Spanking Your Child: Mental Health Perspectives

Joel Eisenberg

Mental Health professionals and medical doctors alike continue to debate the controversial punishment.

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Author’s Note

This article is based on personal experience, mental health studies, and accredited media reports. Though I myself am a former mental health professional and will share personal information, I will offer no advice on this matter herein.

It is imperative for anyone who suffers from mental health-related issues, including those who suspect the onset of illness related (or not) to the subject of this article, to visit their doctor for proper treatment protocols.

All listed theories and facts shared within this article are fully-attributed to several mental health and medical experts, and media outlets, including Wikipedia.org, PositivePsychology.com, The Cleveland Clinic, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Introduction

Wikipedia features a comprehensive overview of corporal punishment, a term representative of physical discipline: A corporal punishment or a physical punishment is a punishment which is intended to cause physical pain to a person. When it is inflicted on minors, especially in home and school settings, its methods may include spanking or paddling.

Up until our fairly recent past, it was not unusual for parents — and even schoolteachers — to discipline younger children in this regard. However, though parents, teachers, even therapists in today’s era largely frown upon the practice, some continue to endorse it as an effective means of largely removing unacceptable behaviors.

In the interest of honesty and disclosure, I personally am no stranger to such discipline. When my brothers and I decades ago misbehaved to an intolerable point, we were disciplined as such by our own parents, and I would venture to say we grew into adulthood as well-adjusted, respectful men.

Our family was also immensely loving, and we were all close-knit; we were also immensely fortunate that way. Though my father has since passed away, everyone else is alive and well, and my two brothers have respectful families of their own based in large part on our dad’s discipline and life lessons.

But that was then, when most of our Brooklyn friends and veritably everyone we knew also corporally punished their children and did not think twice about it. We live in a different era today.

Let us explore further.

Professional Perspectives of Corporal Punishment

According to PositivePsychology.com, in their article entitled “12 Examples of Positive Punishment & Negative Reinforcement,” the old debates remain relevant.

As excerpted from the article: Positive punishment is an attempt to influence behavior by adding something unpleasant, while negative reinforcement is an attempt to influence behavior by taking away something unpleasant. Both methods are employed to influence behavior, but positive punishment looks to remove or decrease a “bad” behavior while negative reinforcement seeks to encourage or increase a “good” behavior. For example, spanking a child when he throws a tantrum is an example of positive punishment. Something is added to the mix (spanking) to discourage a bad behavior (throwing a tantrum).

The PositivePsychology.com article focuses in part on the work of psychologist B.F. Skinner, whose work on the concept of “operant conditioning” greatly impacted the thoughts behind this piece: Behaviorism was the guiding perspective on psychology for several decades, from around the 1930s to the 1960s. It was championed by John Watson, but Skinner is the psychologist most often associated with behaviorism thanks to his many theories and experiments (GoodTherapy, 2015). The general idea behind behaviorism is that people (and animals) are heavily influenced and directed by outside factors. In the “nature vs. nurture” debate, behaviorists fall firmly on the “nurture” side.

Many behaviorists agree with spanking, or corporal punishment in general, as an effective method of positive punishment.

Still others in related fields, however, including medical doctors, disagree with the technique.

The Cleveland Clinic features a story on their webpage, titled “Why You Shouldn’t Spank Your Kids and What To Do Instead,” which further addresses the matter and strongly discourages it: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a strong statement in 2018, advising parents not to spank their children, based on a growing pile of studies showing that the disciplinary technique does more harm than good. “The new AAP statement includes data that show that kids who were spanked in their early years were more likely to be more defiant, show more aggressive behavior later in preschool and school and have increased risk for mental health disorders and lower self-esteem,” says pediatrician Karen Estrella, MD.

The article proceeds with the AAP findings: Research over the last 20 years has demonstrated that spanking increases aggression in young children and is ineffective in changing their undesirable behavior, the AAP says. Studies have also linked spanking to an increased risk of mental health disorders and impaired brain development.

Among the major issues is one of when a frustrated parent intentionally or inadvertently crosses the line from discipline to abuse.

Conclusion

Regardless of where you stand with this controversial practice, risks are prevalent.

Though I will offer no advice or position on corporal punishment here, I will say this: For both parent and child, visiting a mental health professional — and perhaps a physical aid counterpart if that has become a repercussion on the part of the punished — is highly-recommended should such punishment be effectuated.

Thank you for reading.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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