Last week in The Vector,the case in favor of spanking children as a practical tool for parents was proposed. It is a surprising claim, considering recent scientific literature reporting the negative effects of spanking, the suggestions of many medical professionals against the act, and the changing culture of increased autonomy given to minors. It is even more surprising considering the inaccurate evidence used to support the claim.
It was purported that spanking is a form of behavioral conditioning, like that of Pavlov and his dogs. That much is true, but the connection is flimsy at best – training dogs to associate a bell with food is a form of classical conditioning which does not involve the encouragement or reduction of a behavior. Operant conditioning, on the other hand, studied by B. F. Skinner, requires either reinforcement or punishment to increase or decrease a behavior, respectively. Spanking is a form of positive punishment meant to theoretically decrease an undesirable behavior. “Positive punishment” in this case means the addition of an unfavorable outcome, as opposed to “negative punishment”, which refers to the removal of a favorable outcome.
In order to construct a successful argument, one must be confident in the validity of their evidence and relatability of their examples. To propose that spanking is “effective as a teaching tool, not a punishing tool,” is simply untrue on an academic basis alone.
On the efficacy of spanking as an effective punishment, there are mixed reviews. Some studies suggest that it can be effective in encouraging immediate compliance on behalf of the child, but others found no support for the effectiveness of physical punishment in comparison to other methods. Moreover, studies also warn of many potential adverse outcomes: physical abuse, mental illness, increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviors, and abuse of one’s own children or spouse are all strongly associated with children who experienced corporal punishment growing up. Furthermore, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Paediatric Society caution against the administration of physical punishment, citing limited effectiveness and, again, detrimental side effects.
Of course, it is irresponsible to claim causation from correlation, but it is safer to err on the side of caution. There are multitudes of other nonviolent forms of discipline that serve the intended purpose of being firm but fair without teaching children to fear their parents. As of 2018, there are 54 countries worldwide that prohibit all forms of corporal punishment, even in the home. It is clear that the culture surrounding the rights of children is changing. There is never an excuse to inflict violence on a child incapable of defending themselves.