Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Spanking for Truancy? On the limits of corporal punishment in juvie corrections

I don't get too worked up at parental spanking (or even by school officials and such), but my own parenting experience tells me there are limits to its effectiveness. I grew up in a household that used corporal punishment quite liberally and consider it a legitimate parenting technique when properly employed. But these two recent stories taken together makes me think the courts should not coerce parents into using it:
Parents who use corporal punishment walk a thin line between discipline and abuse when the tactic is used in anger, with excessive violence or with the aim of terrorizing the child. Everyone who employs it must find their own comfort level with how they implement spanking, and every responsible parent knows there's a limit to how well the tactic works.

There comes a point when you can't improve your kids' behavior just by amping up physical punishments; the Texas Youth Commission is full of kids who're prime examples. There's simply a fundamental illogic to the demand that "beatings will continue until morale improves."

Spanking seemed like a near-ubiquitous part of growing up when I was a kid, with coaches and assistant principals in school hanging the dreaded paddle like a trophy fish on their office wall to intimidate their charges. But even then I noticed big differences between how it was used in my house, in school, and what sometimes appeared to be more abusive uses by some parents I knew.

My attorney father's version of corporal punishment, in retrospect, was very court-like: The punishment wasn't issued at the scene of the crime. I was never yanked up in a grocery store or whatever and whipped on the spot. Instead, in the privacy of the home after everyone's emotions had died down, I'd be informed of the punishment and required to voluntarily accept it. My Dad would make us bend over and place our hands on a desk or counter; moving your hands to intercept the blow earned you another clean one in its stead. If you were told you'd get three, you got three clean ones; told you'd get five, you'd get ten if five times you moved your hands back to shield yourself.

Though I seldom had the discipline to stoically take the licks, frequently earning myself more en toto than the assigned punishment, I never considered spanking a serious deterrent during my own misspent youth, and after a certain age I doubt most kids do. That went for the kids I knew whose parents more abruptly and angrily "spanked" them in public settings. We'd all laugh about it afterward, and the boys who endured it took it as a sign of their manhood that they didn't care about being whipped. Not infrequently, a publicly punished kid would behave even more audaciously to impress their friends in the wake of their disgrace, after which of course they'd disappear for a while since grounding was the inevitable aftermath when whipping didn't work.

For that reason I question the Brownsville JP's plan to coerce parents into using corporal punishment. (A district judge halted the practice after nearly 100 kids had been spanked in the JP's courtroom since January.) Some parents lack the necessary discretion to responsibly use force against their kids and might see the JP's stance as judicial affirmation of what turn out to be beatings instead of spankings. Using courts to promote spanking sends a false, even demagogic official message to parents that the answer to youth misbehavior is ever harsher physical punishments; often that's just wrong.

Even worse, depending on the circumstance, the crucible of corporal punishment can cause kids to act out worse afterward, exacerbating the problem instead of helping. Spanking may have a role, but it's by no means a cure-all. It certainly won't stop truancy (or at least, I can tell you to a certainty, it never stopped me from skipping school - a day off was easily worth a few licks if you were caught).

Used properly spanking has a place, but it should be a judgment call for parents, not the courts. The answer to juvenile delinquency cannot only be to ratchet up physical punishments ad infinitum in order to "get their attention." The end of that storyline is a dead 13-year old tied to a tree.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

If any authority figure who has a close relationship with a child has to regularly rely on corporal punishment as a behavior modifier, that means their levels of communication and leadership by example have not been sufficient. Communication and setting clear examples of desired behavior are the responsibilites of the parents, not the kids, so if they're lacking, the parents need to make some changes in their own behavior.

It's probably more useful to improve communication and increase the time spent with the child so you can immediately steer them away from unwanted behavior, instead of after letting a bad habit develop, trying to shock and scare the child into compliance with a physical hammer. Reinforcement works best when the consequences are immediate, consistent, and commensurate with the infraction. Relying on physical reinforcement, especially when combined with otherwise absent or lax parenting, can teach children that whoever wields the most physical power is in the moral right, which of course is not the best mindset for a child to grow up with.

an adult probation officer said...

To Grits for Breakfast:

Why was the blog "Killing the Messenger: Bexar probation chief wants to fire PO who snitched on faulty urinalysis results" DISABLED.
If you had not heard, she was FIRED last week.
You need to post another Blog headline in reference to it.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'll post something about Sherri, though I don't know much. I closed the comments on the other string this morning because some idiot was trash talking about his co-workers and posting personal information about them by name, so I deleted several posts and shut it down.

rericson said...

The only reason to put your hands on another person's child is in the face of imminent danger.
Corporal punishment is generally never a good idea. It is NEVER acceptable coming from someone other than a parent, grandparent, or someone in that kind of familial capacity.

Hitting teaches hitting.....
There is ALWAYS a better way.....

It is one of the worst forms of coercive practice. In most states physical intimidation is against the law...for all those other than the law (and parents)...isn't that a bit of hypocracy!

Children die, everyday, from corporal punishment. Countless thousands are traumatized. The cost to society is immeasurable...just look at any state's juvenile justice budget...or children's behavioral health spending....
and look at our adult prison system....one of our nation's mega industries.....

Think what a different world we might have if we invested a small fraction of what we spend on punishment on prevention....on educating folks, parents, providers, educators, etc. on effective ways of shifting behaviors!!!!!!!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

rericson - Glad to hear from somebody who knows more about the psychology of the topic, thanks for speaking up. Can you talk a little more about your distinction on familial spanking? Specifically, first, do you categorically disapprove of it in an institutional setting like schools?

Also, do you make allowances for familial spanking solely out of respect for parental rights and a realistic recognition of entrenched practices? Are family members who're spanking incurring the same harm as outsiders?

Bottom line, is spanking innately harmful or (my view) just not the most useful tool, deserving only a limited place in the parental repertoire as part of a continuum of graduated punishments?

Admittedly, I've never seen spanking do a lot of pro-active good. Though currently unconvinced, I'm open to discussion about when, how, why or if it's necessary or acceptable at all, plus the more important question of what alternatives parents should use in its stead.

Anonymous said...

Grits,
This is one of those intensely personal topics that almost always ends in argument. Adults, esp parents, have a hard time talking about this rationally.

I happen to agree strongly with rericson, based on my research as well as my own experience raised by parents who fit your description of those who gave wild, angry beatings of all kinds in public and private settings.

My sense is that your father was unusual in the way he applied corporal punishment in a controlled way. Most of the time it is a loss of self-control by adults, masquerading as a "lesson" in self-control for kids that has almost no chance of succeeding.

Instead, kids learn that its OK to take out your anger on weaker people. Its OK to solve disagreements with violence and intimidation.

BTW, the JP in this case has managed to devise a solution with the added bonus of humiliating the parents and thus adding to the kids' disrespect for them, making future misbehavior even more likely.

Having worked with many low-income parents over the years in adult education classes, I can tell you that every one of those I worked with were strong believers in a good ass whipping... even when their own kids got in trouble with the law anyway.

I'd love to see a study correlating JD rates with parental use of corporal punishment. I know how I think they'd turn out.

BB

rericson said...

Well Grits....I'm going to take a stab at answering some of the ideas/questions you've put out here....
I want you to know you've 'caused' me to spend the last hour reading all sorts of arcane stuff about 'spanking'.....not something I had planned on for this afternoon.....
If this isn't enough, I'd be glad to prepare a reading list of articles.....*smile*....hopefully this is sufficient as a starting point for discussion....as you can see, I am a strong opponent to hitting kids...
Both the American Academy of Child Psychiatrists and the American Academy of Pediatrics (as well as many, many child development experts) strongly opposes ever striking a child or using physical restraint as a punishment. Whether or not parents believe in spanking their kids seems to be somewhat based on the time and place (in the '50s and 60’s, spanking and much stronger physical abuse was simply an acceptable part of “child rearing”). Statistically, it is also related to the education level of the parent (the more educated, the less likely they are to spank). Many parents occasionally spontaneously hit their kids when they are frightened (the child has done something dangerous), or from sheer stress, frustration, or fear of having no other options.
If, occasionally, you lose it and spank your child, you aren't going to damage him or your relationship forever. However, it's not an effective or positive approach to discipline. It's a serious problem if you commonly spank your child, or if it's a dominant disciplinary method.
Spanking, or hitting, teaches your child that violence is an acceptable way to express anger and deal with conflict. This contradicts everything you are trying to teach your child about not hitting, using words, walking away, etc.. The more subliminal message is that in order to be “allowed” to hit, you have to be the one in power. The foundation for bullying can form at this early juncture.
It is painful. Deliberately causing pain to your child is cruel (even if you believe it's “for their own good”). We constantly tell our children, “don’t hurt the dog, don’t hurt the cat, don’t hurt the baby…” But we’re telling them it’s okay for us to hurt them….so they aren’t as worthy of protection from hurt and pain as the dog????
It's harmful emotionally for you. Have you ever felt good after hitting your child? Spanking often leads to remorse, guilt, and doubts about the quality of your own parenting skills. Avoid the agony-resist the urge to smack. It's a very unpleasant sensation to feel like a bully. If it isn’t unpleasant, perhaps you should talk to someone about things…..
It's harmful emotionally for the child. Spanking is traumatic, makes a child feel as though there's something wrong with him/her (instead of something wrong with his/her behavior), creates resentment, and can lead to body image and self image problems. Science links early childhood spanking to anti-social behavior in school aged children, independent of any other factors such as socio-economic, or evidence of other serious mental illness or emotional disturbances. Parental warmth and support does tend to lessen the effects of spanking but does not cancel them,. If it is done frequently and harshly it can lead to long term brain damage…the amygdala changes shape with trauma….if the trauma is sustained or frequent the brain doesn’t have the opportunity to heal…the altered shape of the amygdala supports many of the symptoms of AD/HD….as well as PTSD….
Spanking creates and reinforces a sense of powerlessness. A powerless person will act out, leading to more problems.
Spanking is disrespectful to the child. It undermines everything we try to teach our children about showing respectful behavior, even in the face of disagreement or anger. It does not promote respectful values or standards.
It breaks trust and invades a child's sense of security. A child needs to feel abjectly safe with their parents and other adults who care for them.
It completely breaks down effective communication. When a spanking occurs it is next to impossible to talk reasonably. For either you, or your child. Emotions are running too high….for young children especially, as they tend to live in “the now”, it causes a loss of opportunity for really effective lesson teaching.
For all children it short changes the opportunity for critical thinking and problem solving.
And, I know from my personal memories of a very, very long-winded father, and the memory of grimaces on my own children’s faces, a ‘lecture’ can be the worst of bad punishments……
As far as spanking in schools or other settings that are not family controlled, if a child’s behavior has risen to the level of an adult entertaining the idea of ‘spanking’, it has risen to the level of needing a functional behavioral assessment; a comprehensive look at the behavior(s) by teachers, parents, a school psychologist, or behavioral specialist…..the FBA should answer the questions;
Why? What need is the behavior fulfilling? And;
What behavior(s) that are acceptable can replace the negative behavior.
Observers should look at what possible antecedents occur, and can an effective interdiction occur at the time of the antecedent?
This is the time to look at impulsivity, aggression, etc. as well as the relationships with the adults….
IT IS NOT A TIME TO SPAK A CHILD!!!!!!
This is a time to develop a classroom behavior plan, if the behaviors are consistent and extraordinary it is the time to consider a Chapter 504 plan….and if the behaviors are significantly affecting the child’s ability to learn it may be time to explore the need to identify the child under IDEA…..but not to SPANK the child…..

Anonymous said...

Hitting does not teach hitting, most children learn to hit on thier own. It is a natural instinct to strike out or take what one wants or needs even as a child. Give a child a wooden spoon and a pan and soon he or she will strike the pan and hear the noise and strike it again and again. Most children do not even understand that actually hitting another person hurts, just like children naturally bite things and will bite each other. They do not understand that it hurts. I do not consider spanking in a limited form to be corporal punishment. Corporal Punishment for children is wrong. It is my view that spanking needs to be limited to only those years between 2-6 yrs of age. A quick spank on the butt and a profound NO for a two yr old climbing up the kitchen counter while mom or dad is on the phone is not abusive.
Children by the age of 5-6 really can understand consequences of thier actions, and no longer need spankings. There are countless numbers of parents who spank thier children when needed and when appropiate who do not cause harm to thier children. It is the cases of corporal punishment carried to far that children die, they do not start with a simple spanking. Often times parents who lack good coping skills are the ones who abuse thier children. Jails are not full of adults who were beaten as chilren. There are plenty of adults in jails who are there because they were not given any boundaries at home at all, allowed to run the streets and get away with everything, up to the point they were incarcerated. Were some of those adults spanked as children? Possibly, did it have any effect, who knows. Thousands of children are not traumatized from spankings. Are the other ways to discipline opps I'm sorry modify a childs behaviour? yes. A baby does not come with a manual, parenting is learning on the job, the learning never stops. Spanking when limited not not done when the parent is angry or unable to cope can be effective. A judge ordering a spanking is absurd, parents at that point might need some help, a spanking isn't going to work.

rericson said...

anon,
Hitting DOES teach hitting. Children do not spontanously learn to hit others.
A toddler may hit 'things'...even people, but not to cause pain....to get attention, see a reaction, etc. but not to cause pain.....
Hitting to cause pain is a learned behavior. Whether they learn it from you, the parent, or someone else, it is still a learned behavior. And using a behavior for discipline, to wit, hitting, that you ultimately want to teach your child is a bad thing to do is hypocritical, disrespectful, unecessary, and cruel.....
There are always alternatives. They may be less convenient, but they do exist. Parenting is hard and time consuming....and much of it does not need to be trial and error, especially at your child's expense, because there is an abundance of good, evidence based, information available for anyone who wants it......

Anonymous said...

Woring in TDCJ, you come across alot of things. You hear alot of things, once I heard a conversation between two offenders in the ad seg unit. They were celled side by side, from opposing gangs. One blamed the fact that he was raised by his grandmother and her lack of discipline as the reason he was in jail. He said if only someone would have told me No or made me accept some form of punishment when I did something wrong. Maybe I wouldn't be here today (he is serving a 15 yr sentance). The other told of how, he being raised by his grandmother he was spanked often and when he got to big for her to spank him hard enough, around 10was made to sit on his knees in the rock garden as punishment. By the time he was 13 that punishment had no effect on him either. He felt he was punished too harshly and too often and that was why he was in TDCJ (serving a 7 yr sentance). Both agreed that thier grandmother did only what they thought best and loved them deeply, but neither thought the reason they were incarcerated was thier fault. It had to do with how they were raised. Each day we wake up, whenever we wake up with the ability to change our bad behaviours, to make better choices. No matter what your past, we as human have that abillty. Granted it is harder for some than others, but it can be done.

Anonymous said...

"Hitting does not teach hitting, most children learn to hit on thier own. It is a natural instinct to strike out or take what one wants or needs even as a child. Give a child a wooden spoon and a pan and soon he or she will strike the pan and hear the noise and strike it again and again."

Even fish learn to swim to the top of a fishbowl when you hold food over their heads. Of course a small child learns from example and reinforcement of good or bad behavior. If you reward the good, they repeat the good to continue receiving rewards. If you reward or ignore the bad, they repeat the bad.

If you give the kid the pan and spoon, and they're noisy, and you don't stop them, they'll keep making noise. If you stop them, and encourage quiet behavior, they'll do something else. If you're noisy with your own spoon and pan (or hit your child) the child learns noisiness (or hitting) are acceptable.

Anonymous said...

"Each day we wake up, whenever we wake up with the ability to change our bad behaviours, to make better choices. No matter what your past, we as human have that abillty. Granted it is harder for some than others, but it can be done."

This is true, but if you never learn moral, self-disciplined behavior through rewards and love, you will not develop internal motivation for doing the right thing. If you never develop that internal motivation, you'll find it difficult to discern between right and wrong, your own rights, and other people's rights.

It's like asking a person to be capable of running a marathon even though they've had no physical training. They may want to run the marathon, but they don't have the internal, physical tools to do it. That's why rehab and incentive systems are so important. If positive recognition of good decisions and achievements are given to offenders, they'll learn externally, then finally internally, what society expects from them and what they can expect from themselves. Just touting "free will" as a reason to punish offenders doesn't address their psychological needs.

Anonymous said...

to rericson
Look at what you just wrote " A toddler may hit 'things'...even people, but not to cause pain....to get attention, see a reaction, etc." Once that child gets that reaction he has learned, no one had to teach the child that hitting another person caused pain, the look on the other toddlers face and the screaming cry taught all of that. So here it goes, one toddler hits another toddler on the head with his toy. The hit toddler drops his juice cup and cries, walking away, the other toddler picks up the dropped juice cup and sucks on it. Of course the toddler had no idea that he would get the juice cup from the begining, it just happened that way. It was never his intention, he didn't know it was going to hurt, but he still picked up the dropped juice cup and he learned. The hit toddler also learned, it hurts to get hit and soemone else gets your juice cup, so he stays away from that other toddler. To say that the toddler only hit the other because he learned it from a parent is wrong, hitting does not teach hitting.

Anonymous said...

"To say that the toddler only hit the other because he learned it from a parent is wrong, hitting does not teach hitting."

If the kid who hit the other kid got a good reward (the juice cup), and no adult did anything to change the outcome, then yes, hitting did teach hitting. Abstaining from changing the outcome of the situation is comparable to what the child learns from when an adult hits the kid, that hitting is an acceptable or preferred way of getting what you want from others, be it a juice cup or improved behavior.

rericson said...

anon.....
not to excuse, but perhaps, to explain....
when someone is traumatized....either by one single, dramatic action or event, or from long term, sustained behaviors....i.e. punishments, school bullying, etc. changes occur in the brain.
The amygdala elongates. That affects both the production, and release to other parts of the brain, of the neurotransmitters that carry information...
The amygdala is where our "fight or flight" response is...it is the seat of impulse....
Generally, when the amygdala recieves informnation, it immediately prepares neurotransmitters to carry that info to the hypocamus for processing/critical thinking.....
The amygdala, in its' natural shape, nestles around one side of the hypcamus...
however, if it is 'damaged' due to trauma, it has a longer shape and is further from the hypocamus...so it takes the neurotransmitters longer to get info to the area where cognition and critical thinking take place. In the meantime, that info is sitting in the 'fight or flight' area and without cognition and critical thinking, impulse control is non existent....
So often a child/person will promise to "never do it again"...and next thing you know, bam!!!...there's the same behavior...and the child/person feels awful...but they did it....when that happens it is time to look for TBI...traumatic brain injury...if it is present, then it is a time to teach that person coping skills and alternative ways to self-correct behaviors because the autto response in the brain is malfunctioning....
A brain that has been injured as a result of trauma can often heal and take back its correct shape if the trauma is not sustained.....but it becomes permanent if the trauma is not interrupted and a healing environment created.....

It is for this, and other, reasons that the federal govt. stopped funding boot camp programs...entirely....they are trauma indicing...they hurt kids.....
it is why things like the sanctuary model work so effectively......

It is estimated that 85% of urban youth witness a violent, traumatic event before they are five years old.....scary, isn't it?
It is further estimated that over 70% of urban youth sustain traumatic brain injury before they are ten years old.....
These are figures from a symposium sponsored by OJJDP four years ago....since we know urban violence has increased in that time, can you imagine what the current figures for kids are?????
Sandra Bloom is amazing with her sanctuary model...if you want to read a bit aabout it, go to www.sanctuaryweb.com

Gritsforbreakfast said...

rericson, thanks so much for your substantial contribution to this discussion. I knew when you chimed in that you were the man for the job! :)

rericson said...

I have no problem with a lively discussion.....I enjoy it...
Howere'. if you're going to attribute a statement to me, please, make sure you are correct....
I never said a child learns hitting to cause pain fron the parent. I said it could be the parent, or someone else....and that someone else can be ANYONE.....even another toddler.....the point is it is LEARNED....and if you, the parent, are going to attribute negatives to that action...to teach your child NOT TO HIT...then you need to walk the walk.....if hitting is bad for kids, it's bad for grown-ups, too....period....

rericson said...

grits, et al...
please forgive the abundant typos and spelling errors....i'm trying to multi-task....get my own work done and contribute to this discussion...and the old brain can't spell under the best of circumstances....
I just reread what I had typed earlier....and except for the one long response where I actually typed it in 'word', all I can do is appologize....*smile*

Grouchy said...

Well now this leaves us with a real question on how to raise kids ... if you live in Canada anyway ... There is big news story about 12year old getting judge to overturn her fathers 'grounding'.
Whats next?

shellie said...

It appears to me that everyone here has based their "opinions" on their own standards of what they deem is the proper way to correct children. What standard is everyone using to form these "opinions"? Are the opinions here based on books, opinions of others, statistics, authors of psychology and behavior of children? What?
We must all have a standard of living that is based on some authority, right?
The only authority and standard that really counts is what God says in His word, and He gives us many examples for correction.
Prov. 22:15 Says, "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child and the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
Prov. 23:13,14 Says, "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
Heb. 12:6 Says, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."

Now, those are just a few, and please do not think that I am an advocate of "beating children". I have raised 5 children and spent my career raising children in a State licensed Dayhome for the past many years.

I always felt like God knew better than I did on how to raise children and no one could love children more than God. That being said, I feel like we should look to Him for guidance regarding discipline. We are only human and can make mistakes. God is perfect, and His word is perfect. If He says spanking is affective and appropriate at times, than who am I to argue?

Romans 1:22 Says, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."

I do not want it to appear that I am foolish before God, taking the stance that my "opinions" of something are greater than His Word.

Maybe everyone here should rethink their position in regards to why they have these opinions in the first place. What is your influence in your decision making? Is it the right influence or is it one that just makes your conscience "feel good"?

Sometimes we may not always like what God's word tells us. Maybe we dont understand it completely. However, we in our limited ability to think and reason, do not have the same understanding and ways of the Lord.

The whole duty of man according to Eccesiastes 12:13,14 is "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."

If we will raise our children according to this standard,we are guaranteed to please God. It's not a guarantee that our children will be perfect or will make the best decisions or that others won't criticize us for our choice of discipline, but it is guaranteed that we won't be held accountable for our parenting skills, or lack thereof.

Anonymous said...

I like to play Asda Story, because I like its name, also I like Asda Story gold. My friend told me that she would buy Asda Story money for me, and I was so happy. I do not like to go shopping, because it always spends a lot of money, but I never hesitate to buy Asda Story Gold. You can buy cheap Asda Story gold; it is so easy and convenient.