family member to the next. It is not a stretch to believe that children are likely to be affected adversely by such a situation where the rules of the house are rules of aggressive engagement, where the parents are constantly fighting, and children themselves are subjected to repeated spankings or even beatings. But the more pertinent conjecture revolves around the use of physical punishment in a house where the normative system of behavior is not primarily aggressive, and where the parents encourage self-restraint. It is conceivable (but we'll see not very probable) that SLT could predict the transmission of aggression from parent to child even with the modest use of coercive discipline. SLT does demonstrate that aggression that is witnessed outside a normative or rule-governed context will be readily imitated. It also seems to suggest that the child will develop a system of rules in novel situations. That is, as a child encounters an unusual situation, he may be particularly susceptible to the modeling effect as described by Bandura. However, a child witnessing or experiencing punitive conduct (that is, conduct that is not only aggressive but is also understood by the child to be punitive by some pre-defined standard of conduct given by the parents or the school) sees such within the context of a ruled system. Here the effects of aggression on the child are not well-understood within theoretical structure of SLT.

Social advocates such as Straus who refer to Bandura's and Sears' researches as important explanations of the transmission of violent learning within families, fail to understand that SLT does not distinguish between the violent and the punitive, nor does it distinguish between the painful and the punitive. These are distinctions that should have become apparent especially after the findings of Lefkowitz were publicized (see below). These are rather basic but no less important distinctions. Children may not relish going to the dentist to have a tooth filled, but the child understands that the dentist is not punishing her for bad behavior. Similarly, a book that accidentally (rather than carelessly) falls on one's toe is not seen as a punisher in the common meaning of the term. Certainly, the child will be more careful next time, but does she see that she has broken some rule? A child who is spanked for throwing food, may at first be upset and angry, but understands that performing such behavior again will yield the same result (assuming the parents are consistent in their use of discipline). Here, the child's behavior may be affected by several influences. Certainly, the child will want to avoid the behavior in presence of the parent, believing that a spanking will again occur. But also, the child may appreciate the importance of "following the rules," and refrain from the behavior not so much out of fear of punishment, but out of respect for the rules. Further, the child's affection for the parent may help him realize that such behavior harms the parent, for whom he has affection. Wishing to avoid hurting the parent's feelings or disapproval, the child refrains from breaking the rules that the parent respects. The child respects the rules through his love of the parents.

A child who understands and then witnesses violent or painful conduct carried out as a punishment for some rule violation may respond very differently to the violence. These types of situations were not investigated in Bandura's researches. If a child finds himself in a relatively undefined situation where the pre-existing rule sets do not readily apply-which were the settings of Bandura's laboratory researches-then perhaps they are quite susceptible to the adverse influence of aggressive models. Children may face novel situations in one of several ways. The child is too immature or too young to apply the family rules to situations that are not too different from the child's routine. The novel situation would be truly unusual, such as the first day at school, where the child is unable to defer to the parents' judgment on how to apply the rules, and must rely on her own limited judgment, or the judgment of the teacher. In each of these foregoing cases, the child has been taught rules by the parents but doesn't have the resources of intelligence or experience to know how to apply them. Of course, parents typically foresee these situations and tell their children to obey the teacher, which effectively transfers their own authority to the teacher, or "never listen to strangers," preempting any attempt to transfer authority. Finally, a child may not know how to apply rules because he hasn't been taught any rules to begin with. Such would be the case with negligent parents who fail to teach the child reasonable rules of conduct, rendering most situations ill-defined for the child. This unfortunate situation will pertain to the research on juvenile delinquency.

There are other questions that arise from SLT that would have a direct bearing on the influence of CP on children. For example, over what time spans does the effect of modeling last? [77] Clearly, a child who is able to imitate a model immediately displays a greater emotional potency to do so at that time, than after a while when the emotions are not so elevated. Another question is what level of instructional clarity disposes the child to take either one of two opposing courses of action? For example, a child who witnesses his brother being beaten up by the neighborhood bully would not thereby be motivated to do the same, but if it was the bully being beaten, the child may well wish to "get in on the action." The context of what is reinforcing can be significantly and diametrically altered irrespective of what the model is doing, or how it is performed, and is yet significantly related to how the child identifies with the recipient of the aggression. SLT would seem to lay open the following line of questioning, but does not appear to provide a way to sort through it. Does the child see the aggression as just or unjust? Does affiliation for the model or the victim influence the emotional response? How does the child respond to competing models, that is, models who engage in opposite behaviors? How does the child respond to a model in the absence of another model who by history has a potent effect? Finally, are boys predisposed to learn certain kinds of behaviors more from one model than another? That is, do boys learn better how to suppress, redirect, or divert aggression from the father than from the mother? [78] The Kellam study as well as the trends in the crime statistics of the last 15 years each strongly suggest it is the boys without fathers who are, as adolescents, at significant risk to themselves and others in the commission of violent crime.

SLT is a reasonable if somewhat circumscribed explanation of the origins of human aggression through imitation. The reason why it is circumscribed is that its experimental development occurred outside the all-important context of the family. Further, SLT is commonly misrepresented in textbooks as suggesting that the simple observation of violent behaviors is sufficient to encourage the witnessing child to imitate it. Linder-Gunnoe has recently mounted a significant theoretical challenge against the broad claims by SLT as it would interpret the effects of spanking. [79]

The Sears findings on the modeled effect of parent aggression, as well as the increased concern over the influence of violence on television prompted the first longitudinal research on the effects of violence-in the context of family discipline, and TV viewing-on the long-term behavior patterns of children. Monroe Lefkowitz's researches stem back to 1959, at the time when Bandura's major work on modeling of aggression was becoming widely known. Lefkowitz conducted the ambitious and revealing longitudinal researches spanning ten years which came to be known as the Rip Van Winkle Study. Although this study was most widely known for its findings on the effects of television viewing, it was the first prospective [80] study on family childrearing practices with a particular focus on the connection between punishment practices of parents, particularly CP, and the aggressive outcomes. The study covered a wide section of the social strata (although the sample was not random) and was the first of its kind to test several hypotheses from Social Learning Theory about the long-term effects of parental discipline on their children's attitudes and behaviors.

Lefkowitz's team went to Columbia County, New York, a county with some 40,000 residents of rather diverse economic and ethnic origins. He was able to interview all 875 third graders from every school in the county (a formidable task in itself) along with their parents. Personal interviews of the parents covered extensive standardized questioning on the family demographics, including job status and income, as well as family practices including recreational activities (child and family television viewing habits) religious practices and finally parenting practices on discipline (including how often and how severely children were spanked). The children were also interviewed about their own behavior, and about the aggressive behavior of their peers. In addition they were given an IQ test. Ten years later he returned to Columbia County to interview the children, now young adults graduating from high school, who were about to complete their rites of passage into college or the work-a-day world. He successfully tracked down 50% of the original subjects for interviews. In addition to testing them on a test of psychological adjustment (the MMPI), he asked them about their own aggressive behavior, including their tendency to fight verbally, physically, and arrests, as well as their attitudes toward child discipline, particularly spanking, their ambitions in education and work, and their popularity with their peers. [81]

On the effects of TV viewing, the Surgeon General concluded from this study that a steady diet of TV violence exerted considerable adverse effects on boys. The strength of these findings has been somewhat attenuated by subsequent studies discussed by Wilson and Herrnstein, [82] but the general tenor of the findings, that violent programming has an adverse effect on socialization, has been generally supported. There is no clear explanation of how television causes an increase in aggression, and it may simply follow from the fact that aggressive children have fewer friends (another finding from the Lefkowitz study) and as a result the child is left to his own devices to spend his time. Wilson and Herrnstein observe in their Crime and Human Nature:

Aggressive children because they are not very popular, and low-IQ children, because they have trouble with schoolwork, spend more time watching television than other children. These children identify with the television characters and may come to accept the apparently easy and sometimes violent solutions these characters have for the problems that confront them. To the extent they emulate this violence or further neglect their schoolwork, their reliance on television may increase. Television, in short, provides for such children reinforcements that are not supplied by peers or schoolwork. [83]

An equally poignant observation on the role of TV in the family can be found in William Kirk Kilpatrick's Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong:

There are just so many hours in the day, and, right now, for many families television takes up a disproportionate number of them. Watching TV is much easier than conversation, and it is certainly easier than confrontation-although confrontation is sometimes what is called for in family life. Because TV tends to pacify children, thus providing temporary harmony, many parents use it as a substitute for the hard work of establishing real discipline. [84]

However, in the Lefkowitz study, the expected results on CP were the dog that didn't bark. Girls showed no effects on their behavior, or in their emotional status, related to their parents' practice of CP ten years before. The young men did show an effect but it was hardly the one that had been anticipated.

[M]oderate punishment (including spanking) by parents in the long run produced less aggressive children than either no punishment or harsh punishment. One implication of this finding for childrearing is that punishment, when used in moderation, seems to be effective in diminishing aggressive behavior. However, when harsh punishment is used, particularly with children who weakly identify with their parents, aggression is heightened-probably as a result of modeling. [85]

So what were the predictors of aggression in young men? Lefkowitz later notes:

[A] father's upward mobility orientation is the best single predictor of his son's aggressiveness ten years later. Upwardly mobile fathers apparently serve as salient models of striving and aggressive behavior for their sons. Identification of child with parent, mediated by modeling, probably accounts for the positive correlation between upward mobility and aggression. It appears then that a father with low education, high occupational status, and a strong upward mobility orientation, is most likely to raise highly aggressive children. [86]

The surprising claim from his statement is two-fold: 1) that it's the father that counts in the son's aggression (an apparent fact) 2) this aggressiveness is due to modeling (a conjecture). Lefkowitz seems to miss a rather obvious interpretation of his own data, since he has no data that show that the son is actually observing an aggressive model. The father's behavior towards family members is not recorded except for behaviors relating to discipline. Rather, the father's employment status and attitude toward work as measured at the first recording (in 1959) could just as easily make the claim that the upwardly mobile father is rather detached from the family situation, as so many men are who are committed to climbing up the professional ladder at any cost. It is much more likely that the very busy father becomes detached from the daily family functions. This detachment either leads to frustration in the mother (heightening family tension) or fails to moderate the aggression in the son, or perhaps some combination. An equally reasonable observation might claim that it is just a point of "common sense" that the father channels the son's aggression. The son learns from the father's example and instruction how to curb or redirect his aggression. If the father isn't around to be imitated, the son has lost an important educator in his life. Lefkowitz goes on to state none of the other measures of aggressive behavior – peer nominations or the MMPI index of the propensity for antisocial behavior – was related, longitudinally to parental punishment. . . . the effects of aggression, fathers' education, and subjects' IQ are even stronger in predicting to the potential use of punishment, particularly for boys. [87]

Several important findings came out of the Lefkowitz study and have been largely confirmed in similar follow-up studies even though the explanation for the findings have been heretofore impossible to establish. First, aggression (particularly in boys) seems to be a consistent trait that they carry throughout childhood and into the adult years. [88] Second, the more aggressive children watched more television than the non-aggressive children. The more aggressive boys had lower IQs suggesting that they had fewer intellectual resources for securing friends or for resolving conflicts. Finally, moderate use of CP in the elementary school years attenuates aggressiveness in young men.

In combination, these findings strongly suggest that any connection between CP and subsequent psychological adjustment is mediated through a more broad family environment, including the behavior of the father at the time that the boys were young, and most particularly the extent of involvement of the father with the rearing of the son. This factor did not seem so prominent with aggression in girls. In summary, adverse effects of CP are more linked to the family constellation and the context within which the CP is practiced, than to the use of CP itself. It is worth repeating that Lefkowitz found that those boys who suffered a moderate amount of CP at the elementary school ages, were least likely to have problems with aggression as young adults.

In the late 1950s, Dianna Baurmind initiated the first long-term study of family child-rearing practices of normal families whose children attended nursery schools in the San Francisco area. She followed several dozen families for several years from middle and upper middle class backgrounds, following both parents and children of age groups beginning in the toddler years up through early adolescence. Baumrind's research was not restricted to investigating a narrow range of disciplinary behaviors, such as punishment styles or spanking or scolding, which was characteristic of the Lefkowitz work. Rather, she was interested in investigating, in addition to these, the full range of behaviors that could fall under the rubric "parenting practices." Baumrind found that parenting practices tended to cluster into styles or types-that is, certain practices tended to hang together naturally." Parenting styles fell into one of three categories, "authoritative," "authoritarian," and the "permissive." [89] The parenting style that was particularly effective in rearing well-adjusted children she dubbed "authoritative," because it consisted of a high degree of control and vigilance over the children. Here in the authoritative part, parents set clear standards of conduct, have high expectations for children to follow the standards, closely monitor behavior and swiftly enforce standards of conduct that sometimes include confrontation along with CP. But a key attribute of the authoritative parents was that they were involved with their children and were nurturing, supportive, and encouraging. Children seemed to respond best to authoritative parenting, having the most favorable behavioral outcomes; they were happy, self-reliant in an age-appropriate way, given to appropriate curiosity and exploration, and were responsive and respectful of their parents and other authority figures.

Authoritarian parents also utilized high control and high vigilance practices like their authoritative counterpart, but were not as involved or nurturing. The children of authoritarian parents were obedient and respectful but were as a group more withdrawn than children raised in authoritative homes.

Permissive or indulgent parenting practices made up the remaining group. These households were often nurturing but very low on control, and rarely utilized confrontation or corporal punishment as a means of communicating with their children or enforcing discipline. Children from indulgent homes were forthright and expressive like the children from the authoritative homes, but they had poor impulse control, were given to substance abuse in adolescence, were more frequently involved in school misconduct, and were much less involved in academics (and as a consequence were more prone to school failure). Baumrind found that it was the children of permissive parents who had the least amount of self-control, the most aggression, and the most difficulty following rules.

Baumrind's research did suffer from two weaknesses. The samples that she used were small, and they were not known to be representative of families across several educational and economic backgrounds. Despite the consistency of her findings over many years, one could not be sure that her findings would apply to families throughout the country. As a result, major studies by Lamborn and Steinberg specifically addressed the uncertainties in Baumrind's researches. [90] They obtained data on a racially, educationally and economically representative sample of several thousand adolescents in California and Wisconsin. Their results mirrored that of Baumrind's with two important additional findings. They found that there were two types of permissive parents, those that were indulgent, as Baumrind had described them, and those that were neglectful.* These neglectful parents displayed very low levels of involvement and nurturing, in addition to showing little or erratic control of their children. The children from the neglectful homes fared somewhat worse than those from the indulgent homes. Differences between youth from authoritative and authoritarian homes on several measures of effort in work, academics, and respect for authority were negligible, but the authoritatively-reared children had better academic outcomes. Large differences in general social and academic competence were seen between youth from controlled homes-whether they be authoritarian or authoritative-and those from homes with little control. Youth from both indulgent and neglectful homes were more delinquent, and displayed significantly higher use of drugs, and also displayed significantly higher psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as somatic symptoms associated with psychological distress (more common illnesses like colds, as well as headaches and stomach aches.) The largest differences between the permissively reared youth and the other two groups were found in attitudes toward achievement in work and in academics. Youth in homes where parents were vigilant were much more positively disposed toward expenditures of productive effort both in and out of school. Youth from the authoritative homes fared the best across all measures. The Steinberg group conducted a one-year follow-up study on this same sample of youth and found that

Differences in adjustment associated with variations in parenting are either maintained or increase over time. However, whereas the benefits of authoritative parenting are largely in the maintenance of previous levels of high adjustment, the deleterious consequences of neglectful parenting continue to accumulate. [91]

Baumrind's work and the larger replications are very significant for several reasons. They establish that parenting practices tend to fall into styles or types, and that the major dimensions of parental behavior that make up these parenting styles are parental involvement, affiliation, affection, and control. Confrontation and punishment can be part of the control factor, but vigilance is the principal element. Their findings also show significant co-variation in both child behavior and in parenting practices over many years of observation. Parents do exert considerable influence over their children, not simply in terms of their "genes" but also in terms of their own behaviors. Their findings also show a high degree of consistency to parenting practices within a family over extended periods of time. These practices display a significant correlation with the behavior of the children which also tend to be quite stable in high-vigilance families.

* Ed note: It should be understood that the characterization of parents as "neglectful" by researchers does not necessarily meet or imply the legal standards for were neglectful child neglect.

Another important factor to these researches on normal families, including the Lefkowitz findings, is that they are quite consistent with several large-scale studies on juvenile delinquents, dating back to the 1930s. There is a remarkable consistency between the outcomes of studies from two very different approaches; those observing the normal variations in families in general, and those studies observing parenting practices in homes that are at significant risk for juvenile delinquency. When such divergent sources yield such similar findings it is time to take a long and critical look over the claims of those who would actively seek to abolish all CP.

Childrearing practices in delinquency

The notion that there is a defect
in parental skill, as opposed to a
personality, mental health, or economic
resources, that accounts for failures
to socialize young children may not be
a surprise to many normal parents, but
it is a revolutionary conclusion in the
field of family psychology.
Wilson & Hernnstein, 1985, p. 230

The social and political influences on the debate over the ordinary use of CP come from two different sources. One involves a shift in the philosophy of the human person, and particularly as this change in philosophy has entailed a conscious and public move away from the Judeo-Christian religious view of the man of self-restraint, toward that of J. J. Rousseau's romantic man of self-expression. The current debate over the use of CP with children seems to have had its origins in Rousseau's treatise Emile, which in its expansiveness, contains perhaps the first treatise on developmental and educational psychology. Rousseau was very opposed to the use of CP, curiously, not because it was painful for the child, but because it injected into the child's learning environment what he characterized as an "artificial" and "authoritarian" understanding of moral reality. Rousseau's thinking began to take hold in the common culture of childrearing some 100 years ago, if its reflection in the popular literature of the time is any indication. [92]

The other source of change stems from cultural/social forces on the family that came from the rapid urbanization of families. These forces have probably been active in influencing familial practices since the industrial revolution, but with the advent of mass media, the public awareness of such shifts has been shaped by the manner in which the changes have been described. Youth violence has become a prominent element of concern in social and political debate, and so the manner in which it is described and explained would shape the attitude about it. It is not a major step from believing that violence is passed on from one generation to the next within the family, to believing that the apparently large increases in violence in youth, particularly gang activity, is the direct outgrowth of violence within families. [93] The high-profile sociologists who investigate these matters, such as Murray Straus and Richard Gelles have indeed claimed that there is a strong relationship between the family violence and violent youth. In their estimation, an important component of family violence consists of beating children, in the extreme, but also in the use of "routine" CP.

One of the landmark works on childrearing practices and the causes of delinquency came from the researches of William and Joan McCord in the 1940's and 1950's. (Joan McCord has since become a staunch opponent of the use of any kind of punishment. [94] Their early work is particularly important because of its vigorous and successful attempt to extend the analysis of the data from the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study that originated in the 1930's and culminated in the book by Sheldon and Eleanor T. Glueck Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency (1950). The Glueeks gathered voluminous data on several hundred boys in their early elementary school years, half of whom school officials or social workers believed would become delinquent. The other half were a matched comparison group from similar neighborhoods in the Boston area. The delinquent youth were given a wide range of treatments and followed up some 10 to 15 years later to assess the effectiveness of the treatments in comparison to the boys who were similar but non-delinquent. In the process of the study, the Gluecks compiled an extensive list of family factors, including the disciplinary practices of the parents. They found that erratic or unpredictable punishment or extremely punitive disciplinary methods substantially increased risk of chronic delinquency and later criminal activity.

There were some concerns about the manner in which the data were analyzed, and so the McCords again combed the numerous files to reaffirm, in most respects, the Gluecks original findings. Accounting for what sociologists refer to as socioeconomic factors, such as the family income, neighborhood and schooling characteristics, the McCords found the consistent influence of inconsistent discipline, or out-and-out neglect, in the production of criminal behavior in at-risk boys. The McCord findings suggest, as does Shengold, [95] that children are rather resilient, even in the face of disruptive family situations and abrasive parenting. [96] If the discipline structure of the household remains intact, the likelihood of severe pathology, or crime is much reduced. Affectionate bonds with parents that follow from relatively consistent parenting produced a very positive effect on youth of significant risk for delinquency by other economic or educational influences. Erratic discipline patterns that vacillated between a punitive and lax/permissive created the highest rates of criminal behavior in boys prone to delinquency. The McCords also closely reviewed reports on the behavioral and affective characteristics of the parents and found too that families with passive fathers and loving fathers experienced lower criminality, but neglectful fathers dramatically increased it. Punitive fathers did not increase the criminal potential as much as their neglectful counterparts. This redounds back to an interpretation of the Rip Van Winkle study that suggested that the too-busy or neglectful father had a deleterious effect on their son's behavior moving into adulthood. Mothers' neglectfulness also dramatically increased criminality, but so too did her passivity – quite unlike the father. Consistent religious practices by the mother also attenuated delinquency. Every boy who came from a family where the mother was reported both as extremely quarrelsome and erratic in discipline became involved in delinquency.

Interestingly, the term "spank" does not arise in the McCord's researches. Terms that these authors use are "beating" or "severely punitive." Note that their descriptions of the beatings involved severe angry outbursts and violent verbal attacks as well as extreme domination:

A third type of father stood in stark contrast to the passive males. Thirty-four cruel fathers overtly and vehemently rejected and terrorized their children. They ruled the family with a firm grip and were verbally and physically violent with their children and their wives. The cruel fathers were aggressive men who dominated the lives of those around them. [97]

This stark description gives a familiar ring to that of familial brutality by Britain's literary giant, Samuel Johnson, who waxed eloquent on the brutal father in his 1751 Rambler essay "On the Tyranny of Parents":

Equally dangerous and equally detestable are the cruelties often exercised in private families, under the venerable sanction of parental authority; the power which we are taught to honour from the first moments of reason; which is guarded from insult and violation by all that can impress awe upon the mind of man; and which therefore may wanton in cruelty without control, and trample the bounds of right with innumerable transgressions, before duty and piety will dare to seek redress, or think themselves at liberty to recur to any other means of deliverance than supplications by which insolence is elated, and tears by which cruelty is gratified. [98]

Each of these hardly describe the father who reluctantly and infrequently spanks a small child. The McCord's vivid description of the punitive father would suggest an inexorably rebellious youth. But contrary to expectation, such was not so. The punitiveness described was a significant predictor of subsequent criminal activity, but it was nowhere close to the adverse effects of absence or neglectfulness, particularly the latter. Like the fathers, the neglectful mother was the overriding factor that preceded criminal behavior in the delinquent. Seventy-two percent of boys with neglectful mothers eventually turned to crime.

Forty-five percent of the boys who had cruel mothers became criminals. The fact that this percentage was not higher indicates that despite physical abuse and overt rejection, this cruel attention instilled at least a fear of retaliation by the law. [99]

Even in the face of deviant behavior in the parent (alcoholism, psychopathology, adultery) consistency in discipline and affection helped stabilize and shelter the at-risk youth from the law. Among boys with deviant parents who were erratically punitive, virtually all subsequently turned to crime, whereas less than one-half of boys turned criminal if they came from non-deviant families even with erratically punitive discipline. Non-deviant parents who were consistently punitive (in the brutal sense) had about one-fourth of delinquent sons eventually turn to crime, a finding comparable to the loving and adjusted parent.

Laub and Sampson further reexamine the Gluecks' data from the Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study.

The two key measures we use in the paper are father's erratic, harsh, and threatening discipline and mother's erratic, harsh, and threatening discipline. . . . The first constituent variable concerns the use of physical punishment by the parent and refers to rough handling, strappings, and beating eliciting fear and resentment in the boy-not to casual or occasional slapping that was unaccompanied by rage or hostility. The second constituent variable measures threatening and/or scolding behaviors by mothers or fathers that elicited fear in the boy. The third component taps erratic and harsh discipline; that is, if the parent was harsh and unreasoning, vacillated between strictness and laxity and was not consistent in control, or was negligent or indifferent with regard to disciplining the boy.... Our results seem to suggest that parental discipline (erratic and severely punitive) is an important factor in explaining participation in crime as juvenile, but not in understanding continuation as an adult. [100]

These results are quite similar to the McCord's findings, and can be related to the implication of Lefkowitz's work on the presumptive detachment of the upwardly mobile father. Laub and Sampson further suggest that parenting practices actually precipitate the criminal behavior, but do not sustain it. As the boys physically mature into manhood, drug and alcohol abuse are major factors that contribute to continued criminal activity since these affect job stability after prison.

Travis Hirschi's landmark work on delinquency also suggested that parental vigilance was a key factor in controlling deviant behavior. [101] What makes Hirschi's work particularly interesting is that much of it was based upon extensive interviews with several thousand delinquents, who themselves were quite aware of the lack of parental supervision. These youth lamented that parents did not supervise well, nor did they take the time to explain the purpose of the rules. This lack of supervision also correlated with a lack of parental affection.

Another longitudinal study with delinquent youth which complements the work of the McCords and Hirschi has come out of the Oregon Social Learning Center. Patterson and his colleagues have treated a large number of delinquent youth and their families in a long-term program. The parenting patterns and their influence on the youth are very similar to those of the major predecessors. With the disturbed youth, CP by itself has little bearing on the development of his problems. It is not whether a parent punishes too much or too little, but rather knowing when to punish, and when not. [102]

The (parent's) punishment of antisocial children did not make their use of penalties contingent on the child's behavior. More precisely, these parents were less likely than others to state clear rules, monitor compliance with those rules, and punish violations of those rules. Instead, they "nattered" at the child, occasionally and unpredictably interrupting and nattering with a slap or a loss of privileges. . . . nattering instead of effective discipline occurred in part because the parents were less attached to their children, in part because they did not know how to control behavior effectively, and in part because they felt personally overwhelmed by a succession of minor problems that, cumulatively, amounted to a crisis. The irritable parent who does not use discipline effectively tends to produce aggressive children; the indifferent and ineffective parent tends to produce larcenous ones. In the first case, the child discovers he can bully his parents, in the second, that he can evade them. [103]

The timing of discipline is the principal instructional component. This is where vigilance on the part of the parent is so important. Why timing is critical is because the emotional elevation of the child must occur in some proximity to the behavior, if the child is to remember to what it is that their attention is being drawn.


Temperament is the behavioral predisposition that a child brings to the family. Some children are born easy-going, others are more fussy, and others are quite irritable. Its early manifestation can be noticed by parents and researchers from birth, and can be traced rather reliably well into childhood. [104] Temperament is what the child by birth brings to the disciplinary situation and is virtually universally recognized as a major component in the relationship between parent and child. (Anyone who has had even slight contact with a colicky baby, knows the profound effect on the parents' emotions.) What is not widely recognized or acknowledged, however, is the manner in which temperament affects parental disciplinary practices. But in the study of delinquency, it is a factor that must be taken into account, since youth that are more disposed to aggressiveness may be so disposed temperamentally, thereby provoking aggressive responses in the parents in their attempts to curb these temperamental tendencies. Parents' confrontational reactions may in many situations not only not create a downward spiral into resentment and retaliation by the youth, but may keep an aggressive situation from getting out of hand. The Scandinavian researcher Dan Olweus has looked into the role of temperament in its relationship to delinquency, and social relationships in schools. [105] Jerome Kagan has spent a significant portion of his career examining fearful temperament, as well as its influence over family relations. [106] Their research strongly suggests that temperament appears to enter not only into the level of aggressive and destructive behavior, but also influences the child's attention and perseverance. These have an influence over familial and social relationships and educational attainment. Proclivity towards crime seems related in part to the temperamental characteristics. [107] Olweus also found with troubled youth that CP seemed to relate to the level problematic behavior in youth, not so much as a cause of the trouble, but as itself a result of the mother's negative attitude. In turn, the mother's attitude was much affected by the boy's temperament. Cohen and Brook [108] mirrored these findings that the mother's attitude toward the child was a significant influence over her use of CP. These underscore the prominent role of the child's constitutional characteristics. Constitutional factors give rise to behaviors that parents believe (often correctly) that they must respond to.

On another effect of temperament, Kagan has found that the temperamentally fretful newborns have more fears at toddlerhood if their mothers do not consistently place clear boundaries on their behavior. Non-fretful newborns are not as sensitive to parenting practices as far as their toddlerhood fears are concerned. [109] Kochanska has research findings that suggest the direct influence of temperament on the development of conscience. [110] Childhood temperament influences children's experience of guilt and anxiety, which is related to behavioral control.

The message is essentially the same in the conclusions of diverse forms of research on childrearing (whether it looks at families in the natural setting, or families in somewhat more controlled settings, or families who have delinquent or criminal elements): parental vigilance, consistent and contingent discipline, and displays of parental love and affection are all essential components in the development of competent or reasonably well-adjusted children. The moderate use of CP in childrearing simply does not play a role in contributing to delinquency or adjustment problems in children. To the contrary, what the bulk of these researches suggest is that far from creating problems, CP seems to have an important place in normal childrearing, so long as it is used with foresight and in moderation, and in conjunction with other prominent displays of affection and rule setting. In this regard, CP's role in childrearing seems to be educative in both the emotional and cognitive senses, and it sets the stage for the development of virtue.

Closing remarks

The family

CP is no universal elixir for family discipline. It is just one of many tools that can be used rather effectively by parents who so choose and are themselves relatively well-balanced. Most evidence points to the efficacious effects of the moderate use of CP in conjunction with consistency of discipline, affectionate (but not indulgent) relationships between parents and children, and parental vigilance over their children's behaviors. This being said, we don't dispute the fact that CP has been misused by too many parents, as has the indiscriminate use of rewards. As in most of life, it is the balance between competing influences, punishment on the one hand, and affection and reward on the other, that we desire.

Even in children motivation is complex. The virtuous person whose motives are always spawned out of gratitude and love of neighbor has perhaps the simplest motive for things – hence the expression single-hearted. For most, however, even those who have good motives, these are complex and mixed with fear. Fear is a powerful and pervasive motive, because it is predicated on self-love. The fear of being punished can be at once a powerful, useful, and healthy motive, if the fear is proportionate to the demands of justice at issue. Until such time that a person's desires are completely rectified, the fear of punishment will always play some role in the motive for self-discipline and emotional restraint.

We want to instill in our children the desire and understanding that love of God, respect for legitimate authority, and gratitude are the greatest goods. However, in the temporary lapse in love or ingratitude, and where the fear falls short of one's own shame for an evil anticipated or one already consummated, fear of punishment is sometimes sufficient to preclude engaging in bad behavior. This is especially so when powerful influences to the contrary are operating. Fear of punishment is of itself insufficient to develop character; or we might say that fear of punishment is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the development of virtue.

Behaviors that were performed not at all, due to laziness, disorganization, defiance, or insubordination, can in the face of a threatened physical punishment, be performed with efficiency, attention to detail, and with mastery. Behaviors that seem to respond to nothing from the parent even to the point of long explanations, pleading, "bribes " and considerable exasperation, fatigue, or embarrassment, can often be immediately and dramatically suppressed, in the face of a portending spanking, or as the result of such a punishment. The self-centeredness so common in childhood, and even into adolescence where children sometimes behave and believe that the world revolves about them, and them alone, can be realigned quickly in the domain of CP. In short, CP works, but not everywhere nor all of the time, nor separated from the affection and love of the parent.

As a practical matter for younger children between toddler and elementary school ages, the threat of punishment can only be effective as a direct consequence of the actual punishment of earlier behavior. Such a threat can lift children from ingratitude and the complacency about parental authority and allocate their attention between themselves and others. It also prompts them to rearrange their priorities, particularly when they encounter those situations which correspond to previous punishing experiences. This underscores the importance of a clear and coherent rule system in the family. So long as the range of fear is kept within reasonable limits, and fear of impending punishment is not overwhelming or incapacitating, the influence of such fear can produce marked improvements in behavior, and set the stage for children becoming less self-centered, happier, and respectful of legitimate authority.

Children who are reasonably responsive to legitimate authority are not always pressing to stretch or break the rules, since they see their own welfare bound in with the welfare of others. Further, their labor to contribute to the welfare of the family such as in chores and the spontaneous help that parents so often need about the house, helps them recognize the efforts and love of their parents, and this gives them gratitude. Punishment, corporal and otherwise, often initiates the labor to conform and to contribute to others' welfare, and if children see the punishment as just, they comprehend their subordinate position, and the need to labor for expiation. The experience of labor engenders, a knowledge of the labor of others, and this creates gratitude. Children who are not punished for wrongdoing, do not labor; those who do not labor are ungrateful; and the ungrateful are angry.

We live in a therapeutic society, that enshrines the human tendency to coddle. Too often children and adults are encouraged to seek coddling for injuries done not to their person, but to their exaggerated sense of self-expression and self-importance. These persons believe that the supremely human act is found in the unrestricted expression of behavior and emotion-the content of the behavior or emotion is not so important as the fact that it is expressed with enthusiasm. With this presupposition, spanking as well as most forms of punishment become abhorrent because they stunt self-expression. This loss of welfare, given its untherapeutic character, will detract from the future welfare of the child, so the thinking goes.

However, we view moderate CP as an important tool of encouragement for children to look beyond their self-expression to moderation through self-restraint, and beyond self-centeredness, to the good of the family in the proper subordination to natural authority. Clearly, children who subordinate themselves to legitimate authority, can moderate their behavior and emotions, and can station their self expression or creativity in a proper context. They can recognize and respond on behalf of the welfare others. The socializing effects of CP are empirically evident. But of greater importance is that this kind of socialization sets the stage for the development of virtue, for without subordination, there is no conscience, and without conscience, there is no virtue.

The dignity of the person is perfected by virtue, which entails the development of conscience. At the level of the emotions, virtue moderates the intensity of pleasure. This gives children control over their desires, and gives them a wider perspective on the implications of their behavior, making it less likely that any emotion will overcome them. The closer we are to the object of our temptation, the harder it is to resist. Well managed punishment helps children put psychological distance between themselves and the forbidden objects, making conscience and the resistance to temptation more effective. Over the long run, this enhances self-control, and moderates self-centered behavior. But none of this is achieved without considerable sacrifice on the part of the parent who must be vigilant, and on the part of the child who must be responsive to the parent. Since sacrifice entails suffering-dispositions resist a change in direction-the experience of pain or suffering would of itself hardly constitute an attack on the inherent dignity of the person, since the fulfillment of the person's dignity can only be achieved through it.

The "cardinal" virtues of temperance and courage demand of their possessor the practiced capacity to tolerate physical suffering. The exercise of justice too sometimes requires that the just bear suffering, but also inflict it on the unjust in the proper exercise of authority. Following Plato's maxim that virtue is one, that is, that the person cannot truly possess a single virtue absent the others, it follows then that one's personal welfare achieved in virtues of, say, temperance, is only possible in the practice of justice and courage, which are directed at the welfare, of others. In the formation of virtue, children come to learn that their own welfare is had through contributing to the welfare of others. At what better time than in childhood to learn this when it is relatively easy.

If the tantrums and other self-centered impositions of normal children are not countered when they are young, they can neither expect the enhancement of their own dignity, nor can they contribute to the dignity of the family. The lessons to be learned become that much more difficult in the advance of years. Of course, the fact that pain or suffering must accompany any change in disposition or affection, does not automatically mean that CP must be used. Adults learning a new and difficult task will inflict suffering on themselves to learn the new task. Even children will subject themselves to hardships in order to cultivate a habit (one quite often sees this in music or athletics). Further, in many instances where CP is used, some other approach may have worked just as well or even better. Sometimes, sending a child to her room is just as effective as spanking.

So the case here for the use of CP is not that it is always effective, or always the best method of encouraging virtuous behavior. Indeed, what remedy is always effective? Clearly punishment cannot be the sole motive for virtuous behavior, since its use is in direct contradiction to the desires of the child, and virtue requires that desire and the good conform to each other. Rather, the case for CP must take into account several factors which many parents intuitively understand even if they cannot immediately justify them to the critical observer. This can be seen most clearly in the case of temper tantrums and also flagrant insubordination, but may pertain to other behavior as well. In the case of a tantrum, simply removing the child from the situation and putting him or her off and away from people is not sufficiently instructive. In some cases, especially when the child is not yet a toddler, it is instructive enough. But when educating children who have some use of language, and who are developing a sense of what is fair and unfair, just and unjust, it is not sufficient that bad behaviors should go merely unrewarded. Simply removing a child from a rewarding situation may not be sufficient to teach him or her that he or she has incurred a debt as a direct consequence of her voluntary behavior. The debt to the common good of the family must be repaid in the administration and the education of justice.

Would it be going too far to suggest that the parents' fear of spanking their children will eventually entail a fear of punishing them altogether? The failure to recognize that moderate spanking is an exercise of legitimate authority perhaps is symptomatic of a deeper confusion over the very nature of authority itself. A critical component in the development of conscience is linked to the child's sense of justice, and this sensibility in the beginning is rooted in the emotional responsiveness to the authoritative presence of the parents. The sense of authority entails both affection and fear, which gives rise to shame, which is complex and beyond simple fear. Lacking this fear and its human face in shame will make it hard for children to extend their time horizons to foresee the consequences of their behaviors, as well as being less inclined to delay their impulsiveness. Children who do not experience punishment from the parents become morally handicapped because the behavioral reactions to know right from wrong, the disposition to behave well with others, and the behavior patterns that generate good habits, are all deficient. Reflecting on the penetrating observation by Aristotle, the need for punishment in general is based upon the simple observation that in those situations where the natural love between child and parent is insufficient to move the child to obedience, the emotions of the child do not readily surrender to persuasion but to coercion.

The moral handicap in the child cannot but rebound back to the parents who become more confused about the nature of their obligations. By the time a child reaches adolescence, the parents who had earlier surrendered their authority, feel increasingly helpless in the face of youth who are out-of-control or who are making irresponsible decisions. They can simply set no limits on their own children's behavior. The criminal implications of this psychological tail spin are rather well-known.

Those morally disadvantaged children who lack a well-formed conscience, at best confuse evil with inefficiency. At worst, they do not even understand the connection between their own behavior and their own welfare. In the education of justice, simply preventing a child from achieving some reward which gives rise to the tantrum is not sufficient instruction. It is not sufficient because it fails to make the child accountable to the legitimate authority of the parents and the common good of the family. Simple compliance training which would only remove children from desirable activities while they are bad (e.g., time out), does not focus their attention on the harm that they have inflicted on others. It simply teaches them that inappropriate behaviors are non-productive of their own welfare; but it fails to teach them that inappropriate behaviors can be destructive of others' welfare too, and that such an awareness should carry with it a sting. To learn about justice, one must understand the notion of repaying debt. Virtuous children must learn that bad behavior is not only non-productive, but that it is destructive, and that their destructive action places on them a debt which must be repaid before they can regain their position within the family. It is the repayment of the debt, the expiation, which is the lesson of the effects of one's own behavior on others. It shows that one's own suffering is linked to the suffering of others. Many children cannot emotionally or cognitively grasp the significance of their behavior on the good of others and the family absent the sting of punishment. Children who are not made keenly aware emotionally and cognitively of the impact of their behavior on others have an atrophied conscience. Their inordinately self centered behavior does not incur the sting of conscience, which retards their learning in virtue.

The government

Changes in childrearing beliefs and practices about ordinary discipline that follow from governmental intervention pose considerable risk to the nuclear family. Prohibiting or regulating disciplinary behavior in families will probably lead to the apprehension of the worst abusers, but with considerable risk to the rest. Those who may be remediable with some little help will be reluctant to seek help or to take some initiative for fear of recrimination. Perhaps the most serious threat is posed for the ordinary parents who will be as a consequence more likely to assume that they are in an adversarial relationship with people who would ordinarily be seen as friends. [111]

Even if we suppose, as CP abolitionists do, that too many parents are no longer capable of rearing their own children without resorting to abuse, is it finally relevant to the question of whether the government should assume the role of parent? Any legislative or judicial attempt to inject constitutional due process into the relationship between parent and child in the act of childrearing (inheritance is, of course, an entirely different matter!) may well be the proverbial cure that kills the patient. A court or a legislator must contemplate that the psychological effects of these laws may well be to restrict the flow of information from parent to child, and from parent to persons who may help them with their problems. This may further divert a modest attempt at help early in a problem, thus encouraging the problem to develop unchecked.

But changes in childrcaring beliefs about ordinary discipline that follow either from popular culture or from governmental intervention pose even greater risks to the already weakened institution of the nuclear family. Doubt or hostility toward CP for the laudable goals of enhancing the affiliation between family members and reducing the risks of child abuse will actually inject a kind of adversarial dimension into the parent-child relationship. Parents will begin to look upon their children as potential legal adversaries. The precedent for this in family relations has already been suggested in the pre-nuptial agreements-hardly the stuff that inspires a loving and implicit confidence in your spouse. Prohibiting or regulating disciplinary behavior in families could encourage children to report on normal family practices and place the parent under continual scrutiny. As children grow older, and into adolescence where open conflict can easily escalate, any legal prerogative for the child to report on the parent will encourage the child to report out of vindictiveness, or to encourage an escalation in conflict to force the parent into a legally compromising position. The potential for litigious intrusion into otherwise normal family functioning will accelerate a collapse of trust between parent and child where any prospect of love and moral commitment is foreclosed.

Social intrusion (not necessarily of the legal kind) will create another long-term and even more serious effect, albeit this second threat is more difficult to prove. We already have Kilpatrick's significant documentation of this problem with older children in school settings. Our review above suggests that this is beginning to occur in the family even with young children. Parental failure to use punishment, for fear of social or civil censure, will further distort family harmony. Parent and child will have difficulty understanding, behaving and emotionally relating to each other. The most basic emotional educative process between family members will be compromised, affecting the child's moral sensibilities.

A moderated position on the abolition of CP is entertained by those, such as Adrianna Hauser, who recommend that social disapproval should be the principal vehicle of societal change. Rather than legislating against CP, educational programs that point to its evils should be launched on TV and radio that proscribe its acceptability. This way, rather than creating the fear of government intrusion or repression, families are free to choose in the civil context whether to use CP, but are discouraged from doing so. Social policy advocates might suggest that parents should be discouraged from using CP, but not censured. The basic appeal of this nostrum is that it makes an appeal to parents' sense of civic responsibility within the context of childrearing. Surely, parents realize that their actions towards their children have implications that stem beyond the family and spill over into society as a whole. The basis of society, so this thinking goes, is predicated upon respect for the rights of others, and most assuredly parents by their words and deeds inculcate in their young the sense of society, for better or for worse. CP, as a species of violence, is inherently adverse (antithetical) to the respect of rights, which justifies the use of coercion only as a means of self-defense. In most cases of CP, self-defense most certainly does not pertain, and so its use is morally unjustified.

But this thinking seems predicated upon Rousseau's proposition that human nature is fundamentally intact. And what if it's not? In their attempts to improve family life and society, if abolitionists-of the extreme or moderate variety-fail to account for fundamental characteristics of human nature, characteristics that demand the use of coercion in those cases where the predisposition is clearly contrary to the good order of the child's emotional and behavioral stability, then such a view can only lead to a worsening of relations within families and in society. Such a wholesale shift in familial practice will entail substantial and relatively permanent decay of good behavior in children.

Why permanent? Because much of what we know personally about character formation is derived from our own childhood experience. Many of our habits, even as adults, are not the kind of thing that we can develop by simply reading books. It helps enormously to have experienced them as children, or to live with those who did, in order to know how to transmit them to our own children.

Any cultural shift, whether by way of legislation or some less intrusive form, whether it be formally stated as with criminal or civil sanction, or simply a social standard that carries with it a social sanction, must balance the good with the evil consequences. This balancing act must be particularly important in areas where history cannot serve to give reasonable predictions of previous attempts.

Finally, temperamental differences being what they are between children even within the same family, the proper and measured use of CP can make a significant contribution in the rearing of many children, though perhaps not all. It is a matter of parental prudence and discretion. Removing such discretion from them by whatever means is a disservice to them and all families, and ultimately to good social order. This being said, CP is a tool that parents must use along with a heavy dose of love and affection, the parent's own self-discipline, and clearly stated rules in the family. Those who use CP indiscriminately, who lack common sense, or self-control, or moral character, will use CP poorly simply because it will issue forth from them not as a matter of family law and a sense of the common good, but simply as another form of impulsiveness. It is not the use of this tool of CP that betrays a character flaw in the bad parent, but rather, it is the parent with a significant character flaw who uses CP badly.


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  1. Author's Note: Richard W. Cross received his Ph.D. in psychology from Indiana University, where he also studied the history and philosophy of science. He has his B.A. in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College, California. He has published articles on the relationship between philosophy, religion, and psychology, in addition to scientific papers on psychological testing as well as spanking. He has taught at Eastern Illinois University and at Franciscan University. He trained in clinical and consulting/school psychology at the Devereux Foundation and the Blick Clinic of Akron, Ohio, and has consulted to numerous special educational cooperatives and mental health facilities in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. He is also past Treasurer of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of its scholarly journal, The Catholic Social Science Review. Cross is currently the research director for AccountabilityWorks. He is married, has five children, and resides in Leominster, MA. Back to text.
  2. On spanking practices of parents in the 1950s, see Clifford (1959); Gov. Edgar's comments from WLS Radio June 6, 1994. Veto on Punishment Bill. Back to text.
  3. For an overview of the Kivi affair see: Torpy, B. (1995, October 4, 1995). "Suit Stemming from Slap Dropped." The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, p. 3B. Back to text.
  4. See: Jones, R.; July 14, 1994. "Bruise to Constitute Abuse." Rocky, Mountain News, p. Ll. Back to text.
  5. Editorial, September 14, 1994. "Sent to Jail for Spanking" The Indianapolis News Wednesday Home Edition; p. A06 Back to text.
  6. Don Feder, The Boston Herald March 9, 1995, Thursday. "On Treaty a Threat to Children," p. 031. Back to text.
  7. Editorial October 16, 1995. "Child Health Month." The Post and Couriers, p. A10. Back to text.
  8. Robert Barr (Associated Press), September 10, 1996. "Rearing or Abuse? Child Case in Europe" The Boston Globe, p. A2. Back to text.
  9. The shift in the popular philosophy of child rearing stems back to the turn of the century. For a summary of popular childrearing literature and the change from character education to personality development, see Stendler (1950). Back to text.
  10. Wilson (1996). Back to text.
  11. A more subtle but no less real corrosive influence over child rearing practices stems in part from the influence of the medical and psychological professions who, in their attempts to use the professional expertise and insights of science, have effectively encouraged parents to abandon their common sense judgements in the banal affairs of day-to-day life. Many parents have succumbed to the straight-jacketing of unqualified expert opinion. Ever since Freud proposed that it takes an expert to probe the unconscious, concerned and loving parents are naturally more reluctant to assume that their judgements about disciplinary matters are conducive to the benefit of the child. One of the only widely known professional personalities in the United States to challenge this dogma is the Los Angeles radio talk-show counselor-sage, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Back to text.
  12. This apparent hypocrisy is only apparent. There is an underlying philosophical consistency that ties together the silence on divorce with the vocal opposition to spanking. The linkage is based upon adherence to the notion of personal autonomy. Sexual expression, divorce, and other behaviors that could be seen as corrosive to the social institution of marriage, are natural manifestations of self-expression of the autonomous person. Individuals should not be constrained by social structures from expressing their personal autonomy. Consistent with this view, spanking children also inhibits the expressiveness of the child, and should be used not at all except in the most extreme circumstances (such as with a toddler who runs into the street.) For a look at the political philosophy of this linkage, see Glendon (1991). Divorce is perhaps the most visible rupture to the functioning of the nuclear family, but is part of the larger problem of marital and mating discord and illegitimacy. On the effects of divorce and marital discord on the emotional well-being of children see Emery (1982) and Forehand, et al. (199 1). For an earlier but problematic view that runs counter to these, see Herzog & Sudia (1973). For the adverse economic, social, and behavioral effects of single parenting, see chap. 10 on parenting in Hermstein & Murray (1994). On the serious long-term effects of divorce on children see Judith Wallerstein and J. Blakeslee (1997). Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce. New York: Ticknor & Fields. Also see Paul C. Vitz, "Family Decline: The Findings of Social Science" in this volume. Back to text.
  13. Schmidt, W. E. (July 9, 1987). Paddling in School: Custom Under Fire Anew. The New York Times, p. A 1, C2. The NEA has restricted their focus to its use in the schools, but even there, its membership has continued to refuse to fall in behind the union leadership. Back to text.
  14. Maurer (1974) Back to text.
  15. For a summary of the litigants who have mounted successful opposition to the use of CP in school, see Bradley, D. (1995, February 14, 1995). Missouri Will Take a Whack at Paddling: Students Could Not be Spanked under Bills Banning Corporal Punishment at Schools. The Kansas City Star, p. Al. Back to text.
  16. Associated Press February 8, 1992. Witnesses Denounce Spanking Ban. Wisconsin State Journal, p. 113. Back to text.
  17. Past president of the Society for Research of Social Problems and founder of the Family Violence Research Program housed at the University of New Hampshire some thirty years ago. Back to text.
  18. "Human rights and humanitarian values are expanding to include groups that were previously denied equal rights and protection. Slavery was abolished more than a century ago.... Women achieved the right to vote early in this century, and the remaining legal discrimination is just about gone ... Children are next on the agenda, including the right of a child to be free from the risk of physical assault by parents. The basis of this change is not evidence that corporal punishment harms children, just as the abolition of slavery was not fundamentally based on evidence that slavery hurt the economy, although in both cases there is an underlying connection. Instead, the change is in moral principles or beliefs. More and more people believe it is immoral to hit children, just as they have come to believe that it is immoral to own slaves or to physically chastise an errant wife' (the old common-law right of the husband.)" (Straus et al., 1994) p. 173 Back to text.
  19. For the 1989 Harris poll, see p. 56, where favorable ratings were at 86% down from 95% in ten years. (Hyman, 1990) Also see McPhillips, J. (October 10, 1994). Fewer parents strike children. The Providence Journal-Bulletin, p. 1A. Back to text.
  20. (McPhillips, 1994) also (Straus et al., 1994) especially pp. 25-32. Back to text.
  21. Belsky (1993). Back to text.
  22. For an informative view by psychologists from the Protestant tradition, see Larzelere (1993); Oosterhuis (1993); Gangel (1993). Also, see Larzelere (1996) for a thorough review of recent findings in the empirical research on the effects of moderate corporal punishment. Back to text.
  23. All scriptural quotations are taken from the New American Catholic Edition: Confraternity of Christian Doctrine 1961, Benziger Brothers, New York. Back to text.
  24. See for example, Pope Pius XII allocution to mothers of Italian families, Oct. 26, 1941, where he discusses training in the home, and among other things, the rearing of children with difficult temperaments.Also, Pope Pius X11 allocution to newly-weds, Sept. 24, 1941, discusses the role of parental authority in the context of moderation and childish manipulation. "To temper authority with kindness is to triumph in the struggle which belongs to your duty as parents. For the rest, all those who would advantageously rule over others, must, as an essential element, first dominate themselves, their passions, their impressions. There is not real submission to and respect for any authority, unless those who obey feel that this authority is exercised with reason, faith, and a sense of duty, because then only do they realize that a similar duty binds them to obey. "If the orders you give your children and the punishment you inflict proceed from the impulse of the moment or from outbursts of impatience, or imagination or blind, ill-considered sentiment, they will mostly be arbitrary or inconsistent, and perhaps even unjust and ill-suited. Today, you will be most unreasonably exacting and unrelentingly severe with your children. Tomorrow you will permit everything ... But how are you going to rule over your children, when you do not know how to conquer you moods, to control your imagination and to dominate yourselves? ... Do not forget that children, no matter how small they may be, have a very observant eye and will immediately be aware of the changes in your moods, From the cradle itself, once they are able to distinguish their mother from other women, they soon become aware of the power their childish whims and fits of crying have over weak parents, and, with innocent cunning, will not hesitate to exploit it to the full." Back to text.
  25. Pope Pius XI, Divini illius Magistri December 31, 1929. Back to text.
  26. Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2223). Back to text.
  27. We did not research Church teaching on these matters before Pius IX (circa 1850), except in reference to the sacred scriptures. Back to text.
  28. There is an extensive discussion of the nature of pleasure in Aquinas' Summa Theologica 1-11, Questions 22-48. Also see Aristotle's Ethics, Book Three on temperance. Back to text.
  29. The moral justification of parents inflicting punishment on their children is found in Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica Part 11-11, Question 65, "Of injuries committed on the person." Article 2, "Whether it is lawful for parents to strike their children, or masters their slaves?" ". . . Now it is unlawful to do a person a harm, except by way of punishment in the cause of justice. Again, no man justly punishes another, except one who is subject to this jurisdiction. Therefore it is not lawful for a man to strike another, unless he have some power over the one whom he strikes. And since the child is subject to the power of the parent, and the slave to the power of his master, a parent can lawfully strike his child, and a master his slave that instruction may be enforced by correction." Lest we think that Aquinas wishes to simply equate the slave with the child, we should be careful to emphasize that his point rests on the principle of legitimate authority and also to recall that what he meant by the term slave would involve what we today mean by the expression "slavish mentality." One with a slavish mentality lacks the capacity to direct his own behavior reasonably, and one who is, in virtue of this limitation, only able to be put into the service of others so that they might direct his affairs for him. Fortunately, except for the severely mentally impaired, all people seem to have the required intellectual capacity for self-governance. The slaves of past were unjustly forced into the kind of subservient mentality either by sheer force, or by their upbringing. But the sins of the past should not blind us to the important conceptual point that Aquinas is making and which is of central importance here. Slavishness is related to both a cognitive and an emotional capacity for self-governance. Either because of immaturity, or because of some other impediment, one can become slavish, that is, be unable to direct his own affairs. (Drug addicts would appear to be possessed of the slavish mentality.) But in any respect, it is a question of authority that governs the morality of the act of striking another. This is why parents can rightfully object to a teacher striking their child, if they did not delegate such authority to the teacher. This line of reasoning shows too how important the public policy decision on CP can be. If the state deems it illegal for a parent to strike a child for disciplinary purposes, the implication is that the parent no longer has authority of enforcement over the child. Back to text.
  30. St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle's Ethics, paragraph #2149 (parenthetical material added). Back to text.
  31. This is a point that seems to have been missed entirely in the debate amongst Catholic educators on when a child should begin confession. Although a minimal cognitive awareness of the nature of sin would be reasonable requirement, a fuller understanding of the nature of sin would probably not occur for many years, perhaps as late as the teen years. The neglect of the practice of confessing during this time would undercut the development of habits of contrition for wrongdoing. Perhaps even most of us never appreciate the depths of the question if I understand the psalmist: "Oh Lord, if you were to lay bare our guilt, who could endure it?" But my point here simply emphasizes that the children should become accustomed to reflecting on their willful faults, distinguishing them from those that are not intentional (which would go a long way toward offsetting scrupulosity) and asking for forgiveness of sins in the presence of one whose business it is to forgive them. Back to text.
  32. In their pursuit of pleasure without a due regard for the role of authority, children can create the impression that they are manipulative. Of course, children are not consciously manipulative as an adult would be, since they lack the cognitive capacity for such. But they are manipulative in the sense that they have within them the ability to see what measures it takes to get what they want-which seems to be the point by Pius XII in note 24 above. Fortunately, owing to their lack of persistence, and relative ease of redirecting their attention, the parent can manipulate the child into conformity with parental requests. Why do we say that the parent is manipulative? Simply because the parent is usually perfectly conscious of why he or she is setting limits on the child, but the child is not aware of the parent's understanding. Back to text.
  33. Nichomachean Ethics, Book 1, chap. 13 Back to text.
  34. For Thomas' development on the parts of the soul, see the ST 1-11. For a general development of these divisions, see Brennan (1941). Back to text.
  35. Ibid., Book 3, chap. 12. See also Book 10, chap. 1 where Aristotle notes that children largely learn by means of pleasure and pain. This basic observation is made after his insight in Book 3 where he notes that human motivation is based on three things, the good, the useful and the pleasurable. Evidently he and St. Thomas would confine the motives of children to the pleasurable, hence the recommendation that the basic purpose of education in the young is to instill the proper likes and dislikes. Back to text.
  36. Ibid. Back to text.
  37. Summa Theologica, Part 1, Q. 19, art. 9 "Whether God wills evil?" Back to text.
  38. Apparently Aquinas is not alone in these views on justice and punishment. The German philosopher Kant echoes a similar view on the nature of punishment, and strongly objects to the use of punishment on any other grounds, except expiation-a restrictive interpretation not altogether shared by his predecessors. Back to text.
  39. There is some debate amongst classicists over the extent to which Aristotle would allow for an appeal to reason or to conscience to persuade a person to behave in a particular manner, For example, see Robinson (1983). Our point here is simply to note that the Greek understanding on education of children and youth, such as those addressed by Homer, Plato in his Republic, and by Aristotle in portions of his Ethics and Politics, generally recognized that the formation of the emotions preceded the formation of the intellect. Persons whose emotions are malformed are more difficult to educate intellectually, particularly in the areas of understanding or articulating the difference between good and evil. To some extant Plato and certainly Aristotle, and later, the medieval educational masters following Boethius, clearly recognized that the proper formation of the emotions was a condition and a prerequisite to intellectual awareness. Contemporary notions of "emotional learning" or "affective education" that are popular in educational circles reflect a blurry image of the same kind of thinking. The two problems with these "affective education" programs are that they don't seem to make an appeal to an objective moral order, and they also fail to recognize the essential element of suffering in any fundamental change in disposition. Back to text.
  40. See: Linscheid & Meinhold ( 1990) for a review. Back to text.
  41. Parke (1977). Back to text.
  42. To get a sense of how to place psychological findings on punishment into some context, it may be helpful to describe briefly how psychologists set up problems and evaluate or measure the outcomes. The effectiveness of punishment is gauged simply by the capacity of the punishment to reduce or eliminate further occurrences of the behavior being punished. The more the behavior is reduced in frequency, and the longer this reduction persists, the more effective the punishment. In experimental research with children, a common approach to evaluating the effects of punishment harkens back to Eve in the Garden; psychologists evaluate a punisher's effectiveness by evaluating a child's "resistance to temptation." A representative scenario would have a child in a room with a number of toys. As the child picks up the "target" toy, he is punished (the mode of punishment will vary considerably depending on the study) and told that that specific toy is special, and not to be touched. The child is again given the opportunity to play in the vicinity of the target. The longer the child refrains from touching or playing with the target, the more effective the punishment is presumed to be. Back to text.
  43. In natural settings like schools or the home, a mild punishment might consist of a quick swat to the backside, a mild punishment in an experimental study might consist of soft-spoken verbal reprimand. A moderate punishment might consist of a sternly-worded reprimand, whereas a strong punishment might utilize the blast of an uncomfortable sound (usually on the order of 100dB-not injurious but startling when first heard.) In clinical populations with retarded persons who engage in dangerous self-injurious behavior such as head banging or chronic rumination and vomiting, actual physical aversives have been used such as mild to moderate shock, strong restraints that do not bruise, or the use of strong spices such as chili peppers on the tongue or upper lip, all of which can be painful. Some devices that use electric shock have been specifically developed to create the feeling that you get when you are smacked with a large rubber band, or a modest jolt that you feel when you touch a door knob after walking across a static-producing carpet. Here too, with the kind of punishers used with normal children, and the corporal punishers, the greater the intensity, the more immediate and enduring the effect. Back to text.
  44. See: Parke (1977), p. 77. Back to text.
  45. Personal communication with Dan Toma of the University of Illinois bee research lab, Champaign, Illinois. Back to text.
  46. This is basic relationship modeled in the Rescorla-Wagner learning model. See Schwartz (1989) chapter 4 for an extended discussion of this model. Back to text.
  47. Aronfreed & Reber (1965). Back to text.
  48. Sears, Maccoby, & Levin (1957). Back to text.
  49. Hoffman (1982). Back to text.
  50. These researches too were conducted with parents in more natural environments and incorporated the use of CP. Back to text.
  51. See: Harlow (1971), especially chapter one on the development of affection. Despite the fact that his researches were with monkeys, he suggests an important insight into human development of affection between child and mother, and that it is based upon "contact comfort," or the tendency by both mother and infant to want to snuggle. He argues compellingly that the more complex affectional relations are rooted in this primitive but pervasive sense of touch that is so prominent in the early stages of attachment between the mother and the infant. Harlow's laboratory research also verifies the common observation that the nature of affection that begins between mother and child naturally changes over time, and that the role of child nurturing must develop or be transformed into a sometimes confrontational challenge of the mother to the child. Back to text.
  52. Rohner (1991). Back to text.
  53. Aronfreed (1968). Back to text.
  54. Aronfreed (1976). Back to text.
  55. Hoffman (1982). Back to text.
  56. Hoffman (1970). Back to text.
  57. Dormellan & LaVigna (1990). Back to text.
  58. See: LaVoie (1974) and Parke (1977) p. 77 for reviews. Back to text.
  59. Aronfreed & Reber (1965). Back to text.
  60. Laziness in children may be related to this aspect of parental discipline. Unvigilant parents have slothful children; not that these children are lazy in all matters, but that they are lazy in things in which they should be responsible. These children are unaccustomed to regulating their own initiative and so easily become angry when imposed upon by others. Back to text.
  61. Indianapolis (September 14, 1994). The Indianapolis News, A07.; USA (June 5, 1994). "Call in Results." USA Weekend, Arlington, Va.
    Back to text.
  62. Larzelere, R. E. (1996) is the most recent, and perhaps the most significant, literature review in twenty years. For the technically inclined, it is worth a close reading. Back to text.
  63. Forehand & McMahon (1981); Schwartz (1989) Back to text.
  64. Straus et al. (1994) give a complete list and rationale behind classifying the abuses attached to CP. Back to text.
  65. For example, see Kazdin, chap. 6. Back to text.
  66. See: Parke & Slaby (1983). Back to text.
  67. See: Maccoby & Martin, (1983); Radke-Yarrow, Sahn-Waxler, & Chapman, (1983). Back to text.
  68. Parke (1977). Back to text.
  69. Bandura (1973). Back to text.
  70. In scientific research, sampling characteristics (random or " convenient") are very important to the integrity of the study. Studies that are based upon subjects or families that were convenient for the researcher but which are not believed to be representative of the referent population, may exhibit behaviors under investigation in the study that are related to the convenience of the sample. This poses a significant compromise to extending what we know of the sample to the population of all families. Kinsey's researches on sexual behavior is undoubtedly one of the most famous cases of a major sampling error problem. His extrapolations perpetrated major errors in estimating the sexual behavior of Americans. He drew significant portions of his sample, known as a convenience sample, from a prison population. Of course, men in prison are there because they are more often than not antisocial, and impulsive; these are clearly two major personality dimensions that would be related to their sexual behavior, particularly those dimensions that relate to the frequency (impulsiveness) and the longevity of social friendships (marriage). Back to text.
  71. McCord (1988 & 1991); Straus et al. (1994); Shupe et al. (1987) and Stacey et al. (1994). Back to text.
  72. Straus' (1995) own statistical tables suggest the relatively small influence of CP compared to the violence between parents or "partners." In statistical analysis, a particular variable may prove to be statistically significant (as is the case with CP in his research) but the practical significance is nil. The reliable changes in the amount of CP that can create detectable changes in depression in children, by his own data, is virtually nil. Straus' retrospective data were taken from adults who reflected on their experiences as adolescents. According to his data, those who reported being hit by either parent would have had to experience hits so numerous such that they would be being struck on at least a weekly basis. Such a high rate of hitting a youth suggests a much more serious problem than the mere act of spanking. The practical significance in his data, that far outweighs the CP findings, is found in the relationship between reports of parental violence and adult depression. Youth who witness their parents fighting on a regular basis are far more prone to depression. This influence of parental conflict on subsequent adult depression was many times greater than CP's influence. See Straus' Appendix C, Tables C-4 through C- 12. Back to text.
  73. Sears, Whiting, Nowlis, & Sears (1953). Back to text.
  74. Linder-Gunnoe (1997) is developing an interesting theoretical response to SLT's predictions on spanking. Back to text.
  75. See: Linscheid & Meinhold (1990) for a review. Back to text.
  76. Bandura, Ross, & Ross (1961). Back to text.
  77. Kniveton (1973). Back to text.
  78. Kellam, Adams, Brown, & Ensminger (1982). Back to text.
  79. Linder-Gunnoe, M., & Mariner, C. L. (1997). Back to text.
  80. It was a prospective, as distinguished from retrospective, study. Back to text.
  81. See: Lefkowitz, Eton, Walder, & Huesmann (1977); Lefkowitz, Huesmann, & Eron (1978). Back to text.
  82. See: Wilson & Herrnstein (1985), pp. 344-347. Back to text.
  83. Ibid., p. 346. Back to text.
  84. Kilpatrick (1992) p. 265. Back to text.
  85. Lefkowitz et al., (1977) p. 192. Also, religiosity in the third grade as measured by the frequency of church attendance was a significant predictor of social adjustment and popularity at age 19, especially prominent for girls. Lefkowitz accounts for this by noting the simple fact that at church you meet more people. However, this line of reasoning would also apply to sports fans who are frequent attendees of socially significant events. Apparently, these activities were not correlated with pro-social orientation. Curiously, church going by the young women does not relate to popularity, either positively or negatively. (see p. 156). Back to text.
  86. Ibid, p. 199. Back to text.
  87. Ibid, p. 190. Back to text.
  88. See: Bates, Pettit, & Dodge (1995); Kagan & Moss (1962) shows this too. For a study that would support this view, but which the author fails to acknowledge see Cohen & Brook (1995). Back to text.
  89. Baumrind (1971). Back to text.
  90. See: Lamborn, Mounts, Steinberg, & Dornbusch (1991), and Steinberg, Lamborn, Darling, S., & Dombusch (1994) Back to text.
  91. Steinberg et al. (1994), p. 754. Back to text.
  92. See: Stendler (1950) for a review. Back to text.
  93. Even a cursory study of history indicates that young men have from time immemorial been the problematic element of societies. Young men are violent by nature. They are at the peak of their physical powers and the physical growth that brings with it emotional ability. But with all this power, they are at the low end of their experience curve. They have fewer responsibilities and are thereby less attached emotionally to other persons because they are neither dependent on their parents as much, nor committed to a spouse and children. Urbanization compounds these problems since youth can very easily congregate, and move about rapidly and with anonymity, all of which reduces the accountability for one's behavior. Add to the problem of anonymous mobility the anonymous use of electronic communications and the contributing factors to antisocial behavior problem are further compounded. Back to text.
  94. McCord (1991). Back to text.
  95. Shengold (1989). Back to text.
  96. "Every life contains occasions when one is the victim or the perpetrator of an assault on a person's right to a separate identity and a full range of human resources. Few people are without at least moments of beastliness. We are all capable of behavior so bad that we find it necessary not to register what has been said or done. To repeat one of Freud's favorite quotations from Nietzsche: I did that,' says my memory. I could not have done that,' says my pride, and remains inexorable. Eventually-the memory yields ... Of course a few isolated incidents of parental abuse cannot be called psychic murder; to deform a soul takes chronic and repetitive abuse. Nietzsche's all-too-human confession and accusation takes on sinister connotations only if we transpose it into a statement by a soul murderer, for the victim's assumption of some form of the malefactor's tionregistration of what has happened is essential to the brainwashing that sustains soul murder ... The denying parent transmits denial to the child. Brainwashing is inherent in psychic murder. That is what makes the difficult but crucial ability to differentiate between fantasy and reality a burning issue for each individual who has been subject to overwhelming trauma." (Shengold, 1989), p. 23. Back to text.
  97. McCord& McCord (1959), p. 89. Back to text.
  98. Johnson (1971). The full text of this passage follows: "Politicians remark that no oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority. The robber may be seized, and the invader repelled whenever they are found; they who pretend no right but that of force, may by force be punished or suppressed. But when plunder bears the name of impost, and murder is perpetrated by a judicial sentence, fortitude is intimidated and wisdom confounded; resistance shrinks from an alliance with rebellion, and the villain remains secure in the robes of the magistrate.... Equally dangerous and equally detestable are the cruelties often exercised in private families, under the venerable sanction of parental authority; the power which we are taught to honour from the first moments of reason; which is guarded from insult and violation by all that can impress awe upon the mind of man; and which therefore may wanton in cruelty without control, and trample the bounds of right with innumerable transgressions, before duty and piety will dare to seek redress, or think themselves at liberty to recur to any other means of deliverance than supplications by which insolence is elated, and tears by which cruelty is gratified.... To see helpless infancy stretching out her hands and pouring out her cries in testimony of dependence, without any powers to alarm jealousy, or any guilt to alienate affection, must surely awaken tenderness in every human mind; and tenderness once excited will be hourly encreased by the natural contagion of felicity, by the repercussion of communicated pleasure, and the consciousness of the dignity of benefaction. I believe no generous or benevolent man can see the vilest animal courting his regard, and shrinking at his anger, playing his gambols of delight before him, calling on him in distress, and flying to him in danger, without more kindness than he can persuade himself to feel for the wild and unsocial inhabitants of the air and water. We naturally endear to ourselves those to whom we impart any kind of pleasure, because we imagine their affection and esteem secured to us by the benefits which they receive." Back to text.
  99. McCord & McCord (1959), p. 100. Back to text.
  100. Laub & Sampson (1995), p. 249. Back to text.
  101. Hirschi (1969). Back to text.
  102. Patterson (1982). Back to text.
  103. Taken from Wilson & Herrnstein (1985), p. 236. Back to text.
  104. See: Bates et al. (1995). Back to text.
  105. Olweus (1980); Olweus (1995). Back to text.
  106. Kagan & Moss (1962). Back to text.
  107. Wilson& Herrnstein (1985). Back to text.
  108. Cohen & Brook (1995). Back to text.
  109. Kagan (1994). Back to text.
  110. Kochanska. (1993) and Zahn-Waxler & Kochanska (1988). Back to text.
  111. Baumrind (1995). Back to text.


Cross, Richard W. "The Problem of Spanking: The Vexing Question of Childhood Discipline in the Development of Conscience." In Defending the Family: A Sourcebook, 195-233. Steubenville, OH: The Catholic Social Science Press, 1999.

The Author

Richard W. Cross received his Ph.D. in psychology from Indiana University, where he also studied the history and philosophy of science. He has his B.A. in liberal arts from Thomas Aquinas College, California. He has published articles on the relationship between philosophy, religion, and psychology, in addition to scientific papers on psychological testing as well as spanking. He has taught at Eastern Illinois University and at Franciscan University. He trained in clinical and consulting/school psychology at the Devereux Foundation and the Blick Clinic of Akron, Ohio, and has consulted to numerous special educational cooperatives and mental health facilities in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. He is also past Treasurer of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists, and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of its scholarly journal, The Catholic Social Science Review. Cross is currently the research director for Accountability Works . He is married, has five children, and resides in Leominster, MA.

Copyright © 1999 Society of Catholic Social Scientists
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