Corporal punishment harms the development of children’s social skills

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Many parents around the world, even while speaking out against violence, consider corporal punishment (sometimes) necessary for the behavioral education of their children. However, child protection agencies generally do not approve of this form of punishment. Despite the wide variety of forms and severity, psychological research confirms that any form of corporal punishment in childhood is detrimental to the development of social skills. One of them, published in the journal Science Direct, provides further evidence of the negative impact on children’s behavior. Those who were subjected to corporal punishment, even infrequently, were reported to have more pronounced externalizing behavior as well as lower self-control and interpersonal skills.

Many parents resort to corporal punishment from time to time in an attempt to correct their children’s behavioral shortcomings. Some psychologists believe that such recourse to corporal punishment would be a sign of annoyance on the part of parents. Even if the latter consider themselves “against violence”, they sometimes find it necessary to punish their children physically.

Spanking or any other corporal punishment would thus be a form of “violence tolerant” of sorts. In the United States, for example, spanking is one of the most widely used “educational” practices in early childhood. The age at which this form of punishment is most commonly used is between 3 and 4 years of age. The practice will be less common for infants and young children over 5 years of age.


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“While we oppose violence, we believe that spanking is educational for children in some way. Many parents believe that spanking will reduce bad behavior and instill good character in their children,” says Jihi Kang, a research fellow in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University in the US and author of a new study on the impact of corporal punishment. on children. It should be noted that in this study, the term “spanking” includes corporal punishment in general, regardless of the area of ​​the body affected.

Although the purpose of parents is educational, research has shown that corporal punishment has the opposite effect. In other words, instead of “directing” the impulsive behavior of the child, these punishments cause more aggressive behavior, change the ability to self-control and the parent-child attachment. As adults, children who have been subjected to corporal punishment at least once during childhood will develop fewer social skills than those who have never been subjected to them.

These effects of corporal punishment on infant behavior are likely based on social learning theory. The latter suggests, in particular, that for children receiving this form of punishment, violence is an acceptable solution to resolve their interpersonal differences. In other words, these children, growing up, run the risk of simply following the “example” of their parents, using violence or aggression in certain life situations.

On the other hand, it is also important to consider that many factors are associated not only with the use of corporal punishment by parents, but also with the social skills of children. These factors are, for example, the specific characteristics of the children, the age of the parents, their socio-economic status and cultural factors, etc.

Jihyo Kang, a researcher in the new study, conducted a global analysis of these variables to assess the impact of spanking on children. According to the expert, the study will provide new data for child protection services. These findings will also help new parents decide on the best way to educate their children.

Even infrequent corporal punishment has negative consequences.

The study was based on a longitudinal analysis of data on American children. The latter, aged 5 to 7, were followed from kindergarten to elementary school. The data collected includes assessments of children’s social and interpersonal competence, as well as their self-control.

Records of spanking frequency (from parent reports) were also taken, depending on whether they were given at different times in the child’s life or recently (during the week prior to the assessment). To avoid a variability factor that could be excessive spanking, children who were subjected to corporal punishment more than once in the week prior to assessment were excluded from the analysis.

The survey results showed that 61% of children had experienced corporal punishment at least once in their lives, and 28% had recently experienced it, within a week before the assessment. The researcher also found that the first group of children exhibited above average externalizing behavior at ages 6 and 7. Self-control and interpersonal skills are weakest at age 6.

These results show that even if corporal punishment is used infrequently, it has a significant negative impact on children’s behavior. While some parents believe that spanking may have a deterrent effect on children’s antisocial behavior, research shows that it is instead counterproductive in developing prosocial skills.

However, research remains relatively limited as it does not take into account important variables such as social support that parents may have, rates of violence in the community, type of spanking (where and how? with or without an object). ?), the seriousness of the act to be punished, etc. In addition, only the use of corporal punishment by only one of the parents was measured. “In other words, the actual impact of spanking may be even greater,” Kang concludes.

Science Direct.

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