To Spank or Not To Spank?

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To spank or not to spank—a debate sure to stir up some strong feelings! This is especially true for the generations currently taking part in the debate. Many of them were raised with corporal punishment and would/would not use the same techniques with their own children based, at least partly, on their own experience at the receiving end.

Speaking at a recent summit of the American Psychological Association, Professor Murray Straus presented his findings from a survey of more than 14,000 university students at 68 universities in 32 different countries: children raised with corporal punishment are more likely to physically or verbally coerce a partner into having sex. Professor Straus postulates that people may generalize that the use of physical coercion is acceptable, having learned this from their parents.

Pro-corporal punishment lobbyists insist that today's generation lacks respect for others because they were not disciplined effectively. This may sound strange coming from a clicker trainer, but I would have to agree! Many children raised in the last 20-30 years have not been disciplined effectively. Their parents were told to discontinue using one tool, but were then not given an effective alternative.

Despite the principles of positive reinforcement being relatively well understood in the animal training world, they are not so widely known in the child raising world. While specific behavior modification methods might have been popularized through books and television programs on parenting, the principles underlying those methods are not well understood. When the principles are not well understood, the methods soon suffer. How many times have you witnessed an exasperated mother in the supermarket telling her child "if you stop screaming you can have a lolly when we finish shopping," only to have the child continue screaming all the way to the checkout while mom threatens "you won't get your lolly!"

While it's good to know what the actual fallout of coercion might be, and how probable it is in a very precious sample—our children—it does tend to produce debate about whether something is "right or wrong." Beyond people's beliefs and existing conditioned behaviors, they really can see the value in something that simply "works"—regardless of the "rightness" or "wrongness" of it. An exasperated parent might believe that it is "wrong" to spank their child, but does so anyway because it "works," just as an exasperated dog owner might use an anti-bark collar to gain some peace and quiet. The parent or dog owner is conditioned through the same mechanism that the child or dog is.

Being shown how to use positive reinforcement effectively gives that parent an alternative that doesn't need to be "right" or "wrong"—it just works and it doesn't have any unwanted fallout. For more information on parenting with positive reinforcement, visit the Yahoo Click-A-Kid Group.

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I agree, more effective as well as nonviolent

Thanks for this article. I try explain to people that there is a third way. I loved reading years ago, and use it as an example of the "second way" (neglect of needs for discipline, communication, and emotional/mental development, either using "nice" methods that don't work or completely ignoring these needs) and then the third way. The whole "carefully planned and controlled violence towards children vs more undisciplined, unpredictable violence later" argument is a false dilemma. I also find it plausible that violence begets violence; even humans who are disciplined with aversive methods can mistreat others without ending up in jail, so just how well is it working? There are many problems with the past few decades, but there are also many problems with the decades before them. I greatly respect the work of James W. Prescott, Ph.D.--numbers and biological mechanisms can be convincing to many people.