One of the common disciplinary strategies of parents is physical punishment. Physical punishment is associated with the use of force to inflict pain towards children (but not to injure them) which involves spanking, pinching, squeezing, paddling, smacking to correct children’s unacceptable behavior or shortcoming (American Psychoanalytic Association).
The nature of physical punishment has sparked multilayered questions and reactions concerning to its appropriateness in guiding children to become better individuals.
From different cultural perspectives, there is an absence of conformity whether physical punishment could be held effective; rather, it is almost always considered a threat to children’s multidimensional development.
Nevertheless, few have believed that this type of discipline is necessary and appropriate depending on cultural norms of origin.
Perceived Negative Effect of Physical Punishment
A number of findings have argued that corporal punishment is not an appropriate parenting strategy and should not be used to discipline children.
Several studies have shown the negative impact of corporal punishment on children’s behavioral development. The effect of physical punishment is not only limited to children’s behavioral development (internalizing or externalizing behavior).
Researchers around the world found different negative effects of physical discipline including youth increasing consumption of drugs and alcohol.
However, this finding cannot be taken as a concrete conclusion for other cultures around the world. For some, the effect of corporal punishment may vary across cultures.
Varying effects of corporal punishment are largely affected and shaped by cultural norms.
Effects of Physical Punishment with Respect to Cultural Context
Although several studies have shown negative effects of physical punishment on children, the variation of cultural norms greatly influenced children’s perception on such disciplinary style.
Corporal punishment is viewed differently by every culture. It is suggested that in society where harsh environment exists, the effects of physical punishment on children’s emotional development and social interaction are minimal or none.
The prevalence of physical punishment within a certain culture may greatly affect the children’s perception whether to think they are being abused or being loved by their parents.
The impact of punishment on children is therefore moderated by some latent factors. For example, Deater-Deckard, Lansford, Dodge, Pettit, and Bates suggest that cultures around the world have varying interpretation on the use of corporal punishment.
The findings of Lansford and Dodge inclined to the latter literature manifesting environment as a factor that could influence child’s perception to consider the normalcy of physical punishment in a given society.
In understanding the effect of corporal punishment, ethnicity is an important factor to consider. Every culture has its own belief and consideration depending on the observable normative phenomena like violence.
Slade and Wissow conclude that there is indeed varying effects of corporal punishment across cultures.
In American cultural context, physical punishment bearing two slightly different faces. Physical punishment is associated with the behavioral problem among European American children but African American children who also experience corporal punishment are found to have a lower behavioral problem considering that African American mothers more often use corporal punishment than European American mothers.
This may suggest that children’s perception is affected by the existing discipline strategy within families. If parents punish their children physically more often, children might consider corporal punishment as normal and therefore acceptable.
In this case, negative outcomes in the future may be marginal. Slade and Wissow added that physical punishment caused “externalizing behavior” among 2-year old white non-Hispanic children but not on African American children. It might be that non-Hispanic parents do not use physical punishment on their children unlike African American parents and therefore the result is quite different.
While in North Carolina, the study of Zolotor, Robinson, Runyan, Barr, and Murphy suggests that the use of physical punishment would not only result to the behavioral problem among children but also it could reduce the quality of “parent-child relationship and poorer mental health.”
In Latin American cultural context, physical punishment is found to be a potential threat to children’s behavioral development. The negative effect of corporal punishment was established regardless of how often parents punish their children physically.
Although Chilean parents punish their children occasionally, the effect is still negative. Occasional use of corporal punishment like spanking still conveyed negative effects to children like “externalizing behavior” for youth.
Harsh corporal punishment in Australian cultural context is associated with externalizing behavior. Mild physical punishment has nothing to do with children’s behavior, but when it becomes harsh it could possibly be harmful to children.
The worst effect of physical punishment on children was found in India where corporal punishment is associated with children’s development of antisocial behavior, suicidal behavior, and aggressiveness.
Antisocial behavior and aggressiveness are common effects of physical punishment in some cultures but not suicidal behavior. This might suggest that corporal punishment may cause severe impact on children’s behavioral development.
I’m a licensed psychometrician, author, and blogger. I’m currently working as a University instructor teaching psychology. I love writing and doing psychological research.