Corporal punishment as a form of disciplinary action to children has elicited a fierce debate and controversy over its effectiveness in shaping children’s behavior in the society. Sociologists, psychologists, and legal experts differ on whether corporal punishment has long-term benefits in shaping children’s behavior or not. The difference in opinions has resulted into quest for more research in order to ascertain both short and long-term effects of corporal punishment on children. Gershoff argues that, “crucial questions remain unanswered, such as what range of child behaviors and experiences are empirically associated with parental corporal punishment, as well as why, how, and for whom corporal punishment might have such effects” (539).
Due to lack of empirical evidences to prove whether corporal punishment is harmful or not to the children, the opposing schools of thought are yet to justify their theoretical views and beliefs. The research concerning corporal punishment is very complex because there are no clear-cut differences between abusive punishment and non-abusive punishment, thus confounding the research findings. Furthermore, corporal punishment and naughty behaviors have intricate relationship in that, it is very difficult to establish causal relationships.
Since corporal punishment is associated with untoward childhood behaviors and experiences, it is an ineffective and an undesirable form of parental discipline. Corporal punishment is ineffective and undesirable form of parental discipline because it only causes immediate compliance, which has short-term effects in shaping child’s behavior contrary to the long-term expectations by the parents. Numerous studies have shown that parents normally administer corporal punishment with the objective of realizing immediate compliance of the children. Empirical studies have proved that short-term compliance due to corporal punishment is very effective in learning. “There is general consensus that corporal punishment is effective in getting children to comply immediately, but at the same time there is caution from child abuse researchers that corporal punishment by its nature can escalate into physical maltreatment” (Gershoff 549). Meta-analysis has proved that administration of corporal punishment does not have long-term behavioral change as expected by the parents; it only causes immediate compliance, and this phenomenon beats the logic of using corporal punishment in disciplining children.
Corporal punishment is essential in achieving control of rowdy and disruptive children; nevertheless, it does not help in long-term development of behavior in children. Although corporal punishment has short-term compliance, continued and consistent administration negatively affects internalization of morals. Continued and consistent administration of corporal punishment affects children negatively in the process internalizing the desired morals. Moral internalization is appropriate mechanism of developing acceptable behaviors because intrinsic factors rather than the extrinsic factors form the essential driving forces that compel children to mature well. Social and emotional maturation of the children critically depends on the intrinsic factors for such factors enable children to internalize moral values and beliefs in the society.
In contrast, extrinsic factors such as corporal punishment seem to have an imposing influence on the intrinsic factors thus affecting internalization of morals. The intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate behavior development during the growth of children have mutually exclusive effect in the development of behaviors. According to the attribution theory, “theorists emphasize that power-assertive methods such as corporal punishment promote children’s external attributions for their behavior and minimize their attributions to internal motivations corporal punishment … may not facilitate moral internalization because it does not teach children reasons for behaving correctly” (Gershoff 541). Therefore, corporal punishment does not instill the essence of morality to the children for children subjected to corporal punishment behave according to conditioned punishment. Since the children do not understand the essence of morality, they develop aggressive behaviors to resist or avoid severe corporal punishment. Administration of corporal punishment results into aggressive behavior; hence it is ineffective and undesirable form of parental discipline. The relationship between corporal punishment and aggressive behavior is very complex to establish causal relationship.
Extensive literature reviews have confirmed that, there is significant positive correlation between corporal punishment and aggressive behaviors among children. These findings imply that corporal punishment promotes development of aggressive behaviors in children, thus inappropriate form of parental discipline. Based on the attribution theory, the relationship between corporal punishment and aggressive behavior emanate from the fact that corporal punishment interferes with the internalization of moral values and beliefs, leaving children to depend on extrinsic factors as determinants of morality resulting into aggressive defense.
Social control theory also indicates that corporal punishment degrades child-parent relationship, prevent internalization of moral values, and increases aggressive behaviors due to lack of internal motivation and self-control. Gershoff argues that, “parental corporal punishment affects children primarily by initiating and shaping emotional and cognitive processes in the children, which in turn predispose them to engage in certain behaviors or have particular experiences such as aggression” (551). Hence, cognitive processes are important in mediating and developing aggressive behaviors and experiences. However, it is very difficult to establish causal relationship between corporal punishment and development of naughty behaviors. Despite the assumption that untoward behavior and experiences relates with corporal punishment, the causal relation between corporal punishment and development of naughty behaviors is blurred which makes it difficult to determine the causational effect. Psychological research depends on observational and experiential models to establish causal relationships but the findings do not consider confounding factors that could possibly mediate assumed causal relationship between corporal punishment and development of naughty behaviors.
Gershoff asserts that although models of correlation have assumed that corporal punishment causes naughty behaviors, they have not sufficiently ruled out the possibility that naughty behaviors to induce corporal punishment, “because corporal punishment occurs rarely and eludes observation, researchers interested in the effects of corporal punishment need to consider more ingenious methods of establishing causality” (556). Therefore, there is no sufficient evidence to prove that causation relationship exists between corporal punishment and development of naughty behaviors. However, meta-analysis research has attempted to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that corporal punishment causes naughty behaviors in children. The establishment of causation relationship is quite possible because meta-analysis research measures and monitors behavior development from the earliest point possible thus considering time precedence and isolating other factors that may confound the causational effect. Since there is no significance evidence to rule out that corporal punishment increases development of naughty behaviors, then corporal punishment is ineffective and undesirable form of parental discipline.
In a recap, the controversy regarding the effectiveness of corporal punishment still rages as the opposing schools of thoughts have strong evidence to support their views.
Sociologists, psychologists and legal experts have not yet reached a conclusion that corporal punishment elicits untoward behaviors and experiences in children. Given that the relationship between corporal punishment and naughty behavior in children is very complex, it is also difficult to establish the causational relationship without making some assumptions. Nevertheless, meta-analysis has significantly demonstrated that there is causational relationship between corporal punishment and development of naughty behaviors. The relationship between corporal punishment and naughty behaviors portrays chicken-egg relationship in that, it is difficult to establish which one of two comes first.
“Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review.” Psychological Bulletin 128.4 (2002): 539–579.