Spare the Rod

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Issue 2, Volume 112

By Anisha Singhal 

Cover Image

No clear line exists between corporal punishment and abuse. New York’s law states that parents can use physical force on their children “if the person in authority believes the force is needed to maintain discipline or promote the welfare of the person upon whom the force is used.” The definition is highly subjective and allows corporal punishment, which includes spanking, slapping, hitting with an object, choking, and even forcing a child to consume substances such as soap or hot sauce, which is simply child abuse. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is a popular phrase that people use to justify corporal punishment. Proponents argue that it helps keep children in check. However, beating a child into obedience makes the child believe that violence is an appropriate way to assert power. Nowhere else in our lives is violence acceptable except toward children, who also happen to be the most defenseless and impressionable. If a grown man hits his coworker or boss for any reason, he will be fired. If a woman tells someone that her partner hit her, she will immediately be advised to leave him. The same action done to a child is considered a disciplinary tactic to make them more obedient, and society clears parents to use violence and terror to enforce their will.

Though it has become less common in recent years, 81 percent of parents still support the use of corporal punishment in some capacity, and 67 percent of parents say they have spanked their children. Not only is corporal punishment damaging to the child, but it also fractures trust in the relationship between the child and the parents. While some parents may think the occasional slap keeps children in check, it has the inverse effect of making the child feel weak and helpless.

Beatings cannot come out of love. Violence comes from a place of anger and breeds fear in the child. The mentality instilled is that if you do not do what you are supposed to, such as get good grades or clean your room, then you will suffer physically. The child will not do the right thing because of a sense of responsibility but because of a fear of physical pain. This form of punishment teaches the child that violence is an acceptable means to solve problems. Kids who are spanked at home are more likely to hit other people and are more prone to developing problems such as substance abuse issues and mood and anxiety disorders.

Using violence on children should be prohibited. Multiple human rights organizations, including the World Health Organization, have outlined corporal punishment as a form of violence that violates a child’s rights to human dignity and physical integrity. It is banned in 63 countries, but United States laws on the issue are more relaxed. In Minnesota, a father was cleared for beating his son 36 times with a wooden paddle because spanking did not constitute abuse. Similarly, a New York court ruled that a father’s repeated spanking of an eight-year-old child was a “reasonable use of force.” Meanwhile, such behavior (slapping, spanking, and beating) under any other circumstance is punishable as assault under the law, and perpetrators are routinely arrested for it. The state’s resolve to stay out of cases of corporal punishment means that parents can legally abuse their children without repercussions. While some may argue that parents should be able to raise their children however they like, infringement upon basic human rights of the most vulnerable group crosses the line.

Behavior that would result in a lawsuit if directed toward anyone else should not be used on children. No child should feel unsafe or afraid at home. Instead of beating a child for wrongdoings, parents should employ positive and negative reinforcement, take away privileges, use grounding or time-outs, and mandate additional chores—all of which encourage children to learn from their mistakes rather than act out of fear of pain. Households are microcosms of our society. Banning corporal punishment at the federal level is a vital step toward a safer community all around. If we can begin to weed out violence during childhood, people will be less inclined to perform it as adults, stopping the cycle of violence at its roots.