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Child Punishment and Alternative Theories Essay



Despite continued study through research, the question whether or not to punish children physically remains a social controversy. A wide scope of cultural norms, values, and beliefs support the use of corporal punishment and restrictive discipline regulations.

Despite the overwhelming support on the positive link between harsh punishment and acceptable behavioral practices, rising theoretical and empirical evidence has criticized the generalization of these findings by elaborating that corporal punishment may lack similar results in different children.

Nevertheless, spanking remains a widely legal parenting tool in several countries across the world with the US and Canada being on the frontline. Several theories have been developed in attempt to explain the linkage between corporal punishment and alternative disciplining measures. These theories will be extensively reviewed through this paper. Argument for and against spanking will be critically examined to determine the relevance of corporal punishment to the contemporary generation.

Methods of research

This paper compiled relevant information from previous researches conducted by various scholars. It examined diverse views by these studies and integrated information from several sources. However, the findings captured across the paper are an independent analysis of the knowledge gathered after a careful and intensive study. Personal views and recommendations may or may not necessarily be of a comparative nature of previous studies.

Literature review

Reasons supporting physical punishment

During parenting, it is important for parents to find time with their children and engage them in socio-cultural talks, which enable them to learn what the society expects of them and what consequences they ought to face if they fail to adhere to the set societal norms.

For instance, Mexican American parents teach traditional Latino cultural values that support respect for all people, social responsibility, and they do not tolerate inappropriate behaviors. In a bid to achieve compliance by children, American parents continue to use harsh punishments. Negative reactions of parents toward a child emerge due to the high level of antisocial behavior by their children.

The attachment theory suggests that closeness and responsive parenting is the important factor in creating self-esteem as it makes children feel secure, and in return, they generate relational warmth with their parents. The developmental theory indicates that parents’ harsh punishment may cause the child to develop rebellious behavior (Mackenzie, Nicklas, Brooks-Gunn & Waldfogel, 2011). Mothers who achieve secure parent-child relationship find it easy to instill favorable and accepted behaviors on their children.

This stable belief protects children from perceiving their parents as being over-protecting or restricting. Even when harsh discipline is employed in response to a child’s bad behavior, the child stays positive with the knowledge that the parent did what was right and within the legal parameters. Spanking helps children to learn to respect authorities. This aspect does not harm the children’s personalities.

In as much as spanking children may appear cruel or harsh, avoiding it might be detrimental. The attachment theory aimed at evaluating how parent-child warm relation influenced the efforts to advance the cultural practices on strict and harsh discipline measures. From the findings, it is evident that the study had positive implications and children took harsh discipline as advantage to their development.

However, parents should not be given the green light to do what they want to their children. Other moderation methods apart from warm parenting should be included to avoid excessive punishing. Some countries do not allow harsh punishments in schools; however, they forget the welfare of the children when they are with their parents. This realization highlights the need for policies to establish to what extent is harsh punishment detrimental and to what institutions should children report to when they are punished excessively.

The developmental theory internalizes child behavior through the developmental stages to adulthood. It provides spectacular reasoning by imposing the belief that strict treatment by parents aggregates to acceptable behavior through modelling. The theory evaluates the transitional changes between children of age 5-8 coupled with examining them at a later age during their adolescence. Findings indicate that spanking may have less negative implications on basis of gender, race, or ethnicity.

However, drawing from this study, despite the spanking differences across gender, race, and ethnicity, the underlying difference may not necessarily challenge the positives in this study. Moreover, most behavioral problems among the young people can be traced back to poor and compromising parental monitoring in early stages of development.

Reasons against physical punishment

Physical punishment by parents and caregivers may involve spanking, head smashing, and slapping amongst other depression scores. Different studies have been conducted to determine the association between corporal punishment by caregivers at early level of development and resulting emotional challenges at a later age.

Parents have the responsibility to engage their children to productive activities to avoid anti-social behavior (Lansford et al., 2014). Studies regarding the repercussions of physical punishment have emerged and they produce mixed reactions to what extent corporal punishment is administered.

During adolescence when young people are developing, corporal punishment could be damaging. Slapping among other forms of harsh punishment can be hurting physically and emotional. This aspect could even cause brain lapses among other medical complications, which are irreversible. Ethnicity, socio-economic, and gender provide a complex way to achieve positive child behavior outcomes over a given period.

Negative Binomial Regression Models show that the effects of corporal punishment depend on the way the parent associate with the child and might differ with the outcome being considered. However, findings indicate that harsh punishment does not result in better behavioral outcomes as compared to those associated with warm and cordial care giving. Children become revengeful and rebellious toward their caregivers.

In addition, physical punishment lowers a child’s self-esteem, which leads to the development of a sense of unworthiness coupled with aggression. Externalizing behaviors in adolescents is related to harsh discipline and it leads to hostile parent-child relationships. In socio-economic and ethnically related situations, studies have identified that harsh punishment is related to increased misconduct and depressive symptoms arise and they can even go past the expected levels.

According to German, Gonzales, McClain, Dumka, and Millsap (2013), psychologists should incorporate the impacts of punishment on low-income families as well as ethnic affiliation. Conditional harsh discipline model suggests that optimal parental disciplining practices result in negative youth outcomes. This model recommends that parents should use alternative ways and adopt policies, which are not detrimental to the children. For instance, giving work and terminating holidays can be the best way out.

Limitations of the research

Despite the rigorous study undertaken by different scholars with diverse views and at times complimenting generalizations, the studies fail to capture crucial aspects of harsh discipline, which undermine lives of the young people. The study ignores the view that parents have varying degrees of what they understand to be harsh punishment. Some researchers suggest that harsh punishment can be moderated by parental warmth.

This argument fails to identify that young people become rebellious and they tend to avoid their parents, thus making it difficult to establish cordial relation between the two. Despite the theoretical efforts to make a reciprocating relationship between harsh parenting and adolescence behavior, current research on harsh punishment and child compliance shows a lot of inconsistency, thus making integration of literature difficult.

Even though the study indicates that parental warmth can moderate harsh punishment, harsh punishment may compromise those bonds and lead to increased antisocial behaviors. This finding contradicts earlier research, which indicated that high levels of care giving by parents cushion a child from the detrimental effects of harsh disciplining. Parental styles are determined by the concern and responsiveness of the caregiver to the child (Simons, Simons & Su, 2012).

The contradicting scenario of these studies creates intellectual imbalance, thus leaving learners and future researchers in a dilemma. In addition, the majority of the research is biased since it does not capture the extent to which harsh punishment like slapping was imposed. Children lack the platform to report in case excessive force is used. The studies do not give a comparative analysis on the behaviors of the children who were exempted from corporal punishment.

Countries differ in many aspects like religious affiliation and these factors are not captured in many studies. Moreover, the developmental theory suggests that harsh punishment is good for child development, but it does not consider that it draws its relevance from the early stages of development, thus ignoring adulthood. In a situation where child spanking has physical implications, when this person grows to adulthood, she might be forced to live with physical and psychological scars obtained during adolescence.


Regardless of the overwhelming findings and the positives on behavior change amongst children who experience harsh punishment, the depressive nature and the ineffective moderating methods remain questionable. Children may not speak out about their ill experiences, but the depressive symptoms and stigmatization live within them.

With the current generation and emerging dynamics in child rearing, spanking should not be regulated, but abolished. Alternative ways like guidance and counseling can be used to give directions. Parents should not confuse relatively less severe punishments for anti-corporal means.

Adolescence is usually a very sensitive and challenging time for parents and entire society. During this time, parents should understand the developmental changes that the young people undergo. Parents who ignore this view find it extremely difficult to get the best solution for their children.

For a breakthrough to the children’s behavior, they adopt harsh disciplining which may or may not work out well for both the parent and the child. On the other side, parents who empathize and find time to reason with their children, create a good parent-child relationship, which helps the child to develop a sense of responsibility and safe environment.


Currently, there is increased need for both science and advocacy in effort to understand proper and legitimate means of child disciplining. Careful examination should be carried to avoid competing values of sensitivity to cultural differences at the same time protecting the child from physical harm.

Future studies should emphasize alternative policies that come with a balanced approach to ensure good outcome for the children. However, keen analysis should be undertaken scientifically to avoid biased reports. Children, both at home and in school, should be given platforms to express their ideas on matters affecting them. Otherwise, a lot of commitment might end up unrewarded and years of well-intentioned research may pass by if policies intended to prevent child disciplining methods are not considered.


German, M., Gonzales, A., McClain, B., Dumka, L., & Millsap, R. (2013). Maternal warmth moderates the link between harsh discipline and later externalizing behaviors for Mexican American adolescents. Parenting: Science and Practice, 13(3), 169 – 177.

Lansford, E., Sharma, C., Malone, S., Woodlief, D., Dodge, A., Oburu, P.,…Di Giunta, L. (2014). Corporal punishment, maternal warmth, and child adjustment: a longitudinal study in eight countries. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 43(4), 670-685.

Mackenzie, J., Nicklas, E., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Waldfogel, J. (2011). Who spanks infants and toddlers? evidence from the fragile families and child well-being study. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(8), 1364 – 1373.

Simons, G., Simons, R., & Su, X. (2012). Consequences of Corporal Punishment among African Americans: the importance of context and outcome. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 42, 1273-85.

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