Corporal punishment archaic, does more harm than good

Posed photo of an adult holding a cane in front of a child.
Posed photo of an adult holding a cane in front of a child.PHOTO: ST FILE

I was surprised to read that 80 per cent of parents in Singapore still carry out corporal punishment and that schools are allowed to carry it out on male children, given the well-documented scientific evidence and studies on the detrimental effects and ineffectiveness of corporal punishment on children (Most parents here don't spare rod on kids at home: Study, July 30).

In an updated policy statement on corporal punishment in November last year, the American Academy of Paediatrics noted mounting evidence that supported its call to ban physical discipline.

It wrote: "Corporal punishment - or the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool - increases aggression in young children in the long run and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self-control.

"In fact, new evidence suggests that it may cause harm to the child by affecting normal brain development."

Such evidence is not new. In a 2002, meta-analytic study, psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff examined 62 years of research on corporal punishment and found that its only positive outcome was immediate compliance.

Corporal punishment was, however, associated with 10 negative outcomes such as increased child aggression and antisocial behaviour.

In his best-selling parenting guide, Between Parent And Child, renowned child psychologist Haim Ginott wrote: "We should not consider physical punishment as a response to our children's provocation or our own irritation. Why not? Because of the lesson it demonstrates. It teaches children undesirable methods of dealing with frustration. It dramatically tells them, 'When you're angry or frustrated, don't look for solutions. Hit. That's what you parents do.'"

Given the abundance of scientific evidence and research, and the availability of more effective disciplinary alternatives, corporal punishment of children can only be described as archaic. Many of us who are parents now were parented with methods practised when such studies were unavailable.

But in the 21st century, when information is easily available, there is no excuse to continue practising outdated disciplinary methods.

The onus is on parents and educators to stay informed on what is best psychologically for our children, and keep an open mind on positive and effective alternatives like "natural consequences" and "time-ins" that do not risk our children's emotional and psychological well-being.

Teo Leng Lee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2019, with the headline 'Corporal punishment archaic, does more harm than good'. Print Edition | Subscribe