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Corporal Punishment of Children in Theoretical Perspective

Corporal Punishment of Children in Theoretical Perspective

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Corporal Punishment of Children in Theoretical Perspective
    Book Description:

    Despite being commonplace in American households a generation ago, corporal punishment of children has been subjected to criticism and shifting attitudes in recent years. Many school districts have banned it, and many child advocates recommend that parents no longer spank or strike their children. In this book, social theorist Michael Donnelly and family violence expert Murray A. Straus tap the expertise of social science scholars and researchers who address issues of corporal punishment, a subject that is now characterized as a key issue in child welfare.

    The contributors discuss corporal punishment, its use, causes, and consequences, drawing on a wide array of comparative, psychological, and sociological theories. Together, they clarify the analytical issues and lay a strong foundation for future research and interdisciplinary collaboration.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13380-6
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. I. Current State of Theory

    • 1 Theoretical Approaches to Corporal Punishment
      (pp. 3-7)

      The phrase “pain, but not injury” helps to distinguish corporal punishment from physical abuse: our subject is socially acceptable and legal corporal punishment. The phrase “with the intention of causing a child to experience pain” distinguishes corporal punishment from acts that have other purposes but may also cause pain, such as putting an antiseptic on a cut. It also makes explicit the fact that causing pain is intentional, not incidental. This point may seem obvious, but it is salutary to emphasize, since our culture leads people to focus on why the child was hit, rather than on the fact that...

    • 2 Corporal Punishment in Ecological Perspective
      (pp. 8-18)

      An ecological perspective on corporal punishment in childhood directs our attention simultaneously to two classes of phenomena. The first is the interaction of the child as a biological organism with the immediate social environment as a set of processes, events, and relationships. The second is the interplay of social systems in the social environment that shape the experience of the child.

      While all students of animal ecology must accommodate to the purposeful actions of the organism, the human ecologist must go further and seek to incorporate the phenomenological complexity of the organism-environment interaction—the social and psychological maps that define...

  5. II. Comparative Theories

    • 3 Parent-Offspring Conflict and Corporal Punishment in Primates
      (pp. 21-40)

      Primate mothers form close, long-lasting affiliative bonds with their offspring. Nevertheless, instances of corporal punishment, such as that described above, are not uncommon. Early field studies provide numerous examples of primate mothers pushing away, hitting, and biting their infants. More recent quantitative studies have established that the highest rates of aggressive handling in primate social groups are typically displayed by parents against their own offspring (for example, Jay 1963; Nash 1978; Kurland 1977; Horrocks and Hunte 1983; Bernstein and Ehardt 1986). Theories of life-history strategies and parent-offspring conflict derived from the general perspective of evolutionary biology help to explain why...

    • 4 Putting Corporal Punishment of Children in Historical Perspective
      (pp. 41-54)

      The history of the family and, as a complement and offshoot, the history of childhood have burgeoned in the past several decades, producing a wealth of documentation and new interpretations about family life in the distant and recent past. Few of these studies have focused intensively on corporal punishment of children by parents, but many broach the subject. Indeed, discipline and punishment often figure as key themes in historical accounts of the family, since punishment is typically assumed to be a central and enduring means of child rearing. How parents punish children, moreover, is frequently taken as a way to...

    • 5 Grid-Group Theory and Corporal Punishment
      (pp. 55-70)

      Family-violence researchers explain parental use of corporal punishment in a variety of ways. Many existing explanations rely heavily on personality characteristics, family and social context, stress, and sociobiology (Daly and Wilson 1987; McCord 1991; Turner 1994). A few researchers have drawn in varying ways on explanations involving culture, some focusing on violent subcultures (Wolfgang and Ferracuti 1967), others showing how violence in other areas of social life spills over into families (Baron and Straus 1987; Baron, Straus, and Jaffee 1988; Campbell 1992; Levinson 1989; Straus 1985, 1991, 1994).

      In this chapter we demonstrate the utility of one specific theory of...

  6. III. Psychological Theories

    • 6 The Origins of Physical Punishment: An Ethological/Attachment Perspective on the Use of Physical Punishment by Human Parents
      (pp. 73-90)

      “I’ve told you twice already. . . . Now that’s it!”

      “If you don’t listen to me, I’m going to have to spank you!”

      “Don’t youeveruse that tone of voice with me!”

      “I told her over and over again not to do it and I explained that it was dangerous.

      She stuck her face in mine and told me that what she did was her business.

      That’s when I smacked her.”

      “Now, every time I try to control him, he threatens to call the child-abuse line.

      If the government lets kids do that, it’s my not fault if...

    • 7 Behavioral Theory and Corporal Punishment
      (pp. 91-102)

      Childrenlearnhow to behave. Significant adults in children’s lives, especially parents, are their primary teachers. Behavioral theory is based upon principles of learning derived from empirical investigation. The application of learning principles to assist people in living more adaptively is often termed behavior therapy. A discussion of how behavioral research and its application can inform us about the causes of corporal punishment and its effects on children, families, and society is of great utility. This chapter discusses the topic of corporal punishment of children from a behavioral-theory and behavior-therapy perspective. Basic principles of learning theory will be presented, followed...

    • 8 Behavior Analysis, Evolutionary Theory, and the Corporal Discipline of Children
      (pp. 103-133)

      A scientific understanding of human behavior has progressed to the point where corporal punishment is no longer necessary in child rearing. Children’s behavior can be shaped with reinforcement and noncorporal punishment. Progress toward establishing these socially acceptable approaches has been slowed because of a lack of distinction among three different types of hitting, all of which tend to be labeled “corporal punishment.” We distinguish among conventional corporal discipline, impulsive aggression, and true corporal punishment. Of these, impulsive aggression presents the biggest problem, because our evolutionary inheritance makes everyone susceptible to it, to one degree or another. Since impulsive aggression toward...

    • 9 Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child: Lay Theories of Corporal Punishment
      (pp. 134-151)

      Over the past decade there has been a considerable research effort aimed at understanding ordinary, lay, or folk theories of human behaviour. Furnham (1988) examined lay theories of issues from the separate disciplines of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, economics, statistics, law, and education.

      Many issues determine the quality, quantity, range, and diversity of lay theories on any particular issue, which in turn influences the extent of research into the topic. Thus, while there exists evidence for a number of interesting lay theories for the cause of schizophrenia (Furnham and Rees 1988; Furnham and Bower 1992), the fact that relatively few people...

    • 10 Difficulties of Making Rational Choices Concerning Corporal Punishment of Children
      (pp. 152-162)

      A rational-choice perspective on behavior focuses attention on the goals of an actor and the choices that actor makes to further those goals. Understanding parents’ use of corporal punishment of children, in particular, requires attention to parents’ goals for the behaviors of their children, and their beliefs about whether corporal punishment helps them reach those goals. Parents may have widely varied behavioral goals for their children. Some parents may believe that obedience to authority is an important goal, in and of itself, while others may believe that children should internalize moral values and learn to make personal decisions in accord...

  7. IV. Sociological Theories

    • 11 Unintended Consequences of Punishment
      (pp. 165-169)

      Because punishments are intended to control children’s behavior, many people assume that the major—and perhaps the sole—consequence of punishment is teaching children to behave as they ought to. Yet the use of punishment is (I will argue) counterproductive. Furthermore, the use of punishment has additional unintended consequences. I will attempt to demonstrate how children perceive punishments and what those unanticipated consequences are. These illustrations rest on the nature of reasoning itself, though they are bolstered by empirical evidence.¹

      Although this book is about the use of corporal punishment, most of what I have to say applies to using...

    • 12 Moral Development and Corporal Punishment
      (pp. 170-182)

      Moral development refers to the growth of the individual’s ability to distinguish right and wrong and to develop a system of ethical attitudes and values. It is generally recognized today that moral development is studied from three leading theoretical perspectives: social-learning theory, psychoanalytic theory, and cognitive developmental theory (Irwin 1982).

      As other chapters in this book examine these theories in greater detail, this chapter provides a brief summary in terms of the theories bearing on moral development, followed by an application of each theory’s findings to corporal punishment. It discloses similarities and differences among the theories and their findings. Finally,...

    • 13 Corporal Punishment of Children: A Communication-Theory Perspective
      (pp. 183-198)

      A traditional view of corporal punishment of children is that using physical force to achieve compliance with parents’ wishes is sometimes necessary, especially when children do not respond positively to parents’ verbal and nonverbal messages that attempt to influence the child’s behavior. In essence, corporal punishment is seen as a social-influence strategy of last resort, used “when communication fails.” For instance, a father might give his son a disapproving look along with negative head movements to stop the child from pulling the family dog’s tail. If these nonverbal messages do not succeed, a verbal message, followed by another, and perhaps...

    • 14 Conflict Theory of Corporal Punishment
      (pp. 199-213)

      Conflict operates analogously on all levels, from large-scale warfare, political struggles, and social movements down to intimate personal relationships. Differences in scale are significant only because they affect the strength of the variables, not the shape of the conflict process. Let us consider briefly the main principles of conflict theory. (1) Any resource that affects social interactions produces interests in using that resource to control other persons; and the capacity to control in turn sets up a latent conflict. (2) Three kinds of resources are coercive power, material wealth, and emotional ritual. The third of these is especially important because...

    • 15 Punishment of Children from the Perspective of Control Theory
      (pp. 214-222)

      Control theory (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1993) assumes that individuals are capable of committing delinquent and criminal acts without benefit of example, training, or rewards over and above those inherent in the acts themselves. This assumption, more than any other, distinguishes control theory from other psychological and sociological theories. In control theory, criminal behavior is likely whenever its advantages outweigh immediate and long-term risks, as perceived by the individual. Given the natural ability of individuals to see the immediate advantages of delinquent and criminal acts, the task for society is to persuade them that such acts are not in their long-term...

    • 16 Punishment, Child Development, and Crime: A Theory of the Social Bond
      (pp. 223-244)

      This chapter frames corporal punishment within a general theory of human conduct. The theory of social bonds proposes that personality and basic behaviors and attitudes arise from the nature of relationships with others. The theory suggests that the extent to which children become effective and responsible adults depends upon the quality of their social bonds. Excerpts from videotaped episodes in a family in which spanking frequently occurred are used to illustrate the main thrust of the theory: spanking, along with other frequent behaviors, such as parents lecturing and threatening children, can be viewed as aspects of alienation, of insecure bonds...

    • 17 Exchange Theory
      (pp. 245-254)

      Corporal punishment of children is a type of family violence that is more common and more frequent and has more normative approval than the physical abuse of children, violence toward women, and physical violence toward and abuse of the elderly. Various studies of corporal punishment, going back nearly sixty years, find that the vast majority of parents use corporal punishment at some time in their children’s lives (Anderson 1936; Goodenough 1931; Sears, Maccoby, and Levin 1957; Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz 1980; Straus 1994). The rate of corporal punishment varies by age of child, with children under one year of age...

    • 18 Corporal Punishment and the Stress Process
      (pp. 255-276)

      The stress paradigm has been one of the most widely used and enduring conceptual frameworks for understanding the link between the social environment and individual outcomes. Although most stress research has focused on the effect of stressful occurrences or conditions on physical and psychological health, one major appeal of this paradigm is its flexibility and broad range of application. Thus, the stress-process framework provides an approach for examining connections among social structure, a wide array of life circumstances, individual variations in vulnerability, and a range of personal outcomes, including transitory emotions, psychiatric and physical disorder, and behavioral responses, such as...

    • 19 Corporal Punishment and Black’s Theory of Social Control
      (pp. 277-286)

      This chapter extends Donald Black’s general theory of social control (Black 1976, 1990, 1993) to the corporal punishment of children. Consistent with a Blackian approach, we seek to explain violent parental social control with the immediate structural context under which it occurs. Specifically, we argue that the likelihood of corporal punishment varies directly with family hierarchy, social distance between parents and children, and isolation of children from potential supporters outside the household.¹

      After briefly reviewing Black’s theoretical framework, we describe the central features of corporal punishment as a means of social control. We then introduce several propositions, drawn from the...

    • 20 The Structure of Family Rules about Hitting: A Family-Systems Perspective
      (pp. 287-298)

      Family-systems theory is designed to provide a comprehensive approach to understanding interactions among family members and also transactions across family boundaries with the outside world. Many facets of the theory do not seem to have obvious relevance to the question of corporal punishment, for example: those parts dealing with the maintenance of family boundaries, with family transactions with external systems, such as the school, workplace, and neighborhood, with the regulation of family time and space, or with the family mechanisms for achieving change or stability. I treat all of these issues in more complete expositions of the theory elsewhere (Broderick...

  8. References
    (pp. 299-332)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 333-334)
  10. Index
    (pp. 335-338)