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Is spanking a form of family violence? : "In Rod We Trust"

FredParisFrance 61 / 7  
Mar 25, 2008   #1

Could you please read my essay and give me some feedback?

The prompt is:

Is spanking a form of family violence?

Thank you in advance


Is spanking a form of family violence? : "In Rod We Trust"

Since human beings belong to a highly socialized species, everyone has certainly observed or heard of parents who spank their children. Indeed, spanking as a discipline method has been largely widespread in the USA (Larzelere, 2000). However, such pervasiveness has not necessarily indicated that there is a consensus on the question in the American society (Larzelere, 2000). Consequently, in order to discover to what extent spanking, and more generally corporal punishment, may be considered as an acceptable discipline method in the USA, the arguments put forward by three significant figures epitomizing the main trends present in the debate on spanking in the USA will be analyzed. Thus, an attempt to delineate a conceptual framework permitting to distinguish the explicit and implicit norms established by the American society to address the issue of the child abuse will be made.

The very nature of corporal punishments that are administered can be a marker of child abuse. On the one hand, according to Murray A. Strauss, who is a social scientist investigating the sociology of the family with a special emphasis on discipline and an opponent of the utilization of spanking as a discipline method, all forms of corporal punishment should be avoided or at least shunned insofar as alternative methods preventing parents from jeopardizing their children's psychological and physical health might exist (Strauss, 1994). On the other hand, according to Robert E. Larzelere, a social scientist probing for curative treatments aimed at sexually abused children and who is also a proponent of spanking, and corporal punishments, the traditional form of spanking should be allowed (Larzelere, 1994). The debate is also impregnated by the influence of individuals who aim at propagating their political ideology such as John K. Rosemond who is a family psychologist advocating affirmative parenting. The latter deploys political tricks focusing on persuading through fallacies such as rash generalizations, appeals to one's own authority without supporting their claims with scientific evidence, economy with the truth, democratic fallacies, to cite a few. This demeanour could be laughable if it was not so serious a topic for American children's future. Consequently, Rosemond's position is only presently referred to, so that the political influence could be disclosed but his allegations will not be examined in this document. The nature of what is an acceptable form of corporal punishment is far from being an easy task because different, if not opposite, viewpoints confront in the American scientific and political communities. According to Larzelere and Strauss, the main difficulty has lied in the fact that the assimilation of spanking to child abuse would have amounted to accuse almost entirely the American society of cruelty against children (Larzelere, 1994; Strauss, 1994). Given that the American values and norms have largely been rooted in Christianity, it would come down to recognize the vicious character of certain messages that have been conveyed by the Bible such as in Proverbs 13-24: "he who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly". Consequently, the recognizance of what are abusive corporal punishments falls far beyond the limits of what are acceptable discipline methods. In fact, it would shake the foundations of the American society as a whole, which could explain why this debate has been ignored according to Strauss (1994).

Insofar as spanking and corporal punishments have been tolerated by the US legislation (Larzelere, 1994; Strauss, 1994), the intensity and frequency of this type of punishments can be an indicator of child abuse. Strauss has suggested that ordinary spanking could be considered as a form of child abuse since its outcomes are tantamount to the ones of child abuse (Strauss, 1994). Whatever the intensity of the act (i.e. spanking or physical abuse) might be, Strauss has argued that the consequences are detrimental to children (Strauss, 1994). Nonetheless, studies examining the occurrence of psychological disturbances in individuals who have been spanked in their teens have not established that the nature and intensity of spanking could be causal factors of psychological disorders during adulthood according to Larzelere (1994). Furthermore, antisocial aggression in children is not linked to ordinary parental spanking by a strong statistical correlation (Larzelere, 1994). However, in order to prevent the transformation of ordinary spanking into child abuse overtime, which has been a possibility ranging from a simple assumption (Larzelere, 1994) to a fact of an extreme likelihood (Strauss, 1994), advocated legal solutions have varied from laws granting a decision nisi (i.e. contingent in certain limits of intensity and frequency) according to Larzelere (1994) or absolute (i.e. a total interdiction) according to Strauss (1994). Such a resolution is also far from being achieved in the USA since the sociological consequences on a population of the legal prohibition of spanking and corporal punishment are still uncertain, ranging from highly profitable for the cause of abused children according to Strauss (1994) to highly prejudicial according to Larzelere (1994). The drift of the debate's focus from the nature of corporal punishment to its intensity and frequency steers the conversation back onto the subject of freedom granted by the US constitution: are American citizen free to spank their children and, thus, risk their health in the long run to secure an immediate obedience? Larzelere (1994) has evoked an interesting idea based on the notion that authorization to spank could be allowed depending on the parents' cultural values. Such a consideration, independently of its intrinsic value, reminds the scientific and political interveners that the American society is not an indivisible block but rather an amalgamation of communities that are all influenced by a wide range of diverse micro and macro-level forces. Consequently, the debate concerned with the legalization of spanking is not only subject to the preservation of the great majority of US citizen but is also depending on the recognizance of its individuals' cultural and socioeconomic diversity.

American customs as regards corporal punishments, and the subsequent debate on its potential legalization, is so saturated by the willingness to shield children against abuse that one could forget to keep abreast of the actual efficiency of spanking as a discipline method. First, Larzelere (1994) has pointed out that corporal punishment might prove to be a powerful assistance for parents wanting to aggravate the effects of reasoning or discipline methods with a low degree of coerciveness when immediate compliance is vital or when long-term remembrance is essential. Yet even Larzelere's findings have highlighted the fact that a high level of obedience is attained with or without the employment of corporal punishment according to Strauss (1994). Therefore, parents should restrain themselves from utilizing corporal punishment and should exploit the large assortment of alternative discipline methods that exclude physical coercion, even though they may not be as effective, in order to circumvent the slightest risk for their children's safety according to Strauss (1994). Indeed, research has indicated that corporal punishment, in the same way as physical abuse, might ultimately initiate numerous psychological, physical, and economic nuisances for children according to Strauss (1994), albeit some controversies surrounds the validity of such a contention of causality according to Larzelere (1994). When Strauss (1994) contended that spanking should be revelatory of parents' inaptness, he might have warned parents against the ravage of authoritarianism resulting from their laziness or exhaustion when they need to make decisions as regards the tools for disciplining their children. Although Larzelere (1994) concurred on this particular point with Strauss, he also promoted the utilization of an authoritative style of parenting, labelled "optimal parental discipline responses", exalting the virtues of moderate spanking through a combination of behavioural parent training associated with corporal punishment and reasoning. For freedom's sake, Larzelere (1994) has even asserted that this is not because certain parents are able to behave well their children without the aid of spanking that spanking should be forbidden. Finally, when non-physical methods demonstrate their efficacy and relevance whereas corporal punishment is conspicuously pilloried, because of its adverse consequences and relative inappropriateness, a consensus on legislative means regulating spanking is not reached. It is not so much a question of indisputable efficiency as a question of freedom of choice that really composes the crux of the matter as far as spanking in the USA is concerned. Actually, the point is rather to decide if a democratic country can renounce a legislation condemning corporal punishment for its minor citizens while this same country protects its adult citizens against the domestic violence, for instance through the Violence Against Women Act.

The analysis of scientific arguments offered by prominent figures involved in academic research conducted on discipline does not permit to easily define what an acceptable discipline method in the USA is as far as the nature, frequency, intensity, and efficiency of corporal punishments are concerned. Indeed, the cultural, social, economic, and political diversity of US citizens fuels the debate of the characterization of norms, and especially laws, when parental duties and rights are broached. This attempt at defining a conceptual framework permitting to distinguish explicit and implicit norms associated with acceptable and intolerable parental behaviours has shed a new light on the concept of liberty granted by the Constitution to US citizens. In other words, the present document highlights the fact that the American Legislative branch is faced with the difficulty to create norms implementing American children's rights in addition to embodying both the general US worldview and particular interests without attacking the very nature of liberty conferred by the First Amendment. Currently, the spanking lobby succeeds in its endeavours at preserving majors' individual liberty for no nineteenth amendment prohibiting corporal punishments is underway.

Albeit research on the implications of the First Amendment on mainstream America as regards children's rights could be interesting, an ethological study of the utilization of corporal punishments through longitudinal and cross-cultural research focusing on the USA and foreign countries in addition to comparative research with other primate species' behaviour could reveal whether corporal punishments are an adaptive behaviour or not. If clues could suggest that this is the case, other questions would necessitate further research, for instance: is this behaviour recent? Why is it transmitted? Does its transmission occur genetically or culturally? Finally, in addition to broaden the academic body of knowledge associated with the study of human beings, their findings could permit to implement innovative, practical applications. For instance, the discovery of a biological basis at the root of parents' aggressiveness would lead to research on the elaboration of medical treatments for appeasing petulant parents. On the contrary, the learning through social interactions of this behaviour would entail research on legal, criminal, or social policies concentrating on preventive and curative behavioural methods for protecting both children and parents. However, once more, the topic would irretrievably focus on the issue of individuals' liberty.

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