Ordinary Spanking Does Not Equal Corporal Punishment
The research claiming that spanking causes adult dysfunction relies upon two design flaws:
- They include all forms of corporal punishment in the studies. The term corporal punishment is often used in the spanking research as being synonymous with the term spanking. The two terms, however, are very different. Corporal punishment is defined as bodily punishment of any kind, and includes abusive acts such as beating, kicking, choking, cutting, scalding and even starving. Spanking, while a form of corporal punishment, is more specifically defined by World English Dictionary as “a series of spanks on the buttocks, especially as punishment for children.” This is what most parents would call “ordinary spanking.” It is critical that this distinction be made between the two terms, since the result of their use in the punishment of children is very different.
- They do not limit spanking to children, but include (and even emphasize) the corporal punishment of adolescents, a practice that is obviously inappropriate and does not represent ordinary spanking. One of the most prominent early critics of disciplinary spanking was sociologist, Murray Straus, who published studies claiming that spanking during childhood leads to adult problems. These studies, however, are of poor quality and result in biased results. They are primarily based on retrospective interviews of adults who experienced corporal punishment as adolescents. Dr. Straus does not limit his interest to mild spanking of preschoolers in the home by parents, and does not limit his definition of corporal punishment to disciplinary spanking as previously described. His studies linking spanking during childhood to adult outcomes of alcohol abuse, marital violence, depression, and suicidal thinking are built entirely upon “physical punishment during the teen years” with teens experiencing up to thirty or more hitting events.[i] This is not ordinary disciplinary spanking, but rather abusive corporal punishment. This is how he arrives at the conclusion of adult problems. Sadly, Dr. Straus has developed theoretical models with conclusions that are speculative but that are cited by others as fact.
[i]. Straus M. Should the use of corporal punishment by parents be considered child abuse? in Mason M & Gambrill E (eds). Debating Children’s Lives. 1994; pp 197-203. California: SAGE Publications