- from Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families by Murray A. Straus; back cover: “A timely and important book. It makes the association between intrafamily violent behavior toward children and future violent behavior in those children. We cannot any longer use physical violence with our children as a means of discipline. We live in a violent society and every time we strike a child, we are passing on the message that violence is a way to settle issues. It is not.”
--T. BERRY BRAZELTON, M.D.
“As concern mounts over rising levels of violence in society, especially among the young, so do calls for more corporal punishment. But violence leads to violence and spanking and paddling are violence. If we want a non-violent society we have to root out the long tradition of physical punishment and learn to discipline children with our heads and hearts rather than with our hands and belts. Many of us have said it; now, at last, Murray A. Straus proves it.”
--PENELOPE LEACH, Ph.D., author of Your Baby and Child and Children First
“A landmark book that demonstrates empirically and utterly persuasively the fact that all forms of corporal punishment of children and youths are harmful and damaging both in the short and long terms. Murray Straus has combined the passion of humane and compassionate values with the hard statistical data of the the social scientist to convince even the most skeptical advocate of corporal punishment that this practice is the true seedbed of violence and aggression in our nation and world.”
--PHILIP GREVEN, author of Spare the Child
“Murray Straus has exposed ‘the best kept secret of American child psychology’: hitting kids is the dark force in family life. Just as smoking was accepted a generation ago, corporal punishment is still okay in polite society. However, like smoking, hitting emerges as a destructive anti-social act with serious costs to public health. Every professional ought to be required to master this book before venturing into the world of parent education or counseling. Every leader should read it before stepping into the world of child and family policy. It’s all here—the links to crime, depression, sex. A kinder and gentler America starts here.”
--JAMES GARBARINO, Ph.D., Director, Family Life Development Center, Cornell University author of Children and Families in the Social Environment
- p. 90 (Depression): Another theory that might explain the link between corporal punishment and physical abuse involves depression. Chapter 5 showed that the more corporal punishment a person experienced as an adolescent, the greater the chance of being depressed as an adult. At first this may seem to contradict the long tradition of conceptualizing depression and suicide as internally directed aggression, with some people directing aggression inward and others outward in hostile acts towards others. But recent research shows that many depressed people do both (Berkowitz, 1993). So, depression could be a link between having been a victim of corporal punishment and physically abusing a child.
- book flap: The question of whether corporal punishment is an effective method of discipline is hotly debated by parents, teachers, and childrearing experts. In his most important book ever, Straus contends that this believed-to-be-“minor” form of physical violence is the precursor to much of the violence that plagues our world. Children who are spanked quickly learn that love and violence can go hand in hand. Since spanking is generally done by loving, caring parents—for the child’s own good—a child can learn that hitting is “morally right.” Straus shows us what he has learned through two decades of research: that children who are spanked are from two to six times more likely to be physically aggressive, to become juvenile delinquents, and later, as adults, to use physical violence against their spouses, to have sadomasochistic tendencies, and to suffer from depression.
Parents do not realize that they put their child at risk of these serious side effects when they spank. Straus alerts parents to these risks, and reveals that spanking is a form of violence that adversely affects not only the children who are subjected to it but society as a whole.
This groundbreaking book is a must read for all parents as well as teachers, lawyers, judges, and professionals in fields such as social work, child protection, delinquency and criminology, psychology, and politics. Putting an end to spanking, Straus concludes, is one of the most important steps that can be taken in our quest for a less violent world.
- pp. 137-138 [9 – Alienation and Reduced Income (Holly S. Gimpel is co-author of this chapter.)]: The American Dream is the hope that children will rise higher on the social ladder, earn more, and enjoy a life-style better than their parents. This chapter looks at the idea that hitting children to correct and control their behavior reduces their chances of attaining the American Dream. Occupation and income, of course, involve far more than the dreams of parents for their children. They also affect mental health. Americans tend to evaluate themselves and others on the basis of income and occupation, so a person’s position on the occupational ladder and earnings influence his or her self-esteem.
The idea that corporal punishment affects how high up the occupational ladder a person climbs and how much money he or she earns is probably something that most people think is even more ridiculous than the idea that spanking causes depression or violence later in life. But if it is true, it might be the one thing that will convince American parents to stop hitting their children.
The connection between corporal punishment and economic achievement was suggested by a study showing that women who were sexually abused as children had lower incomes than those who were not abused. This was the case even after taking into account other characteristics that also affect occupational and economic attainment, such as how much education they had completed (Hyman, 1993). Hyman assumes that sexual abuse is an experience that traumatizes many victims and impairs their physical and mental health, which in turn lowers economic achievement. That assumption also probably applies to the effects of corporal punishment.
It is not too far fetched to believe that when a child is hit by someone he or she loves and depends on, it can be traumatizing. A severely traumatic experience can have wide-ranging effects that might spawn characteristics that could impair occupational success. Besides that, children cannot escape the parents who punish them. So, even if no single instance is traumatizing, they may be similar to the laboratory animals in Seligman’s experiments on “learned helplessness” who became passive and withdrawn as a way of adapting to punishment they could not escape. (Seligman and Garbor, 1982).
We already have seen that corporal punishment is related to an increased probability of depression and violence. Being passive, depressed, or physically violent are not traits that endear a person to an employer or fellow employee. Future research might reveal still other types of psychological injury that could interfere with moving up the occupational ladder.
- pp. 125-126 [8—The Fusion of Sex and Violence (Sexual Scripts and Other Influences)]: Glickauf-Hughes and Wells (1991) attribute the development of masochism to growing up in a hostile, intrusive, and unpredictable environment. They argue that masochism is caused by two types of influences. The first is early deprivation, such as erratic nurturing, a weak parent-child attachment, and the parent’s inability to meet the child’s needs. The second is growing up in an unpredictable environment where the child is punished and praised for the same behavior, where parents are ambivalent or inconsistent, and where parents are more concerned with their own needs than those of their child. In these households, children often are treated badly under the guise of love. They may come to associate mistreatment with love, regardless of whether the parents spanked.
Lynn Chancer (1992) argues that masochism is a product of a society, such as that in the United States, that is characterized by domination and subordination in most spheres of life. Chancer’s theory suggests that masochism is more likely to occur in a society with a rigid class system, male dominance, and other unequal social relationships. This type of society produces masochistically inclined people regardless of whether they have been subjected to experiences, such as spanking, that fuse love and violence.
- p. 136: Our research so far suggests that when corporal punishment is combined with love, masochism is the result. Perhaps an equal amount of hitting by cold and indifferent parents will more likely result in sadism than masochism. This speculation is an example of how important it is for research on corporal punishment to take into account a variety of other parent behaviors.
Most parents probably precede or follow corporal punishment with declarations of love for their children, at least occasionally. They do not realize the confusing message that they send. Of course, spanking with love is preferable to spanking without love. Corporal punishment without love puts the child at risk of profound damage to self-esteem and for developing a resentful, cold, and aggressive personality, and sometimes even murderous aggression. Fortunately, it is not necessary to choose between styles of parenting that increase the probability of masochistic tendencies (corporal punishment with love) and those that increase the probability of aggression (corporal punishment without love). The alternative is to keep the love and affection, but stop hitting.
- p. 135: We also already know that whether the child is a boy or a girl makes a difference. The statistics in this chapter show that men have higher rates of fantasizing about and participating in masochistic sex. One explanation for the higher rate harks back to the Kinsey studies (1948, 1953). That research uncovered statistical evidence for what everyone assumed—that men have more interest in every type of sexual activity than women. Perhaps, as Kinsey suggested, there is a biological basis for this. Or, perhaps it is simply that men and women are socialized differently. Men are encouraged to be more sexual, more daring, and to take more chances than women. So the higher arousal rate by men from masochistic sex may be just another manifestation of their greater interest in sex in general. An equally likely and intriguing possibility is that boys are at greater risk for developing sexual masochism because boys are spanked somewhat more than girls (see Chapter 2). Finally, boys may get less affection from parents, and we have seen that the lack of warmth and affection as a child is associated with masochistic sex as an adult.
- pp. 3-5 (1—The Conspiracy of Silence): “Beating the devil out of him” is just a hyperbola for spanking. Not long ago it also had a religious meaning based on the ideas of original sin and being possessed by the devil. Even today, the idea of a child being possessed by the devil probably crossed the mind of parents because all children misbehave. Some misbehave more than others, but all children sometimes fail to do what a parent wants or do things that the parent does not want. Many parents now believe in a modern version of original sin—the willful or stubborn child. Almost all contemporary American parents believe that spanking is sometimes necessary for the child’s own good. With this in mind, this book will look at two critically important questions:
- When children misbehave, what leads some parents to routinely spank or slap, others to do it rarely, and a very few to never hit their child?
- What effect does it have on the children, on the parents, and on society?
I assume that, with few exceptions, parents would prefer not to “have to” hit their children. Even so, evidence shows that more than 90 percent of American parents hit toddlers and most continue to hit their children for years. In short, almost all American children have been hit by their parents—usually for many years. For at least one out of five, and probably closer to half of all children, hitting begins when they are infants and does not end until they leave home.
One of the ironies of corporal punishment is that, widespread as it is, it is an almost invisible part of American life. It is invisible in part because almost everyone has been spanked or spanks. This makes corporal punishment so unremarkable, so taken for granted, that few people give it much thought. If they do think about it, they tend to believe that when done in moderation, corporal punishment has no consequence besides its immediate disciplinary purpose or the larger purpose of making the child obedient in general. But reality is different. The research in the chapters that follow suggests that corporal punishment is an extremely important part of the experiences and psychological development of almost all American children. Corporal punishment has many consequences; the irony is that most of these consequences are the opposite of what parents think they are achieving.
Most parents use corporal punishment to stop a child from misbehaving and to make him or her well-behaved. While that may be their intention, the evidence in this book indicates that spanking and other legal forms of corporal punishment are more likely to block that goal. The immediate effect of corporal punishment may be to stop misbehavior, but the long-term effect is to increase the chances of worse behavior and other problems, including impaired learning and delinquency; and later in life, depression, child abuse, wife beating, and other crimes.
Another irony of corporal punishment is that it tends to be ignored in social science research. This chapter documents that avoidance and suggests why it has occurred.
What Is Corporal Punishment?
Without a clear definition of corporal punishment it is almost impossible to do research that will add up to a coherent body of knowledge. The following definition guided this study:
Corporal punishment is the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behavior.
Everyone does not have to agree with the definition but everyone does need to know what was studied and what was not studied. For example, this definition includes the phrase but not injury in order to distinguish corporal punishment from physical abuse. It mentions the intention of causing a child to experience pain for two reasons. The first reason is to distinguish it from acts that have other purposes but that also may cause pain, such as putting antiseptic on a cut. The second reason is to make clear the fact that causing pain is intentional. This may seem obvious, but our culture leads people to focus on why the child was hit, rather than on the fact that hitting hurts. Consider the parent who says, If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about; or think about what is likely to happen if a spanked child says, It doesn’t hurt.
The most frequent forms of corporal punishment are spanking, slapping, grabbing or shoving a child roughly (with more force than is needed to move the child), and hitting with certain objects such as a hair brush, belt, or paddle.
When it comes to translating this definition into specific acts in order to find out who is using corporal punishment, I excluded hitting with an object such as a hair brush, belt, or paddle even though traditional cultural norms permit it. Hitting of this type was excluded because it poses a significant risk of causing an injury that needs medical treatment and, therefore, falls into the category of physical abuse. Another reason for excluding hitting with objects is because public opinion is moving in that direction. A 1978 survey in Texas found that only a third of the adult population considered hitting a child with a belt or wooden paddle to be physical abuse. When the study was repeated in 1991, almost half saw these acts as physical abuse (Teske and Thurman, 1992, Table 12) rather than corporal punishment.
- pp. 85-86 [Physical Abuse (Non-Compliance and Escalation)]: Clinical work with abusive parents has shown that much physical abuse starts as an attempt to correct and control through corporal punishment. When the child does not comply or, in the case of older children, hits back and curses the parent, the resulting frustration and rage leads some parents to increase the severity of the physical attack and kick, punch, or hit with an object. Kempe and Kempe (1978), for example say:
[Abusive parents] . . . may be discouraged when spanking obviously brings no result, but they truly see no alternative and grow depressed both by their own behavior and their babies responses. Helplessly, they continue in the same vicious circle: punishment, deteriorating relationship, frustration, and further punishment (p. 27).
Wolfe et al., (1981) call this sequence “child-precipitated” abuse because it begins when a child misbehaves. If corporal punishment is not effective, abusive parents increase the severity of the punishment until the point where a child may be injured. Devenson (1982) and Marion (1982) reached similar conclusions on the basis of clinical evidence. [Devenson, Anne. “Violence in Society.” Pp. 231-38 in Child Abuse: A Community Concern, edited by K. Oates. New York: Brunner/Mazel Pub.] Marion also points out that corporal punishment creates a false sense of successful discipline because of the temporary end it puts to undesirable behavior. She also cites research that shows the corporal punishment tends to increase undesirable behavior in children. [Marion, Marian. “Primary Prevention of Child Abuse: The Role of the Family Life Educator.” Family Relations 31:575-82.] So, parents who rely on hitting to control the child’s behavior have to continually increase the intensity. Besides the clinically based conclusions we just mentioned, there has been some research on this increasing intensity, or escalation. Frude and Gross (1980) studied 111 mothers and found that 40 percent were worried that they could possibly hurt their children. These tended to be the mothers who used corporal punishment frequently. Gil (1970) studied 1,380 abused children and found that 63 percent of the abuse incidents were an “immediate or delayed response to specific [misbehavior] of the child.”
The research by Kadushin and Martin (1981) on 66 abusive parents is probably the most direct test of the escalation theory. They describe a number of specific situations in which escalation occurs, such as a child who fails to respond to the punishment, attempts to fight back or run away, or the parent who becomes frustrated and then enraged when using corporal punishment, as in the following . . . [example]:
Then I started to spank her and she wouldn’t cry—stubborn, she’s just like I am, she wouldn’t cry—like it was having no effect, like she was defying me. So I spanked her all the harder (p. 173).