Why Primary Care Physicians Should Promote Nonviolence and Positive Child Discipline
By Madeleine Y. Gómez, Ph.D., July 2010

Violence remains a huge problem in our world.  It affects every individual and society as well as the world at large.  Yet, even violence and the attitudes associated with it are in a state of evolution.  There are likely few people living today who remember when it was legal to strike your wife in the United States.  Earlier than that, beating your slave was perfectly acceptable.  Today's children in the United States as well as much of the world face this same battle for the right to nonviolence, safety and bodily integrity.   

Forward steps continue to occur as 25 countries have abolished the use of corporal punishment against children and the momentum appears to be growing with 23 countries in active debate of full prohibition.  Even the United States, which is not one of those countries that has banned CP, is holding Senate hearings to debate abolishing the use of paddling in the schools.  While Illinois is not one of those states where CP can be used in the public school system, there are 20 states, many in the south, that still permit the use of this practice.  

And of course, corporal punishment is a euphemism along with many others, including spanking, hitting, whooping, belting, smacking, chastising, giving licks, tanning, flogging, caning, popping, and paddling for parents and other adults using violence to control, punish and inflict pain upon children.  

So, why should a PCP care about kids being hit at home by their parents or guardians?  

  1.   Corporal punishment inflicts pain and can result in injuries.
  2.   Physical abuse up to and including death of children likely began as "socially acceptable" corporal punishment.
  3.   Corporal punishment teaches that violence is an acceptable mode to resolve problems.
  4.   Children with disabilities are at high risk for corporal punishment as are males and minorities.
  5.   Corporal punishment statistics do not support that its use improves academic performance.  In fact, we know that fear inhibits the learning process as well as motivation.
  6.   Corporal punishment alters the normal development of brain structures.
  7.   Corporal punishment is linked to higher rates of aggressive behavior.
  8.   Corporal punishment is linked to lower IQ.
  9.   Corporal punishment and violence are linked to mental illness.  
    Regarding # 8 and #9:  "Now researchers at Tulane University provide the strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking: of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5. The research supports earlier work on the pitfalls of corporal punishment, including a study by Duke University researchers that revealed that infants who were spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3."  
  10.  Corporal punishment is linked to drug abuse and alcohol abuse.
  11.   Jordan Riak, Director of PTAVE (Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education) lectures in the jails and finds an almost universal report from the inmates of exposure to violence, corporal punishment and mistreatment as a child.
  12. The American Academy of Pediatrics is opposed to corporal punishment of children for whatever reason.
  13.   CP costs us bucks - big bucks - on medical treatment, medication, ER visits, jails, and psychotherapy.   I'm talking billions of dollars here and the violence stats don't even include the damages from corporal punishments.
  14.   For those who quote the religious argument - Jesus was the Prince of Peace who came to establish a New Law of Love in the New Testament and to his death remained nonviolent.
  15.   Cultural relativism, regarding cultural acceptance of violence towards kids or as in honor killings, is a flawed and illogical argument.
  16.   If hitting a child worked, it would be used once and there'd be no more need for more corporal punishment.
  17.   Corporal punishment leaves a legacy of violence so powerful that psychological defenses are needed to help deal with it.  These defenses include; identification with the aggressor, denial, repression, splitting, dissociation and repetition compulsion.
  18.   The face, hands and the butt are commonly hit.  The face is part of the head which houses the brain. A child's brain should always be protected.  The hands are composed of multiple bones and nerves for feeling which are easily damaged by violent attacks.  The buttocks are an erogenous zone full of sensory connections. Is it any wonder that violence and love, pleasure and pain become confused? 
  19. Need more? Your heart that brought you into a serving field will guide the way.  

What can a PCP do?  For starters, ask questions such as do you hit your kids, or were you ever  hit as a child.  Ask the same questions of yourself to identify any areas of resistance to nonviolence within yourself, too.  Help people see the connections that many fail to see; that the roots of violence are sown in the home.  Support positive interactions, empathy, and helping kids to label and express their feelings as well as channel their anger and positively direct their energies.  Promote the understanding that kids LEARN from their mistakes and the adults in their lives should support that learning process in a positive and nonviolent manner.  Request supportive materials and booklets from PsycHealth! (www.psychealthltd.com or 847-864-4961)   

Sweden hasn't had CP since 1979 and some people there can't even imagine that we still use CP in public education in some states in the U.S.  The U.S. too can move towards a model of rights for the child with the support of the PCPs and the reality that kids deserve the same protection if not more under laws that apply to the adults.  Every child and adult that you touch can lead to less violence and greater health in our world.  

This article is dedicated to the kids and Staff at St. Angela's Catholic School in Chicago.  With State Representative LaShawn Ford in attendance, I was honored to present the awards to the winners of the Center for Effective Discipline essay contest, "Why parents should not use corporal punishment and what to do instead?"  Out of the mouths of babes… Thank you to Brad Cummings from the Voice Newspapers for the generous permission to reprint  these pictures taken at the event. I have worked for decades in this field and am encouraged by each individual's capabilities to change, grow and learn.

The author is a Member of the Board of Directors of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education.


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