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Every so often, content on parenting main relate to the use of corporal punishment. Some recent examples are offhand remarks in this question, as well as in this one, the latter also sparking a since-moderated debate on the legitimacy of violence in parenting in a comments thread.

While I realize that corporal punishment is illegal in some countries, legal in others, and in some settings accepted best practice, I believe that very many of us who are engaged in helping parents on this site - even those of us who are from places where corporal punishment is legal - are well aware that parenting without the use of violence is possible, and preferable.

I find these references to violence off putting. I do not think they have a place in a Q&A site on what constitutes good parenting. I propose that we should have a canonical answer or an FAQ post somewhere that excommunicates advocacy of violence against children from this site.

For anyone not yet up to speed on why corporal punishment is best avoided, the American Psychological Association has a good writeup on the science in their feature "The case against spanking".

The problem with physical punishment is not just that it is inflicting harm on children, it is the combination of negative aspects that makes it clear that it has absolutely no place in parenting:

  1. There is evidence of lasting harm to children, such as increased aggression and lower mental health.
  2. Corporal punishment does not work. So it is not a necessary evil, it is just evil. From the article above, “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”, says former APA president.
  3. Tolerating violence is linked to escalated violence. No parent has a toolset that will always work, for all parenting challenges. Wherever we set our limit for what we tolerate, we will always approach that limit. The parent who rejects any use of force will face situations where nothing works and feel that perhaps some force is sometimes warranted. But the parent who accepts corporal punishment will also face situations where none of their methods work, and feel that more violence is warranted. We will always push our own limits, so there needs to be checks and balances pulling them back. From the APA article: “Physical punishment doesn’t work to get kids to comply, so parents think they have to keep escalating it. That is why it is so dangerous”

I get that this is a universal website that should accommodate users from any corner of the world, but the idea that we must tolerate the use of violence because it is legal in some places has the cause and effect of eliminating violence backwards: lawmakers are not going to be on the front lines to criminalizing a socially accepted behavior - such laws can be passed only when there is a popular acceptance that the behavior is intolerable. If we wait for the laws to pass, they never will. We first need to effect change in the minds of people, and a Q&A on how to parent is exactly the place that is in position to do that. If it is commonly accepted in parenting resources that physical punishment should not be tolerated, we normalize that view, and enable the laws to change.

I have also seen objections to this idea from the point of view of censorship and free speech, so let me be clear, I am not suggesting we censor the discussion (which, by all means, a community is free to do in a manner that a democratic government isn't). I am merely suggesting that we adopt a policy that physical punishment cannot be tolerated - that we as a community ratify the UN declaration on the rights of the child, if you will - so that we can inform that the advocacy of violence isn't accepted here, rather than engage in debate about it every time it surfaces.

I honestly don't think that's too high a standard to hold ourselves and our visitors to.

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    This is written as if everyone is automatically going to agree with it - as if it's a foregone conclusion. – SomeShinyObject Jan 25 at 5:26
  • @Some: I'm sorry, I don't really get what you're picking up on? Can you elaborate? If it was automatic I wouldn't have to advocate for it. This is my viewpoint, and there are a lot of "I think that..." in the post. Do you have a disagreement you wish to raise? In that case you haven't...? Or are you really only saying you've identified a potential for disagreement? What do we do with that? – dxh Jan 25 at 7:47
  • Personally I disagree. And also site wide, I believe that there would exist a potential for disagreement. As to what to do with it, this is the reason for meta. – SomeShinyObject Jan 25 at 12:55
  • Ok, disagreement noted, then, I guess? An answer elaborating on what you're disagreeing with would be more constructive the way I see it, but that's up to you, obviously. I take issue with your initial comment, though. I don't get what it adds to the discussion. You say "this is the reason for meta", but meta was already the arena for the discussion. Can you point me to what part of my post you think is assuming that everybody is automatically going to agree with it? I think quite the contrary: I'm advocating for a policy change. If there was universal agreement, policy would be superfluous. – dxh Jan 25 at 13:34
  • Trying to decide if it is worth it or not. I foresee this devolving into a huge argument on the internet with a person that I've never met that I'd really rather not have. You will end up thinking I'm some awfully abusive parent (I'm not) and I'll end up thinking you're insufferable (you aren't). So if you really want an answer to this I can just type "I disagree with this" but I'd really not like to debate any further on it. – SomeShinyObject Jan 25 at 13:52
  • Sure, I respect that you don't want to elaborate on your disagreement. As I said, that'll be up to you. I just didn't get, and still don't get, your first comment, which to me says something different, but I'll leave it at that then. – dxh Jan 25 at 20:49
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    The first comment meaning your post is written with a clear heavy bias. It doesn't sound like you are promoting sound discussion but rather advocating for everyone to agree to your soapbox. Argumentum ad populum. "This is already accepted as bad by everyone - look at this study that says so - let's make a new policy." It may not be your intent, however, that is what it comes off as. – SomeShinyObject Jan 25 at 22:46
  • Thanks for the clarification. I guess you're right that I did not entertain the notion of a discussion on whether corporal punishment was harmful. I agree with your prior comments that that's probably not worth our while to engage in. I did anticipate a few objections, but all regarding whether it was sound policy. So to be clear: I am advocating that we condemn it. I accept that whether that happens is up to the community. The only real appeal to popularity is the phrase "I believe that very many of us..." which is a belief I still hold although I'm open to the possibility that I'm wrong. – dxh Jan 25 at 23:18
  • @dxh I agree with you on the harms of corporal punishment. But I don't think that a wiki-style site such as Parenting.SE can or should adopt policies on issues like that. What we do best is ask and answer questions. That said, a canonical Q&A thread on this subject is a great idea! If you start it, I suspect that many more people will contribute to it than those who contributed so far to this current meta thread. – Timur Shtatland Jan 28 at 15:41
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While the harms of spanking are somewhat accepted in the West, until a study that tests the question instead of finding data to match the hypothesis actually takes place (reason for not doing is ethics) there is no reason to simply reject a tool that could be used. Analogically, I would contend that screwdriver can still be used to put a nail through the wall if you hit it hard enough even it it's a terrible tool for the job and comes with its set of risks.

Furthermore, I've seen people consider a spanking as 1 smack on the bottom and others count it as a full on beating across the body (including head) with a weapon. For me, I would define spanking as a methodical way to apply open-handed smacks across the buttocks. Simply put, the definition of the word is far to imprecise to simply run a crusade against it and corporal punishment is even larger. Here's another form of corporal punishment: time out while standing up. So I'll assume you mean something that makes noise like spankings or hard work.

Where I am from (Canada) spankings are "banned" ages 12 and up unless you can prove the child benefits from it (ie: pretty much means the child should always have the option of rejecting/accepting said method of discipline) and should not leave bruises or cause lasting harm. I say "banned" because the punishment is probation if we follow the precedent set by the court system in a case where parents literally used a hockey stick to beat a teen. As that is outside my definition of a spanking, I of course disagree with it even being considered a spanking, but the court gets the say here. On the other hand, one could force a child to shovel snow to and fro for an hour and it would be just fine.

Therefore, until every punishment is clearly defined into specific categories and until they are scientifically tested (I believe science will overcome minute ethical barriers one day), it makes no sense to outright reject them. Let's also not underestimate the reality that different methods work for different kids. Children aren't just a folder in someone's bedroom or a CPS office.

For that reason, I think it is better to suggest that relationships be built on trust, without necessarily focusing on excluding methods to fit our regionally accepted ideology. Feel free though to post the data on corporal punishment when you see a reply suggesting it to help the poster and future reader make a more enlightened choice.

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  • Thanks for your input. English isn't my native tongue, so I may have had a naïve interpretation of the terms spanking and corporate punishment. I was intending to include any physical punishment. I would be happy to see a shift away from time outs, too; they're likely illegal where I'm from (Sweden). It hasn't been tried in court, as far as I know, but all forms of time outs are removed from parental programs such as Triple P when adopted to Swedish, because it's at odds with our view of a humanitarian child rearing. That's a tangent, though, I realize that would be too radical for this site. – dxh Feb 19 at 14:25
  • I don't agree that these things can't be tested scientifically. Check out the work of Lejtens et al, for instance. It doesn't happen to address physical punishment, but since there are still countries where that is legal, similar studies could be made. The only thing we couldn't do is to experimentally test the effects of physical punishment, but experiment isn't the coin of the realm in soft sciences. If experiment is the only standard of evidence you'll accept, you're in effect just shielding yourself off from a large chunk of existing knowledge – dxh Feb 19 at 14:30
  • For one I disagree with the Swedish model. The government is something we want less of, especially the federal government. The Swedish model only invites more government into our lives and everything a government touches eventually withers and dies. The part that can't be tested scientifically is the one where you would need to put kids in random families to eliminate all forms of bias. In a lot of those studies, when you replace corporal punishment with poverty, the results are similar. That's the ethical issue. Ethics always get in the way of science. – Jack M. Feb 19 at 17:27
  • Most governments have laws against acts of violence. A monopoly on violence is a fundamental piece of any functional state. It is not obvious to me why children should not enjoy the same protection. I did anticipate some disagreement with my suggestion, but I had not foreseen that this would be controversial, I must admit. – dxh Feb 19 at 18:01
  • I get that big government can be controversial when it comes to laws protecting ourselves. We have laws requiring everyone who drives a car to wear a seat belt. When we work, tax is taken from our salary to pay for our own superannuation. I get that you could object to that. But a ban on violence against children is not an invasion of our private lives, it is protecting someone from harm. And again, I think you have an overly simplistic view of science. We obviously can't randomly assign kids to families to eliminate all bias, but we can control for bias. – dxh Feb 19 at 18:10
  • Well, know that in Canada, the federal government (and provincial governments were complicit) has attempted genocide multiple times against people living in Canada. The biggest victims (as in they almost killed them off) are the aboriginal people. The methodology was simple... take kids and put them in government housing. So many girls dead, really awful treatment, including rape. So yeah, I don't want them near my kid with their "safety" as an excuse. – Jack M. Feb 19 at 18:31
  • Just to be clear, though, I'm not advocating for a policy condemning violence against children because it happens to be illegal in my home country, nor am I personally opposed for that reason. Whether or not this is something we think governments should have a say in is besides the point. This is not a government. This is a Q&A site discussing what constitutes good parenting, not legal parenting. To that end, I think physical punishment should be off the table, even in lieu of randomly assigned family placements. – dxh Feb 20 at 0:03
  • I get you. So I'll go back on topic too. I think punishments are an insignificant part of parenting to be honest. Most of it have to do with building the child's self confidence and maintaining his will to learn. The relationship should be based on trust. To that end, punishments shouldn't really be discussed, so I'd rather see all forms of punishment suggestions be off the table instead of just banning a single one. I deal in absolutes I guess. – Jack M. Feb 20 at 16:40
  • 100% on board. Punishment has no role in parenting. Again, I just thought that might be too radical for the site. – dxh Feb 20 at 17:49
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I agree that a canonical answer to the question on corporal punishment is a good idea[1]. Perhaps the best format is a single thread with a few Community Wiki answers, which are improved and updated periodically as the new evidence and guidelines accumulate. It can serve as:

  • a "dup target" to close some frequently asked duplicate questions on violence against children
  • a reference page to supplement answers to questions that are not duplicates.

[1] As a Stack Exchange site, Parenting.SE can in general benefit from more canonical answers to other common questions (for example, on behavior, tantrums, sleep training, homework, etc).

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