Spare the Rod- Thoughts on the polarizing issue of Corporal Punishment

Corporal punishment as a child rearing tool is an intensely contentious topic, and rightfully so. Everyone remembers the innocence of their youth, so when that trust is betrayed by those tasked to protect a child, everyone is quick to respond with fury. Half the internet roars at the other, condemning them as irredeemable, abusive monsters for laying their hands on a child. The other half roars back, saying they’ve no right to tell them how to raise their child. When I read these FB thread battles, I feel just like Larry David did when it came to the Palestinian Chicken shop.

Yes, physical punishment is a tool we can have in our repertoire, but I am highly dubious of its efficacy as a method of teaching children right from wrong. However, in contrast to the majority of progressive liberals, I feel that a beating is worlds away from discipline, and the conflation of the two can lead to very serious consequences, both legally and socially.

For the record: While my view on physically-disciplining children is in shades of grey, my view on whether or abuse of young vulnerable is acceptable, is pure black and white.

There is absolutely never, ever, EVER a valid reason to cause harm or psychological distress to anyone, let alone a young person who’s completely powerless to leave or fight back.


My own history has been one marred extensively by abuse and neglect; as a result, I have an intimate knowledge of the long reaching effects of the maltreatment of young people.

Being raised in an unstable household dominated by fear and abuse normalizes violence, either against themselves or against another person. Violence was taught to me to be not just an answer, but the only answer to anything, anyone and any situation. This is echoed in the statistics, that a startling majority of abusers were actually former victims of abuse themselves.

In addition to hurting me physically, abuse decimated me mentally — to this day, I grapple with issues of PTSD, suicidal depression, and anxiety, due to what I had endured before I was even 20 years of age. While the pain and bruises fade quickly, mistreating a young person can leave scars that last the entirety of their lives.


I have dedicated that lengthy description to really emphasize what effect abusers have on their victims. Threatening to destroy a soul before it even has a chance to bloom is a monstrous act, hence the public’s understandably hyper-reactive state towards anything resembling the abuse of children.


Corporal punishment differs greatly from abuse; however, first I would like to define the parameters of what constitutes as such. That term covers everything from spank on the butt, to forty lashes with a cane in a Singaporean prison. For the sake of this entry, I’m referring to the lightest of physical punishment, as anything more than a tap on the butt or hand is crossing a line to me.

Even as a child, I knew the difference between the spankings and the beatings I received. The rare times I was disciplined, it was doled out sparingly. It stung but only lasted as long as it needed to. Not only that, but I was calmly told exactly what I did wrong, and the punishment was proportionate and understandable, even to the mind of a child. Sure, I’d cry and had some foreboding dread for a scheduled spanking, but never felt unloved nor terrorized.

This was much different than my beatings, which was handed out in an unpredictable, highly reactive or emotional fashion, with the abuser losing complete control of their emotions towards a child. I was left broken, feeling completely unsafe in my home, unloved by my caregivers and confused at the disproportionate magnitude of their punishment in relation to the infraction.
For the record, abuse doesn’t always present itself in a volatile, uncontrolled fashion, but a commonality shared by survivors is that they often walk on eggshells around their abusers, never knowing exactly what will set them off. Perpetrators of mistreatment may try to justify their abuse by any means, but at the heart of it, abuse is the desire for someone to control and subjugate another through violence or psychological terror.


To those spanking their children, I implore you to reach out to others, for advice, alternatives and even support. Raising your children is such a complex landscape to navigate and we all do it with only the map our parents gave to us when we were young. As a result, it’s very easy for us to lose our way, or feel overwhelmed. It really does take a village to raise a child, and having a broad support network is crucial for both you and your child’s mental well-being.

To the general public, the last thing we need is to cast judgement and drive people into secrecy and shame. We should ask and examine why we do certain things, and exchange methods that are safe, verified by mental professionals and beneficial for both parent and child. I believe that we should do all we can to ensure that all caregivers have the tools they need, for they are literally shaping the future to come.


In order for genuine change and evolution of a society to happen, we need a great deal more conversation, rather than condemnation.


Originally published at progressivelyproblematic.com.