May 30, 2017
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By Tristan Sherlock

What research says about the impact of corporal punishment on children.

Corporal punishment is a largely controversial topic. Some parents believe that slapping their child is an acceptable form of punishment, while others do not.

A popular argument against the use of corporal punishment is that it can have negative effects on children.

A study released in 2002 by Elizabeth Gershoff, found that physical punishment had various negative consequences such as, but not limited to, lowered levels of moral internalisation, aggression and poorer mental health.

The validity of Gershoff’s study was questioned by several other researchers, one of whom claimed that it didn’t separate children who had been subjected to milder forms of corporal punishment (smacking) from children who had experienced serious physical abuse.

Gershoff continued her research with experts from the University of Texas and the University of Michigan. A study they recently conducted looked at over 160,000 children, from over five generations. It found that children who were slapped by their parents exhibited the same symptoms of those who’d been in abusive relationships, just to a lesser extent.

The researchers found that the more these children were spanked the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behaviours, heightened aggression, mental health issues and cognitive problems. The study also found that children who were spanked were just as likely to defy their parents as they were obey.

The researchers on the study claim that theirs is the most complete analysis of spanking as a form of punishment to date. They also identified that this study is more specific to spanking than other studies, which include other forms of physical punishment.

“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children,” says Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Gershoff’s co-author. “Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

Another study conducted in 2013 by Dr Bernadette Saunders, who is a senior lecturer in Social Work at Monash Univeristy attempted to look at corporal punishment from the point of view of victims.

Saunders found that from a child’s perspective, corporal punishment hurts and promotes many negative emotions such as anger. It was also found to teach children that violence was to be used as a tool in problem solving. Additionally the study also discovered that corporal punishment disrupted the relationship between parent and child by creating a sense of vulnerability in the child.

Futhermore, Saunders a found that children who had been the victims of corporal punishment believed that it was a normal life experience.

The children from the study expressed that they wished their parents would communicate more clearly and consistently when punishing them.

Despite years of research into the negative effects of corporal punishment, it is still a commonly used form of punishment. According to a UNICEF report around 80 percent of parents across the globe use spanking as a means of punishment.

In Australia corporal punishment is still a legal practise. No state has made it entirely illegal to punish children with corporal punishment. Although, most states have very strict requirements and laws regarding the definition of corporal punishment . In the Northern Territory, it is legal for teachers to apply force on students for discipline or correction. In Western Australia and Queensland, it is also legal for non-government school to use force on students.


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