Preserving Childhood: The Detrimental Effects of Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment has been a popular method of punishment that many parents choose to incorporate into their lives without giving it a careful thought. It can begin at any time, but is usually introduced within the entrance into grade school. The physical punishment can be endured all the way until the adolescent grows to be old enough to move out. This form of correction is simply torture, which has been practiced for centuries and is still a disturbing and frightening everyday occurrence in many Caucasian families still today. It has become prevalent in North America and effects thousands of families each year, primarily Caucasians. Corporal punishment in Caucasian children and adolescents has long-term detrimental effects on mental and physical health. Physical punishment, as it relates to white families, is often overlooked or known about but left unacknowledged by any figure who could put a stop to it because people fear the consequences of interfering in the lives of other adults. It can have a negative effect as it relates to mental and physical health and growth in children, as they are at an age of fragile mental capacity.

A Definition of Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment is defined as the deliberate infliction of physical pain, intended as punishment or correction from some sort of wrong action. Corporal relates to affects to the body, and punishment is an action used to suppress or decrease certain actions and behaviors demonstrated by an individual. This punishment can be anything from spanking, whipping, beating, slapping, striking, or lashing. Because there are no rules involved in such an act, there can be no limit to what exactly constitutes corporal punishment. It has been outlawed and banned in some countries, however except for only a couple of states, the United States usually allows for parents to decide whether or not corporal punishment is necessary for their child’s discipline. Unless the child is brave enough to tell someone about this abuse, or some adult happens to see bruises, this may be an experience that is recurring and often. While many groups and individuals argue that corporal punishment is necessary in some instances, other groups such as the American Psychological Association and the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse stand firm in the belief that it is a cruel form of torture used to harm and scare children and does not improve behavior whatsoever. Statistics show that this practice is prevalent in Caucasian families, and is typically used with male children but believed to be too harsh for the females. Punishment is usually administered by the father, or male parent, although in some cases it is done by either or both parents. It is an archaic practice that is barbaric, unnecessary, and should be outlawed to prevent the long-term negative effects that it causes to occur in the victims. Children who undergo this type of action experience a variety of different feelings and effects, which are almost always long-term scars. As behavior gets worse, these actions almost always follow to the point of causing bruises, lacerations, and even broken bones. Abuse stifles the ability to grow mentally into a mature and thoughtful adult.
When and How It Begins

Physical abuse does not typically begin until they are at an age where the parent feels that they should be punished for doing something wrong when they know not to. It may begin much earlier but most abusers were the victim of abuse as children and do not identify the incorrectness of such an act. Parents who hit their kids before they can walk or speak are sick people who are not using physical means as punishment, but rather as a way to fulfill some desire within themselves. This is where the fine line between physical punishment crosses over into being physical abuse. Physical abuse may be the result of long-term administration of corporal punishment that has progressed into new levels of severity. When a child in school starts to make bad grades or gets into trouble is usually the initiation of abuse into the practice of punishment administered from the parents. A lively, active child may suddenly appear to be withdrawn from their friends and the normal birthday parties and interactions that a young child enjoys and participates in. Many parents were victims as children and never came to realize that it is not something that they should have had to deal with, nor is it a healthy way to punish their own children. The emotional scars created by having to bear corporal punishment force many people to eventually block the beatings and pain out of their memory in order to function and lead a happy life. Adults that never had to endure physical abuse, which is usually what corporal punishment eventually escalates into, as children do not understand that although they see it as an option, the youthful mind does not know how to deal with serious issues or the mental difficulties that they will be forced to deal with. Perhaps they have tried other forms of punishment that failed to correct their child’s mistakes and decided that they should implement a more harsh form of punishment. Every child is different and it may be as simple as experimenting with ways to punish them to find what is the most effective way to make them learn not to do certain things. Taking away their favorite toy or forbidding them to see their friends or watch television are all suitable ways to make a child aware that whatever they did was unacceptable and that they have to suffer some form of consequences. Corporal punishment is not a necessary or acceptable form of punishment under any circumstances. Teaching adolescent’s right from wrong is usually accomplished through simple punishments that are determined by the personality of the child. If they spend most of their time in front of a video game, then taking it away should get your message across in a healthy way. Forceful physical violence is effecting them in the same emotional ways that other non-physical punishments can, but the difference is that physical pain causes emotional and physical frailty and is invasive to one’s dignity. This can make the actions of the child to worsen as they seek an outlet for their pain and confusion. They are being taught to act aggressively when they are frustrated because their parents are inadvertently teaching them that it is okay. Many consider it to be a last resort but research and independent polls point out the fact that is usually one of the first methods that parents turn to when faced with a problem with their child.

Social Issues

Children who suffer and live in fear of corporal punishment often have certain negative traits that are magnified in social situations. This can be anything from social anxiety, awkwardness, or even anti-socialism. Social anxiety is defined as an anxiety disorder in which the sufferer has difficulty being comfortable in typical everyday social situations. This type of person may be confused as just being timid or shy, but it is a real medical condition that can certainly be the result of physical abuse at home. Treatment for this condition is possible but in younger adolescents, the parents and possibly even the doctors may see it as just being shy as well and then the kid will have to endure this pain in addition to the abuse at home. Children and adolescents do not have the mental capacity to properly grieve and deal with what is such an unfair situation. They may withdraw from attending parties or be hesitant to do something as simple as shopping because they do not want to speak to the adult cashier. Fears of authority and adults are prevalent feelings of those who have to bear the bodily punishment brought on by their once trusted guardian. Even if the child recognizes that there is no real reason for this fear, it is an uncontrollable feeling of uneasiness that they usually do not realize is something that they can one day possibly overcome with therapy. Another common trait that is noticeable in an abused child is social awkwardness. The feeling that they get of trying to do right and be perfect is carried over into interaction with people of their own age. It’s not the feeling that they will be judged or abused by their friends, but the paranoia that corporal punishment causes is something that many children do not know how to control. They may have sudden outbursts during group conversations or have difficulty forming answers to even the simplest questions. Having these problems can be a source of ridicule among their classmates and they may feel like they don’t fit in like they used to. As a result, they usually make excuses to stay away from social interactions and may quit any extra-curricular activities that they participated in. Abuse weighs so heavily on one’s feeble young mind that grades may also suffer significantly and provide more reason for punishment to be received. Unfortunately, this vicious cycle could have been avoided if the parent’s were considerate enough to think about how this may effect their child prior to making the choice of taking away the livelihood of a youthful existence. The implementation of physical superiority that the adult may choose to have over a child can be extremely detrimental to the social life and desire to interact with other children, which is a valuable part of growing up.

Parent and Child Conflict

Teaching the children that there are other methods of resolving conflicts and issues, rather than getting physical, is a common value that is taught at an early age. A major problem arises when the adult decides to use violence to get some sort of point across to their child. Adolescents have such difficulty dealing with the occurrence of physical punishment because they have grown to expect their parents to help them when they are hurt and to try and protect them from harmful factors in life. Studies have shown that corporal punishment is most common between the parents and children of white families. It may begin as a means to discipline the child when they do something that is wrong or “bad”. Unfortunately, this is usually not where it ends. It gradually becomes more often and the form and severity of the punishment increases as well. After a while, corporal punishment begins to take the definition of physical abuse, which is the infliction of physical pain for the sake of causing pain rather than punishment. As a result, the child will usually lose respect and trust for their parents, even if only one is responsible for the abuse. The other parent should step in and mediate this situation and when they stand by and do nothing, their child begins to feel unsafe and detached from them as well. Everyday functions around the house will become more difficult for the victim to participate in. They will usually lock themselves in their room and avoid conversation and simple eye contact. The child may have been previously social and liked to be outside and engaging in conversation and activities with the family, but suddenly would rather hide in their room instead of going outside or being active in the family. It is common that suicide will either be attempted or carried out as the youth’s life begins to take on constant pressure and living in fear of not knowing when their next beating will be. Running away and finding excuses to not be home are also common results of abuse. The frightening fact is that the parents usually are not aware that the physical punishment that they deemed necessary is the reason for what is happening to their child. Changes in their child sometimes don’t go unnoticed, but are often unacknowledged by the adults who do not want to feel guilty or responsible for what they see is going on as a result of their actions. What they fail to understand is that it commonly will only create resentment from the kid and the problems may persist as a means of not feeling so dominated. It creates a divide in the family and results in communication barriers between the child and parents as well as the child with other people in the family.

Psychological Issues

Children who are victimized by their parents in physical ways as a form of punishment commonly lack in areas that have to do with what a person should know is right from wrong. Sufferers commonly end up with dishonest tendancies, such as being liars with difficulty forming relationships and trusting. They may never be comfortable forming a romantic relationship and if it does happen, it will commonly be a situation of spousal abuse and abuse in their children. Corporal punishment is passed down through generations even if the child had a rough time dealing with it because it can cause psychological damage.

Anger and Depression

The leading psychological issue faced by the abused is anger and aggression. Studies have shown that the violent tendencies in young Caucasian children are directly linked to the hurt and confusion corporal punishment. The family lifestyle of these children could be completely wholesome aside from the beatings. Parents become confused that their kid is suddenly so violent with other children, getting into fights and being increasingly confrontational. The sad truth is that these adults usually face denial that they could be the cause of the way their child is acting and continue to punish their kid physically. The adolescent is faced with the feeling that it is okay to hurt people physically when they do/say something that makes them unhappy or angry. It may create aggression toward animals, siblings, friends, and other people that they see at school or on the playground. Having built up confusion about the emotional and physical abuse they have been going through will inevitably need an outlet. Typically, these are the children who turn to crime and end up around a rough crowd. Suicide is an issues that many do not learn about until they are older in high school or college, but just because they don’t have a word or definition for what they have the urge to do doesn’t mean that it’s not a real feeling. Low self-esteem is one of the most common results of corporal punishment among Caucasian children. People who have endured years of emotional pain due to physical beatings from their parents are not fit to be parents themselves. Most likely, they will not be able to let go of the deep-seeded issues and end up hurting their own children the same way that they were hurt. Depression, social problems, and low self-esteem were the cause of most of the reported school shooting, which have all been white children, that have occurred far too often in the past few years. All of these factors have been known to be linked with corporal punishment administered by parents to their children. It is also a fact that the school shootings have usually, if not always, been done by Caucasian males. The biggest percentage of abuse occurs toward white males. In a way, you could see that these school shootings have a greater chance of continuing with the commonality of physical abuse as punishment. Learning at an early age that physical pain is the way that their parents deal with disappointment and anger will cause the victim to develop the same mentality. Generations tend to follow what the generation before them taught them to do. Most learning in young children before they are old enough to get into school is done by watching the way their parents act toward them and others. Behavior that is detrimental to the mental growing process is the leading cause of children to grow into criminals in their future adult life. The difference between right and wrong is blurred and, therefore, most of their actions will have no boundaries. Mass murderers, rapists, and other types of people who commit acts of violence and torture have been known to have abuse in their past. Severe beatings, which usually occur because the parent is overcome with rage rather than actually reflecting on the act of the child, can result in brain damage. Such an unfair disposition can go unrecognized and end up leading to future child abuse, substance abuse, addiction, and spousal abuse. This is especially true of Caucasian children who are victim to harsh corporal punishment. Difficulty understanding why they had to be abused and knowing that it doesn’t happen to everyone create a distorted self-image and detachment from reality. Drug use can start as early as they can get their hands on it, which can be at any time in most public schools. It usually starts with a mild drug such as Marijuana and escalates into the desire and usage of harder, addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroine. Overdosing and the risk of death are heightened with the use of these drugs and may even be the result that the user may desire. Drug addiction can spiral one’s life downhill quickly and is just as difficult to overcome as the physical punishment that they endured at home. Alcohol abuse is thought to be less severe than drug abuse but it can be just as deadly when it is a result of the trauma and psychological effects of corporal punishment. It is a contributing factor of making bad life decisions and further impairing judgment and critical thinking. The continuous use of alcohol causes internal physical problems and increased feelings of depression and aggression.

“Infamous” Effects of Physical Punishment

Some of the most infamous murderers were victims of corporal punishment that escalated into physical abuse. As a result of the abuse, the victim was in a severely negative mental state and usually only sought revenge to the abuser. The typical serial killer is profiled as a Caucasian male who has suffered from abuse as a child. Corporal punishment instills the ideals that a violent reaction is the first resort when faced with anger or a challenging situation. Homicidal rage can also be provoked by brain injuries acquired during abuse and developmental disorders. Lyle and Erik Menendez murdered their parents as a result of the torment they suffered from their severe disciplinary methods. The brothers testified that before they would be beaten, their mother would name off a list of reasons they deserved to be punished, while their father intimidated them with a belt. Screaming and escalating violent rage were also common around their household and contributed to their fear which resulted in sociopathic thoughts, feelings, and actions. Dr. John Wilson testified that the boys suffered from a learned helplessness caused by their dependency on their parents. The courts’ recognition of the negative psychological effects of corporal punishment contributed to the ruling of life in prison rather than the death penalty. William Bonin, also known as the Freeway Killer, had no recollection of his parents using corporal punishment, but physical evidence proved that there was signs of old wounds. He was known to pick up male hitchhikers and then rape, strangle, and murder them. The victims he chose were usually young males. This supports the theory that corporal punishment is perceived by children as the right to take out frustrations and anger on younger/weaker individuals. Bonin, who had apparently blocked out the trauma of his abuse, was found to have brain damage in the area believed to control violent impulses as well as unexplained scars from injuries to his head and his backside. He was also diagnosed with manic-depressive illness linked to the abuse his suffered as a child.

Decreased Feeling of Self-Worth and Degradation

Suffering harsh consequences as a result of every mistake, no matter how little or big, produces a steady decrease in one’s feelings of self-worth. Children need encouragement and understanding in order to feel like they are fulfilled in their everyday accomplishments and normal activities. Typically, people who decide to integrate physicality into the discipline of their children are somehow compensating for their own issues with self-esteem. An occasional poor performance during a baseball game or a low grade on a test once in a while is no reason to inflict physical punishment on the child. A better way to treat this sort of situation would be to encourage your child to do better next time and find a less harsh, yet still effective, punishment if it continues. The most valuable tool that a parent can use to ensure the proper growth of their adolescent is encouragement and complimenting the things that that do well. Kids feed off of praise and with enough genuine compliments, the factor of needing to take disciplinary actions will diminish. Feeling that their faults are constantly in the spotlight will make them feel inferior to other people and incapable of achieving any pride in themselves. Hitting your child is degrading. Any person who has ever been hit by someone knows that it is a degrading situation that no one deserves to go through. This humiliation is magnified when it happens to a young person because they have not yet learned how to deal with it. Most people do not realize how big a part mental health and self-esteem is to the growing process. During the young years of life, they still depend on their parents to guide them and assist them in understanding complex situations and feelings. The typical parent would hit their kid and never bother to explain why it is happening or what it means. While they may feel accomplished, they don’t see that their child is struggling with the trauma of what just happened. Feeling embarrassed and keeping the situation a secret from other people is the natural reaction to any type of abuse administered by anyone to a child. Degradation toward the adolescent may lead to mental effects, such as lack of concentration, paranoia, and loss of sleep. These can be detrimental to the everyday life of a healthy adult, so the effects on a weak child are baffling to consider. For most people, they seek the comfort of other people when it comes to painful situations. However, for children who feel embarrassed and degraded because of physical punishment will usually shy away from seeking any form of help. Self-worth plays a big part in the lives of all people, including children who may not even know how much they need what their abusive parents took away from them.

Corporal Punishment is Detrimental To the Growth of Adolescents

The common trend in physical punishment is that it has been practiced for generations and passed down through the adults who had to endure this punishment as kids. This is especially true in middle-class, Caucasian families. Anxiety, depression, and fear are common trends that tend to develop in the victims of physical pain inflicted by the parents. A large number of violent criminals, as well as alcohol and drug abusers come from homes where corporal punishment was practiced on them when they had some form of disappointing performance or grade. Family values and the wholesome home lifestyle, which is portrayed on popular television shows and desired by any kid, are shattered as abusive treatment breaks down bonds and builds up walls within the parent/child relationship. Rather than actually correcting the behavior that the parents find to be inappropriate or disappointing, the person enduring corporal forms of punishment may instead choose to rebel against them and other authority figures, such as teachers and adult family members. On the other hand, the child may suffer from decreased self-worth, which can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Prolonged practices of physical discipline can easily escalate into more violent actions from the parent, which can then be classified as pure physical abuse. Physical abuse can easily get out of hand and lead to health problems, such as brain damage. Corporal punishment causes many negative effects in the abused individual, as well as being disruptive and diminishing to the relationship of the family and their lifestyle as a whole.


Benatar, D. (June 22, 1998). Corporal Punishment. An article from: Social Theory and Practice, published by Social Theory and Practice-Florida State University.

Benjet C., Kazdin, A. (2004). Spanking children: the controversies, findings and new directions. Clinical Psychology Review. (pp.197-224)

Bitensky, S. (1998). Spare the Rod, Embrace Out Humanity: Toward a New Legal Regime Prohibiting Corporal Punishment of Children. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform (pp.354-391).

Donnely, M. & Straus, M. (2005). Corporal Punishment of Children in Theoretical Perspective. Yale University Press.

Gershoff, E. (2002) “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review”, American Psychological Association. Psychological Bulletin 2002. Vol. 128, No. 4 (pp. 539-579)

Gunnoe, M. , & Mariner, C. (1997). Effects of Parental Spanking on Children’s Aggression. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (pp.768-775).

Hart, S., Durrant, J., Newell, P., Power, C. (2005). Eliminating Corporal Punishment: The Way Forward to Constructive Child Discipline. (pp. 90-146)

Kaylor, A. (September 1, 2004). The effect of corporal punishment on antisocial behavior in children. An article from: National Association of Social Workers.

Kirchner, J. (1998). Childhood spanking and increased antisocial behavior. American Family Physician (pp.798).

Larzelere, R., Polaha, J., Shapiro, S., & Pettit, G. (2004). Physical discipline and child behavior problems: A study of ethnic group differences. Parenting: Science and Practice, 4, 341-358.

McCord, J. (Oct 1996). Unintended consequences of punishment. Pediatrics. (pp.832- 834)

Sawyer, T. (2003). Corporal punishment. Law Review: “Durante Neal, Eugene Neal v. Fulton County Board of Education”

Straus, M., Stewart, J. (1999). Corporal punishment by American parents. National Data on prevalence, chronicity, severity and duration in relation to child and family characteristics. Clinical Child Family Psychology Review. (pp.55-70)

Straus, M., Sugarman, D., & Giles-Sims, J.(1997). Corporal punishment by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, (pp.761-767)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 − one =