On corporal punishment and aggression

The grim truth is that this is the reality for many children, whose parents use physical force as a method to teach them right from wrong.


Abuse - Laila Hack online
Graphic by Laila Hack

Stand-up comedian Russell Peters recounted his experiences as a child in one of his most famous jokes, where being disobedient meant “somebody a gonna get hurt real bad.”
Despite the hilariousness of the skit, the grim truth is that this is the reality for many children, whose parents use physical force as a method to teach them right from wrong.

Legally speaking, this is permissible. Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code says, “Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.”

While using domestic corporal punishment is not intrinsically a bad thing, it’s open to interpretation as to how much force is considered reasonable.

Take the extreme example of Adrian Peterson, who made news headlines for beating his child with a tree branch, causing bruises and lacerations to his back, legs, scrotum and buttocks.

Amid widespread outrage, he’s been placed on the NFL exemption list and his career moving forward is now very much in doubt.

This begs the question: what kind of force is reasonable? When is it okay to hit your child as opposed to grounding them or retracting certain privileges?

In several societies, ours especially, it’s a common view that punishment should fit the crime committed.

Using this framework, it would make sense that violence should only be used to deter violent behaviour.

However, critics of domestic corporal punishment often claim that it has an inverse effect and that it leads to more violent behaviour later on in life. Not only that, but some studies claim that spanking leads to higher rates of juvenile crime and higher scores on post-traumatic stress tests.

Proponents insist that it is an effective technique, so long as it is not done out of rage, love for the child is reinforced and milder methods are used first.

In their view, it is an essential part of being able to provide backup to the disciplinary process, showing the child that what they did was indeed very wrong.

In their studies, children disciplined in this way were actually less violent than their non-physically disciplined counterparts. It’s a difficult dilemma that’s not black and white.

The idea of getting hit by a larger person is no doubt very frightening to a young child, but it seems intuitive that intimidation is an effective way to teach the severity of bad behaviour to children, who often do not yet have a fully developed ability to reason and understand ideals.

In addition, everyone can probably recall at least one person who grew up in a nice household and was never beaten, yet for some reason had a seething hatred for the world and everything around him or her.

The connection between corporal punishment and aggression is not definitive.

I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to punish your child, so long as it’s done for disciplinary purposes and not to vent out anger.

A child is very perceptive to its surrounding environment and will internalize the actions of its caretakers, learning acceptable behaviour from that. Attacking a child out of frustration will teach the child a lesson, but perhaps not the lesson that you intended.

The only person that can truly tell you whether or not it’s reasonable is you. Picture yourself in the position of the child, but don’t ask yourself whether or not you’d like to be treated that way — the answer to that is obvious.

Rather, ask yourself if you’d learn anything and if you would understand the connection between the crime and the punishment.

If the answer is no, then what you’re doing is hurting the child in more ways than one.

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