Violence begets violence

Elton Wong

A new child-development survey was released last Wednesday. This survey asked three thousand adults their views on spanking as a technique in disciplining children. Sixty-one percent of responding adults condone the practice of spanking as a regular form of punishment.

Fifty-seven percent of adults questioned held the belief that a 6-month-old child can be spoiled. CNN asked a few parents why they condoned corporal punishment, and the answer ranged from “Spare the rod, spoil the child, that’s where we base our spanking,” to “that’s the way I was brought up … that’s the way it works for me.”

These survey results are especially surprising to pediatricians, who for years have been trying to inform the public that spanking young children is harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently called for a ban on spanking in schools, citing numerous studies that show the long-term effects on development and learning.

A 1998 study done at the University of New Hampshire, for example, found that the corporal punishment of children can lead to antisocial behavior such as lying, cheating, disobedience and deliberately breaking things.

Of course, this study attempted to correlate other factors with the antisocial behavior, including the parents’ socioeconomic status and the amount of support parents give their children.

Nonetheless, the greatest single factor that correlated with antisocial behavior was the presence or absence of spanking.

Now, I suppose it’s pretty normal to see some lag when the American public tries to bring itself up to date on new information. However, I can’t help but get really pissed off when I hear parents defend their harmful parenting practices by spouting clich‚s like “spare the rod, spoil the child.”

If I’m not mistaken, this little tidbit originated with one of Aesop’s fables. I suppose it might have a folksy, common sense ring to it.

However, there is no reason to hold onto beliefs like these in the face of massive empirical data that points the other way.

Maybe we didn’t know any better in the past, but now we do. There’s no excuse anymore.

The only way to argue against experimental studies is to cite other conflicting studies or argue that the original studies are flawed. Neither of these approaches is much help in the current case, but quoting Aesop in no way constitutes a valid response.

I can understand some of this statement’s popularity, given that we live in a country where citing Leviticus is considered a valid method of moral argumentation.

Anyway, let’s talk about those 57 percent of adults who think that a 6-month-old child can be spoiled in any meaningful sense of the term. If there are any of you reading this article who hold this view, I’d like you to hold your face close up to the newspaper so that you won’t miss this next point. Here goes.

A 6-month-old child is NOT a moral agent. At the age of six months, a child is not even of sufficient psychological complexity to understand the concept of “other people,” let alone complex ideas like altruism, cooperation, or patience.

Even when your child is old enough to understand these concepts, spanking only destroys the trusting relationship between child and parent, and leads to bad effects later on. We know this because of research. Beating up your kid may feel good to you, but it is in no way beneficial to anyone.

OK, you can lower the paper now.

Surveys like these lend support to one of my long-held theories: People like to smack the hell out of things they don’t understand. This behavior isn’t so bad when it involves things such as Nintendo consoles and alarm clocks, be-cause this stimulates the economy and creates jobs.

Every time Elvis shot his television or his car with a pistol, for instance, some person working in a factory got paid to make him a new one.

However, this behavioral tendency, taken as a whole, is harmful.

Before people understood mental illness, they used to lock the insane up in cages and beat them to “drive out the evil spirits.” The concept of domestic abuse was created recently; it was previously considered perfectly acceptable for husbands to beat their “disobedient” wives. This is not to mention hate crimes, the ultimate in violence directed towards that which is not understood.

Violence tends to create cycles of behavior. The best way to stop this cycle is to teach our children that violence is not an acceptable way to solve problems.

It is impossible to instill this message while acting in a violent manner.

Therefore, let us leave spanking to the folks in Cuffs.