I grew up in a family in which corporal punishment was the punishment. Imitate mommy and say a bad word? Smack. Spill your drink? Smack. Disobey? Smack, smack, smack. This philosophy goes back at least 2 generations on one side of my family. Was it effective? If you define effective as, “corrected the targeted behavior so that it never happened again,” the answer is a resounding, “No!” If, on the other hand, you define effective as, “instilled fear,” then the answer is, “Yes.”
It was only after I had turned 17 that I found that most of the people I knew had never been hit, spanked or beaten as punishment for childhood transgressions. The rest of them had been spanked once or twice in their lives. Not surprisingly, all of them were at least as decent human beings as the average person.
Of the few people that I have met since who were also subjected to corporal punishment, I am by far the least damaged. I don't agonize over how I was treated, I don't hate my parents, I don't wonder how they could do that if they really loved me. Of course, I was lucky in that they eventually saw the effect of what they were doing and stopped when I was 12 or 13. Later, they apologized. None of this is to say that there are no major, lasting effects of the abuse. There are. I believe that many of the effects are typical and that a few are peculiar to me.
I lived out my childhood in fear of being hit. Fear that if I broke any rule, I'd be beaten. Although, to be honest, that fear didn't stop me from breaking any rules and the attendant anger probably goaded me to break some rules. It also resulted in my being an exceptionally violent child up until the time that my classmates became much larger than me. I was taught that physical contact was painful and scary. Later on, I came to believe that any form of physical aggression was a bad thing. I don't believe that those are good things to teach a child.
I believe, though this is speculation on my part, that if corporal punishment had not been the norm in my family that I never would have hit that little girl in the head with an enormous rock when I was four years old. But I had been shown that violence was the way to interact with others and, being the jellybrain that four year olds are, I didn't have the critical thinking skills necessary to differentiate between non-lethal violence and potentially lethal violence.
There are well documented methods of behavior correction and punishment that are both more effective and less damaging than corporal punishment. One of the problems with beating a child is that
the parent is often angry at the time. Sometimes, this anger can get out of hand and the adult can go farther than they intended. From a child's point of view, there is no way out. There is no way to avoid the impending pain and humiliation. An adult is just so much larger, faster and stronger. There is a kind of hopelessness that sets in when you know you are about to be beaten. Often there is the threat of a coming beating and the time lag between threat and action that heightens the child's stress and is a sort of additional mental abuse.
As a parent, can you really not find a way to punish/teach about consequences in a way that doesn't involve physical violence? If not, how do you interact with other adults?
When you talk about corporal punishment, where do you draw the line? 3 swats on the ass with an open hand? Seven? Ten? Twenty, fifty, two-hundred? Is it okay to slap a child in the face? How many times is acceptable? How about a punch to the shoulder? How about flicking them with a wet towel (rat-tail)? Is it acceptable to whip a child with a belt or a switch or a cane? How many strokes before you get to abuse? Can you use the buckle end of the belt or not? Should you allow screams of fear or pain to lessen the number of blows? If you are going to spank a child, is it okay to have them pull down their pants? Is it okay to have them pull down their underwear as well? Why is any of this acceptable punishment for a child, but not for an adult?
There is a reason that the AAP does not condone any form of corporal punishment. It is because corporal punishment is, at best, as effective as other forms of punishment but, at less than best, is both ineffective and damaging.