Physical punishment involves the application of force to inflict physical pain on the child to discourage the likelihood of repeating an undesirable behavior. Physical punishment may take the form of hitting, kicking, scratching, and pinching among other methods that are generally applied to cause discomfort in the child being punished (Saunders and Goddard 3). Application of physical punishment as a method of instilling discipline on children is an issue that raises controversy all over the world.
In some countries, the law allows physical punishment by caregivers but clearly outlines the limits to which such a practice is applicable. In other countries, the law completely prohibits the practice and indulgence in physical punishment is punishable in a court of law. In most cases, especially in the developing countries, physical punishment continues to be used on defenseless young children who are ignorant of their rights.
This is a traditional practice that has been transmitted to generations over time. One may wonder why the issue has started raising controversy in contemporary society while our ancestors were indifferent about it.
The reason behind this controversy is the increased human awareness of the modern man and his increased sensitivity to issues addressing human rights in society. This has led to the establishment of social organizations that fight for human rights and formulation of government laws and policies that ensure that human rights are not violated against.
Physical punishment often gives rise to child abuse. It displays elements of violence through lack of respect for the victim who is not entitled to react in the same way as the person applying the punishment. Child abuse may occur intentionally or unintentionally. If a child suffers from an injury or tissue damage during the execution of physical punishment, it may serve as sufficient grounds for assault or protective custody for the child.
Cases of child abuse through physical punishment are common among parents who were also physically abused during their childhood. Some writers refer to physical violence on children as a form of domestic violence that calls for attention (Saunders and Goddard 6). A strong correlation has also been established through research that relates to domestic violence to physical abuse. American studies reveal that a considerable fraction of parents who abuse their spouse also abuse their children.
Opponents of physical punishments argue that it does not give the intended result but often results in negative side effects on the child (Weiten 252). They further argue that physical punishment triggers strong emotional responses by the child towards the caregiver executing the punishment, and the child may develop anxiety, anger, and resentment towards the caregiver. (Weiten 252).
Previous studies have shown that the children who are subjected to physical punishment exhibit aggressive tendencies, criminal behaviors, and mental health problems among other negative traits in the future. The studies further reveal that physical punishment is associated with poor parent-child relations and childhood delinquencies (Weiten 252).
The correlation between aggressive tendencies and physical punishment has been criticized by writers who argue that correlation is circular and aggression may also be pre-existing in the child hence prompting the parent to use physical force as a form of punishment (Weiten 253).
These critics also argued that the conclusion that physical punishment negatively impacts on the child fails to differentiate between the effects of frequent harsh physical punishment and those of punishments that were applied mildly and occasionally (Weiten 253).
Both proponents and opponents of physical punishment unanimously agree that abusive and harsh physical punishment is unnecessary and causes devastating and detrimental effects on the child. However, some people feel that mild physical punishment should be employed especially on a child who is too young to understand verbal reprimand and withdraw of privileges which are the often preferred methods of instilling discipline in children (Weiten, 2010).
If physical punishment is not overused, it can serve the same purpose that other forms of punishment achieve. However, the caregiver must be extremely cautious and use it as a last resort to discipline a child. To ensure that it does not violate the child’s rights, the caregiver should apply it immediately after the occurrence of the punishable behavior and also explain the reason for the punishment to the child (Weiten 253). Failure to do this may lead to negative effects associated with physical punishment discussed earlier.
The caregiver should also ensure that the punishment is just severe enough to achieve its intended purpose (Weiten 253). Excess punishment leads to abuse of the child’s rights.
Due to the concerns raised over the effectiveness of physical punishment, caregivers should use other preferable methods of punishment, such as withdrawal of privileges to instill discipline on the children.
In most cases, physical punishment does not achieve its intended disciplinary goals but often leads to violation of the child’s rights, and therefore it is deemed as an unnecessary mode of punishment that should be abandoned. The duty of caregivers is to protect the children from any type of harm, including that which emanates from physical punishment.
Saunders J. Bernadette. Goddard Chris: Physical punishment in childhood: The rights of the child. New York: John Wiley and Sons 2010. Print.
Weiten, Wayne. Psychology: Themes and variations. New York: Cengage learning, 2008. Print.