SPANKING - Questions and answers about disciplinary violence
Olivier Maurel

3 - Why we must stop using corporal punishment

How do we know today that corporal punishment should be abandoned given its dangers?

We now have certainty on the matter thanks to research on the brain's formation and functioning.

We now know that at birth, a child's brain and nervous system are incomplete and will be constructed all through childhood. The brain of a newborn has one-fifth the weight of an adult's. The other four-fifths develops in the years of childhood and youth. This consists of neural circuits, the brain cells of which, by extending and becoming more intricate, increase the volume of the brain. It will not attain 70% of its weight until just past the age of two. This is why the joints of the bones in our skulls do not close definitively until adulthood. If the child is frequently placed under stress during this time, or for part of it, the brain's development may be disrupted. This happens to be the exact same time when physical punishments are imposed upon him.

The most ancient parts of the brain are those that we have in common with reptiles and other animals. They regulate the functions that ensure the body's survival — blood circulation, digestion, respiration, bio-assimilation — but also emotions like fear when faced with danger. The most recent parts of the brain, those which are particularly developed in the human species, are the frontal lobes that enable reflection, knowledge, imagination, and control of emotions. For a well-balanced personality, emotions must be able to develop normally, and the brain must learn to recognize and control them.

Now, when the developing brain is subjected to overly frequent stresses which cannot be remedied by fight or flight, the brain's capacities are diminished, development of the neurons is faulty, and some neurons even sustain lesions. As Daniel Goleman, who has summarized research on the brain's emotional components in his book Emotional Intelligence1, writes: "[Being] beaten repeatedly, at the whim of a parent's moods—warps a child's natural bent toward empathy . . .These children, of course, treat others as they themselves have been treated. And the callousness of these abused children is simply a more extreme version of that seen in children whose parents are critical, threatening, and harsh in their punishments. Such children also tend to lack concern when playmates get hurt or cry . . . At such moments the habits the emotional brain has learned over and over will dominate, for better or worse . . . Seeing how the brain itself is shaped by brutality — or by love — suggests that childhood represents a special window of opportunity for emotional lessons." (p. 197-99).

Another American neurology expert, Joseph LeDoux, explains in his book The Synaptic Self 2 the damage caused when abuse coincides with emotional learning: "If a significant proportion of the early emotional experiences one has are due to activation of the fear system rather than positive systems, then the characteristic personality that begins to build up from the parallel learning processes coordinated by the emotional state is one characterized by negativity and hopelessness rather than affection and optimism." In other words, given a frequent state of stress, the brain will establish connections in such a way that gives priority to detecting every sign of imminent danger. Such being the case, the pathways available for normal learning experience are atrophied.

For his part, neuropsychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, who specializes in trauma cases, states, "All human development is frontal lobe development. As parents, we are the mediators of the development of our children's frontal lobes. When we read our children stories, when we give them hugs, when we play with them, we are ensuring proper frontal lobe development. If a child is always frightened or terrified, if he is not caressed, if he is abandoned or neglected, his frontal lobes do not develop correctly and will never assume their function, which is to inhibit the limbic system. In this case, the frontal lobe is not sufficiently developed to help the person tune in to the present. He will be unable to record new information and to learn from experience." 3 (excerpted from Jean-Louis Mahe's documentary, L'Expérience inoubliable, 1999).

Finally, the world-renowned American neurologist Antonio R. Damasio writes in his book Looking for Spinoza (Heinemann, 2003) that severe problem behaviors among adolescents can be due to "a defect in the operation of neural circuits at a microscopic level," which "may have a variety of causes, from abnormal chemical signaling on a genetic basis to social and educational factors [emphasis added]" (p. 154). When asked whether the corporal punishments to which children have been subjected for millennia could explain the aberrantly cruel behavior that is the hallmark of the human species and generally attributed to "human nature," Damasio replied in the affirmative.

Today we know that mistreatment and neglect have lasting effects, which can be seen using brain scanners, not only on the frontal lobes but also on the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for emotional memory, the corpus callosum (bridge between the two hemispheres), and the left side of the brain.

Is it really possible not to hit children?

Practically all of us have learned not to hit adults whom we do not love, even when we are angry with them. If we successfully learned this, why would we not manage to avoid hitting our children, whom we do love?

Is corporal punishment truly necessary?

There are other means of discipline besides corporal punishment. Even if sometimes in the heat of the moment we do not find or do not look for an alternative response, corporal punishment is never the only solution, nor even a real solution. Those who advocate banning corporal punishment are not proposing that a mother who gives her child's face a slap be thrown in jail. They only want her to know that such actions are dangerous to the child. And they want just as much for society to help her raise her children nonviolently.

Is corporal punishment effective?

Initially, children who are hit will often do what they are told, fearing the blows they could receive. But this is also their first experience of cowardice. Often, they will start up again the next chance they get: first experience of hypocrisy. In the end, they may take pleasure in defying their parents: first experience of provocation. Cowardice, hypocrisy, provocation: is this really what parents want to teach their children? It is true that striking a child can alleviate parents' tension to some degree. But for that they would be better off installing a punching ball in a room of the house, which the child will also be able to use to vent his anger, or punching sofa cushions. Frequently hit children are seldom more docile than children who are not hit. The seeming and very short-term effectiveness that hitting may have will very soon wear thin if it becomes habitual, and plenty of parents can be seen slapping their child around at every turn, without the least bit of conviction and knowing fully well the child will keep acting up.

Can the blows normally received by children cause immediate injury?

Let us limit the discussion here to what is considered mild physical punishment, such as a spanking, a slap to the face, or a smack on the hand. Parents in France are warned of only one danger by the posters which hang in maternity wards: that of shaking a baby, whether due to exasperation over its crying or even perhaps in a spirit of playfulness. A shaken baby can lose its sight, sustain permanent brain injuries, and in some cases die. But they should also know that clouts to the ears can perforate the eardrum of a small child or cause eye trauma. A baby's arms can be dislocated if they are pulled roughly. While some see spanking as totally innocuous, believing that the buttocks were designed for that purpose, it is actually dangerous. The sciatic nerve, the coccyx, and the sexual organs may be hit hard, especially if the punishment is applied, as in many countries around the world, with a cane or a paddle. According to Jordan Riak, head of an American organization opposed to violence in education, "Dislocation of the coccyx and genital bruising as a result of punishments inflicted on the buttocks are not uncommon." Striking a child's hands can also have serious consequences: "The child's hand is particularly vulnerable because its ligaments, nerves, tendons and blood vessels are close to the skin, which has no underlying protective tissue. Striking the hands of younger children is especially dangerous to the growth plates in the bones, which, if damaged, can cause deformity or impaired function. Striking a child's hand can also cause fractures, dislocations and lead to premature osteoarthritis." (Jordan Riak, ibid.). With these risks in mind, one gets a real appreciation of the decision made by a Caen court on July 7, 1982, authorizing teachers to hit students on the hand with a ruler. 

How many children are punished for a lifetime in such ways by their own parents?

Can striking a child bring about illness?

The main thrust of a study conducted in 1995 of 300 young traffic accident victims was Dr. Jacqueline Cornet's observation that, along with a higher accident rate among children who were hit, there was also a higher rate of serious illness compared to other children.4 A similar study carried out in Hong Kong yielded the same results. Studies have shown that the stress hormone cortisol causes an inhibition of the immune system so that the organism threatened by the stressor can mobilize 100% against it. "Stress suppresses immune resistance, at least temporarily, presumably in a conservation of energy that puts a priority on the more immediate emergency, which is more pressing for survival. But if stress is constant and intense, that suppression may become long-lasting." (Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, p. 168). A lasting stress, such as a fear during childhood of being hit, can cause a lasting disturbance of the immune system, thereby weakening the organism. Several American studies, moreover, "have found that stress hormones can leave neurons of the hippocampus weakened and susceptible to disease. So it is that long term stress leads the animal into a vicious cycle of neuronal death and even memory loss in some cases . . . a similar process could be involved in depression, post-traumatic stress, and even schizophrenia." (Le Monde, 5/21/99).  

Can corporal punishment have an effect on infant mortality?  

Ferenczi, one of Freud's closest disciples, was already writing between world wars that "Children who are received in a harsh and unloving way die easily and willingly." More recently, sociologist Emmanuel Todd has established a connection between the mortality rates of children under the age of one year in Germany in 1850 and 1900 (much higher than that seen in France) and the extremely authoritarian German child-raising methods in the 19th century. Who knows what part corporal punishment plays in infant mortality in countries where caning is currently practiced?  

Can corporal punishment lead to depression?  

Several American studies have shown a clear connection between the violence of blows received in childhood and a propensity toward depression and the consequences thereof: suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction. This connection is most likely due to the fact that the hitting, which is often accompanied by insults and intent to disparage, are not only painful but also humiliating and destructive to the child's self-image. The child who is battered and treated like a good-for-nothing will basically think he is good for nothing.  

Can spankings make someone more accident prone?  

Incredible though it may be, this was proven in a quite rigorous manner by Dr. Cornet's study. This study conducted in 1995 of 300 young traffic accident victims at a trauma center clearly showed that those who had suffered the most accidents and the most serious accidents were also those who had been beaten the hardest, the longest, and the most frequently over the course of their childhood and early youth. Some other interesting factors emerged from this study:  

  1. A higher accident rate is perceptible even when subjects declare that they were hit only "mildly and rarely."
  2. Use of hitting that continues well into adolescence is the factor which most exacerbates accident-proneness.
  3. Hitting is of central importance; verbal attacks that are not accompanied by physical violence have less impact than physical mistreatment does.
  4. It is youths that were most beaten who qualify themselves as "provocateurs," and not, as is commonly believed, the ones who "get away with everything."
  5. The games preferred by the most beaten and thus most accident-prone are games that imitate the use of weapons, which confirms the relationship between violence suffered in childhood and a taste for violence in adolescence and adulthood. As early as 1961, two American psychosomaticians had noted that “accident-proneness is a psychosomatic illness that traces back to early childhood.” 3

Can corporal punishment incite a child to violence?

75% of French people think that school violence is due, more than anything else, to a lack of parental authority, which many think comes from parents' unwillingness to hit. Numerous studies, including American ones by Dr. Welsh (Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA) and by psychologists Ronald Slaby and Wendy Roedell, as well as the one by Marie Choquet of CNRS [National Center for Scientific Research, France] now show that "when a youth displays seriously violent behavior, we must investigate what kind of violence he suffered in the past . . . a strong link has been shown between all these forms of violence (self-inflicted, against others, and inflicted by others)." (report by Marie Choquet). The most aggressive delinquent is the one who has been beaten the most.  

And as Philip Greven reports, a positive correlation between parentally inflicted punishment and aggression in children is seen in more than twenty-five studies of children. To strike a child is to open up within him the path of violence, wide as a freeway, while blocking the path of respect for others. To respect a child is to make it apparent to him that respect for others is normal and natural behavior, and that violence is an aberrant behavior.  

Can corporal punishment make a child insensitive?  

Psychologist Harold Bessell, quoted by Isabelle Filliozat, explains the effect of emotional negation this way: "Defense mechanisms are unconscious or automatic emotional operations that may be likened to reversible callouses, which form when the tissue is chafed or worn. A child doesn't have to tell his elbows, knees, or hands, 'You have to grow callouses or else you will blister.' When his emotions are wounded, he doesn't have to say, 'I will grow something that won't let that pain happen again or hurt as much.' Something simply grows, something that is like a callous in that it protects the tissue against further wear and tear, and also like a callous in that it is neither as sensitive, responsive, or handsome as the original tissue. A person who is all emotional callouses does not perceive the world fully, richly, or even adequately." 5 It is this hardening, this armor, that children who are hit must have in order to survive. It is no great surprise that some of them have lost much of their natural capacity for compassion.

Does hitting children risk making them into murderers?

According to an article by child psychologist Robert R. Butterworth in a journal of psychological and criminological research, child murderers generally come from families with parents who are either quite indifferent and neglectful or far too coercive and inclined toward brutal physical punishment. These children, whatever their environment, have a much degraded image of themselves. A study has found that of the ten American states where corporal punishment is used the most in the schools, five are also among the ten states with the highest crime rates, while the other five are ranked in the top twenty. Likewise, seven out of the top ten paddling states are among the ten states with the highest rates of imprisonment. The other three are listed among the twenty highest prison rates.

Can corporal punishment make a child into a masochist?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau already answered this question 240 years ago in his Confessions, where he relates how a spanking received when he was eight years old at the hands of a thirty-year-old woman made him a masochist and forever unhappy in matters of love. The veritable taboo that surrounds corporal punishment has kept us from drawing conclusions from this account. We have been content to respond, as usual, with ridicule. Following the first edition of Spanking, I received several testimonials from readers, both men and women, who told me they had become masochists as a result of childhood spankings they received, meaning that they were incapable of experiencing sexual pleasure without it being linked to a spanking, real or fantasized.  

Considering the difficulty of admitting something like that, this number of letters I received is no doubt merely the tip of the iceberg. We should not be stunned, given how many children are spanked, that there are so many Internet sites for spanking enthusiasts. One of these readers went on to reveal that seeing his mother, a schoolteacher, give spankings to his classmates left him with not only masochistic tendencies but also pedophilic tendencies.  Spanking is sexual abuse, declared another of these victims. It is time for all the people who like to say a good spanking never hurt anyone to wake up!    

Does corporal punishment predispose children to be victims of sexual abuse?  

This is what American writer Jordan Riak argues in his examination of corporal punishment: "Spanked children don't regard their bodies as being their own personal property. Spanking trains them to accept the idea that adults have absolute authority over their bodies, including the right to inflict pain. And being hit on the buttocks teaches them that even their sexual areas are subject to the will of adults. The child who submits to a spanking on Monday is not likely to say 'No' to a molester on Tuesday. People who sexually molest or exploit children know this. They stalk potential victims among children who have been taught to 'obey or else' because such children are the easiest targets." Although Jordan Riak gives no proof of this hypothesis, it rings true.

"I was spanked, and I turned out OK!" What to make of this?

This is usually said to defend corporal punishment or to suggest that it is hardly a danger that warrants prohibition. But is finding it normal to hit a person weaker than oneself or allowing him to be hit really a mark of well-adjustment? Are men of past times who thought it perfectly legitimate to beat slaves, or those today who find it normal to beat their wives, truly good models of humanity? Is their sense of right and wrong not somewhat distorted? As for their logic: is it coherent to hit children, as many do, to teach them not to hit?  

Corporal punishment alters the mind not only in terms of ability to see the obvious but also of one's sense of right and wrong. Hardly anyone realizes this because everyone was hit and considers it normal. The fact is that our tolerance of disciplinary violence is itself a sign of its toxicity. Here, for instance, is what a student wrote on an Internet discussion site: "I think abuse is wrong because locking a child in a closet or putting their head under water can be seriously traumatic. But giving them a few good slaps now and then, a few kicks and some licks with the belt or the broom won't do them any harm when they really deserve it. That's how I was raised, and I thank my parents for it. If you look at how kids act who've never been hit, then you know what I'm talking about." The student writing this believes she is being totally reasonable. She denounces what seems excessive to her, and she considers what she went through to be quite normal and beneficial. Today, we use the same kind of reasoning when we advocate spanking, "lesson teaching" swats, or smacks "on the hand" or "on the diapers." What we did not suffer, we denounce as abuse, while approving that which we did suffer or is viewed by our society as normal.  

That said, it is true that many people fortunately seem not to have been negatively affected by the blows they received in childhood. But as the strident "abolitionist" Jan Hunt once wrote, just because some smokers are in good health and live to be a hundred does not make the use of cigarettes recommendable. Because "some children, like some smokers, are less harmed than others because of mitigating factors, such as the presence of other adults who treat them with love and care. To the extent that a spanked child is really 'fine,' it is in spite of, not because of, the punishments they have received."    

Why do the majority of people who were hit consider hitting children to be completely normal?  

To understand this, it is helpful to recall what happened in Stockholm on August 23, 1973, as reported by Drs. Eric Torres and Virginie Grenier-Boley:  

At 10:15, an escaped prisoner, Jen Erik Olsson, attempts a bank heist at Kreditbanken of Stockholm. When the authorities intervene, he is forced to entrench himself in the bank, where he takes four employees hostage. He secures the release of his cellmate, Clark Olofsson, who comes immediately to join him. The police officers who surround the bank are a bit surprised by statements from those being held against their will: "We have complete confidence in the two bandits," "The robbers are protecting us from the police." After six days of negotiations, a deal is finally reached to free the hostages. And there, yet another surprise, the hostages come between the authorities and their abductors. They subsequently refuse to testify for the prosecution during the trial, contribute to their defense, and visit them in prison. One of the victims, having fallen in love with Jen Erik Olsson, ends up marrying him.
This paradoxical behavior by victims of hostage taking, which has since been seen again in several hostage cases, is described for the first time in 1978 by American psychiatrist F. Ochberg, who gives it the name "Stockholm syndrome." He establishes a diagnostic test based on three criteria: "the development of feelings of trust and even sympathy on the part of the hostages for their abductors, a reciprocal development of positive feelings regarding their hostages, and the emergence of hostility toward the authorities on the part of the victims. Stockholm syndrome . . . can cause lasting or even permanent changes in an individual's personality, values, and moral convictions. Oftentimes the hostage will later adopt a permissive attitude toward crime." Even Baron Empain, whose captors cut off one of his phalanxes for the worst of motives, attributed to them a certain "kindliness" and emphasized the "understanding" they had shown him.  

Why bring up the Stockholm syndrome here? Because even though parents are not abductors nor children hostages, children find themselves in a situation of far greater dependency in relation to their parents than hostages have with respect to their captors. They feel and know with all their being that they cannot survive without their parents. If completely mature adults can have their lives permanently altered as a result of being in a state of total dependence on their captors for a few days, thereby developing irresistible feelings of sympathy toward them, imagine how powerfully difficult it must be for children to question their parents' behavior, even in the case of violent behavior. Moreover, they are not equipped to question the judgments that their parents lay on them. If they call them bad, lazy, and stupid, then they must really be bad, lazy, and stupid. And the adults they later become cannot help assuming that there was justice in the blows they received and which did "a lot of good" for that bad, lazy, and stupid child they now are fit to judge, having become "reasonable" in adulthood. 6  And just as hostages bear a certain hostility toward the authorities who freed them, the majority of adults who were hit feel great uneasiness regarding anyone who argues that the blows they received were not necessarily good for them. The psychological mechanism at work here is known as identification with the aggressor; it consists of identifying with the people by whom one is victimized, imitating them physically or morally, and adopting certain symbols of power which characterize them, particularly the aggressive behavior to which one was subject — in this case, disciplinary violence.

Is it true that the beaten will become beaters?

As Alice Miller puts it: "Not all victims become torturers, but all torturers were victims." 3 And if so many people accept the hitting of children, it is because they were themselves hit. But the effects of maltreatment can be, and fortunately often are, offset by the close presence of or encounters with people in the child's life whose affection, esteem, respect and understanding confer self-respect onto the child and allow him to heal at least partially from his wounds. This explains how some people who suffered violent physical punishment have been able to develop their intellectual and affective potentials, despite any physical and psychological scars they may bear. This ability to bounce back has been called "resilience."

Isn't it going too far to want light slaps and spanking prohibited along with caning?

 At first glance, there is no comparing the harmfulness of the former two with that of the latter. For at least seven reasons, however, we must not draw a line between light punishments and hard punishments:  

  1. Certain studies, particularly Dr. Cornet's, show an increased risk of accidents starting at the lowest level of hitting.
  2. The person who begins striking a child — even lightly — is planting in their own brain a reflexive action that risks becoming the favored response for all conflict with the child. The dynamic of violence is one of escalation. And no one can know to what point their own violence will lead them. A study conducted in Ontario of 10,000 cases of maltreatment found that nearly all began with "reasonable" corrections.
  3. It is impossible to set a judicial limit within which blows would be benign. Vague terms such as "moderate" or "reasonable" punishment, when they are used to define tolerable violence, make it possible to suppose that so long as the child's skin is not broken, the punishment is "reasonable." 
  4. Would we accept policemen having the right to strike us, even lightly, when we commit a traffic violation? The driving mistakes we make are certainly a lot more serious than children's follies! It is perfectly immoral and illogical to inflict on our children that which we rightly refuse to suffer ourselves.
  5. However forceful the hitting, the lesson that the child receives is the same: In the event of conflict, violence is a normal response, including toward someone smaller than yourself.
  6. Striking wives or elderly people even lightly is not allowed. Why is it permissible to do so to children?
  7. If the kind of swats or spankings that we want to have the right to give a child are truly light yet sufficient to make him obey, that means he is docile, and it would not have been so hard to find other ways to make him obey besides hitting him.

Can corporal punishment influence social and political life?

Two researchers have argued, almost simultaneously but independently of one another, one from a sociological viewpoint and the other based on psychoanalytic practice, that familial authoritarianism and the physical punishments by which it is manifest have had a major political influence on 20th century conflict and totalitarianism. Emmanuel Todd, in his book Le Fou et le Prolétaire ("The madman and the proletarian") 7, has shown how the "child-rearing techniques" used in Europe in the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century are partly to blame for "the European rupture of the system, in 1914, 1917, 1933, 1939. Four political and military tremors, revolutionary or fascistic, that we cannot separate from the general evolution of the mindset and techniques of upbringing. Everywhere the man of today is going mad with discipline." (p. 120). "The delirium within families and schools reaches its high point between 1880 and 1900. The point at which the political situation skates over the edge will occur between 1914 and 1933. At this time, the adults who comprise the politically active generation carry in themselves a long-ago experience of childhood, stamped upon their personalities, yet now archaic." "The characteristics of political extremism, which are tied to the practice of corporal punishment, are the need for violence, for power, and for submission" (p. 93). "In the belief that they are serving France, the proletariat, or their race," extremists "are resolving a personal psychological tension." (p. 112) Conversely, "it is the liberalization of disciplinary techniques" that brings about a decline of totalitarianism, with a time lag of some years (p. 320). Alice Miller, having observed the traumas suffered by her patients, undertook research on the disciplinary techniques used in Europe and on the upbringing of some of the dictators of our time. In doing so she found that Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu, Mao, and, more recently, Saddam Hussein and Milosevic, turned out the way they did because their childhoods were marked by abuse and/or spent in an atmosphere of emotional coldness, with nothing or no one to compensate for the brutal blows and lack of affection. The lesson that these figures took away from their upbringing was that existence depends on dominating others. They succeed in doing so thanks to a normally developed logical intelligence that was nonetheless cut off from their emotions. Living among populations largely raised the same way, they appeal to the people's wishes. They stir them with demagogic speeches, cater to their desire for submission, and designate the scapegoats they need in order to vent their anger over the cumulative violence they suffered. For Alice Miller, "the men and women who carried out 'the final solution' did not let their feelings stand in their way for the simple reason that they had been raised from infancy not to have any feelings of their own but to experience their parents' wishes as their own. These were people who, as children, had been proud of being tough and not crying, of carrying out all their duties 'gladly,' of not being afraid — that is, at bottom, of not having an inner life at all." (For Your Own Good, p.81). This notion of an absent inner life has been confirmed by recent neurological research on brain functioning. Likewise, in today's society, "psychoses, drug addiction, and criminality are encoded expressions of [our earliest] experiences." (p. xxii). Conversely, "individuals who refuse to adapt to a totalitarian regime are not doing so out of a sense of duty or because of naïveté but because they cannot help but be true to themselves." (p. 84).  

Do accounts provided by Nazis' children and grandchildren reinforce the above analysis?  

Testimony from children of Austrian Nazis:

"I spent my early childhood in my grandparents' home. They were highly respected in this conservative country. But their idea of child-raising was based on discipline, endurance, corporal punishment, and imperviousness to emotion. You had to be part of the elite, of the race of supermen, capable of suppressing all feeling if you didn't want to be cast as a weakling. . . There was no room for hugs or affection. Ideology was their compass." – Doris, age 40, sociologist

"My father was terribly authoritarian. He had two sons before meeting my mother, and I remember their cries and the blows he would administer to them when they came to our home on vacation." – Birgit, age 36, psychotherapist (Le Monde, March 15, 2000)


Isn't it rather absurd to believe that a genocide could be traced back to the perpetrators' upbringing?  

It does seem absurd when one is unaware of the seriousness and multiplicity of the effects of disciplinary violence. The factors which combine to make genocide possible are one community's depth of hatred for another, the rise to power of a particularly determined minority capable of giving orders and organizing the massacre, and the active or passive participation of a large segment of the population who agrees with the genocide or does not obstruct its perpetrators. Yet all these conditions can be realized far more easily with a population subjected to a violent mode of upbringing.  

Accumulated rage from the blows received in childhood will naturally seek scapegoats on which it can be focused. Mental and moral confusion caused by the hitting will make minds more susceptible to the most outlandish rhetoric and thus makes it easier for extremists to attain power. And trained submission to violence has formed masses of order-followers ready to obey, docilely or ferociously, the order to massacre their fellow human beings "for the good" of the community. Rwanda would be a good illustration of this mechanism.

Some years prior to the genocide, the head of an association that visited several regions of the territory amid the population studied the particulars of mothering and the way children were raised. She found that the mothers, who carry their babies upon their backs, managed to obtain cleanliness from their weeks-old children by hitting them the moment they soiled themselves. "After a few spankings, the child who has an urge to pee cries in advance, knowing that he will receive punishment. When the mother hears him crying, she takes off his loincloth and has him urinate." She adds: "This upbringing whereby the parents gain at the child's expense, produces very disciplined and obedient children, but who are also passive and lost as soon as they are outside their habitual way of life. These children grow up to be relatively submissive, passive and fatalistic adults."

Françoise Dolto, in her book La difficulté de vivre [The Difficulty of Living], had analyzed these effects, eight years before the genocide, showing that children, who have an incomplete nervous system, cannot hold in their excrements before the age of at least nineteen months for girls and twenty-two months for boys . . . "If they do, it is only by transplanting themselves onto their mother's mood, denying their own nature of being. . . The child thus thwarted, his rhythms disrupted . . . will never know what he wants to do . . . He will always need an external law, with external appeals and injunctions, to tell him what he must do. Since he has begun life with no knowledge of himself—his mother was the one who knew for him . . . Children raised this way can be seen trying to stick together with groups in their youth, carried by a group in which they are only a small element, like a child in the arms of an adult giant. Now they know what they want: they want what the pack wants. And schools make no attempt to change this initial formation; they do not try to get each person to think in their own way. Everyone must know, think, and speak the same. (La Difficulté de vivre, pp. 173-74).  

As it happens, in Jean Hatzfeld's book on the Rwandan genocide, Machete Season, which is compiled from interviews with a group of men who took part in the killing, one main fact which stands out is that the killers were driven mainly by obedience and social conformity at least as much as by Hutu hatred for Tutsis passed down from their parents during early childhood.8 There are multiple quotations that reverberate with the writings of Françoise Dolto: "We obeyed on all sides, and we found satisfaction in that." (p.16) . . .  "I admit and recognize my obedience at that time" (p. 48) . . .

"Killing is very discouraging if you yourself must decide to do it, even to an animal. But if you must obey the orders of the authorities, if you have been properly prepared, if you feel yourself pushed and pulled . . . you feel soothed and reassured. You go off to it with no more worry." (p. 48-49).  

"When you have been prepared the right way by the radios and the official advice, you obey more easily, even if the order is to kill your neighbors. . ." (p. 71)  

"We had first of all to obey our leaders . . ." (p. 142)  

"We were taught to obey absolutely . . ."  (p. 174)

Jean Hatzfeld also focuses on "the power of social conformity in situations of fear and crisis" (p. 224) "In the tumult of killings, stepping aside is not viable for a person . . . Being alone is too risky for us. So the person jumps up at the signal and takes part, even if the price is the bloody work you know." (p. 226-27) "But when everyone began getting out their machetes at the same time, I did so too, without delay." (p. 233).

Taken along with the fact that the halls of learning in Rwanda are also quite brutal and the routine use in this land of the chicotte (which is wielded much like a machete), we have an explanatory factor that should not be ignored. Namely, beyond the trained submission and conformity underscored above, it is from childhood thrashings that a child learns the same violent gesture by unconscious imitation. They also diminish his ability to feel compassion, an ability which is only learned through the compassion received oneself in early childhood.

All these ingredients are quite likely to enable a genocide, given the right set of social and political circumstances. As one survivor of the genocide put it: "Genocide is a poisonous bush that grows not from two or three roots but from a tangle of roots that has moldered underground where no one notices it." (p. 90)  It is perhaps by digging down to the killers' childhoods that we would hit upon this "tangle of moldering roots."  

Could the violence in the suburbs of France be related at all to corporal punishment?

All kinds of factors are cited as causing this violence, but almost never mentioned is the initial violence most children suffer from a very early age at the hands of their parents, who are their role models. It is plain to see, nonetheless, that parents are hitting their children in these suburbs just like everywhere else, and even more so. The families who live in the suburbs often belong to ethnic groups in which corporal punishment is traditionally practiced. They are often natives of Africa, a continent where caning is rampant. Parents may keep up the practice, which means this violence is having the same effect on their children as we have seen above. Or they might give up this manner of discipline for fear of being reported to social services ("9-1-1 syndrome"), and since they have never known any other form of discipline, they now find themselves at a loss as to how to raise their children. "When I was little, I had hot pepper put in my eyes to settle me down. Here, we're told we can't do that. So instead of finding a happy medium between the two cultures, we've thrown up our hands. And nowadays, our thirteen-year-olds are starting to turn into bandits." (Comments of a mother from a city in the Essonne district, Le Monde, 11/14/2000). Either way, whether it's violence or no boundaries (usually accompanied by violence as well), the result will be violence against oneself (drug abuse, for example) or against others.    

Does corporal punishment make children obedient?

Spanking, or sometimes just fear of a spanking, often gets a child to obey for the moment. Sometimes in the long term as well: certain children give in to fear and decide to tow the line. But for many other children, repeated slapping and spanking has a hardening effect and leads to reactions of bravado and defiance, especially in front of friends and siblings in whose eyes, above all, they must not look weak. When a parent is confronted with the child's "Didn't hurt!" they increase the number and forcefulness of the smacks. To keep on spanking in such conditions is, as they say, "throwing a bucket of gasoline on a fire." And as the child gets older, the violent relationship will only get worse.

Does corporal punishment improve academic learning?

All indications seem to be that the opposite is true. Teachers certainly know that battered children have a harder time of things than their peers. And there would be little reason to suppose otherwise. How clear and unimpeded would an adult's mind be if he had to perform a task under the threat, should there be any mistakes or resistance, of being rushed at and hit by an 11-foot-tall giant? This is exactly the situation which adults are now placing children in. Besides, the majority of people who were hit as children have for the most part forgotten what the blows were intended to teach them.

There was an experiment shown on television where a group of students have to take a series of tests while wearing a wrist bracelet that will deliver, they are told beforehand, a mild electric shock for each error they make. Everything is going fine for several minutes as the students go through the tests. But as soon as one of the students lets out a yell as if feeling the pain of the punishment (this person was actually a confederate in the experiment and wasn't really being shocked), the others became slower in their work and started making mistakes.

The explanation presumably is the same as research conducted at Yale University suggests: "The emotional brain [where fear presents itself] can put the prefrontal cortex, the most advanced part of the cognitive brain, 'off-line' . . . When affected by major stress, the prefrontal cortex no longer responds and loses its ability to direct behavior" 9

A comparative study done in the U.S. between 46 states during the 1996-1998 school years, found that the best university grades were achieved in those where school corporal punishment is banned, while those which allow it had the worst.

Is corporal punishment effective in teaching morals and appropriate behavior?

Who hasn't seen a father or mother smack their child to teach them "not to hit those who are smaller"? What can a child, whose behavior is based on imitation more than anything else, take away from such a self-contradictory lesson? The exact situation in which the child now founds himself is what psychologists call the double bind. This means he is caught between two conflicting commands, like in a short circuit. The parents' verbal message is "Don't hit someone smaller than you" or "Don't do something to someone else that you wouldn't like done to you." But the message of their actions, the one which the child takes in through imitation, whether he realizes it or not, is "Don't hesitate to hit those who are smaller, like I do!", "Do to others what you don't like being done to you."

Likewise, is an impulsive child who makes his parents afraid that he'll cross the street without looking going to control his impulses better after being shaken or hit? It's doubtful.

It is often said that spanking a child is a way of "laying down the law" and teaching him boundaries he needs to be aware of. It is a strange form for a civics lesson to take, considering that the law consistently declares such acts illegal, that it's not allowed to be done to other adults, and that it is condemned by the Convention on the Rights of the Child which every country has signed, as well as by the penal code, even if in practice it is allowed to go on. The only law which smacking teaches is the law of might-makes-right, which we certainly don't want to be the rule for society. And how are we teaching boundaries by smacking, which itself is a violent intrusion into the child's territory, an encroachment on his safety zone, and a method which is very difficult for a great many parents to keep within reasonable limits?

What natural instincts are engaged by striking a child?

The use of physical punishment to make a child obey assumes that he will "understand" and that the prospect of being punished again will lead him not to repeat the undesirable behavior. There is an assumption that the only factors at play are the unpleasantness of the punishment, the child's intelligence, and his will to avoid further unpleasantness. But there is more to a child than a punishment-sensitive body, intelligence, and will. In striking children, we interfere with the natural instincts that we have in common with other primates. 

Imitation instincts, which can be seen in the child starting from the earliest hours of life, are obviously the first involved. And thanks to research carried out in 1992 by Professor Giacomo Rizzolatti at the University of Parme, we know that the human brain contains certain neurons, called "mirror neurons" for the role that they play. When we observe a behavior, whatever it may be, they turn on as if we were copying the same actions. Observation of an attitude or gesture paves the way in our brain for the imitation of it. In other words, the brain of a child seeing his mother or father strike him is activated just as if he himself were striking someone. To hit a child primarily teaches him to hit. It opens up pathways of violence in his brain. And it must be noted that disciplinary violence absolutely is violence by the strong against the weak. Put another way, without even teaching the child to defend himself, it teaches him to be attack weaker beings.

From experiments detailed in psychologist Albert Bandura's book, Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis10, we also know that for violent behavior to be passed down effectively, three conditions are required: First, that the children love and admire their role models; second, that the role models succeed in modifying the children's behavior; and finally, that they have gotten the children to believe that the violent punishments were deserved. These three conditions are satisfied most often in parent-child relationships.

In striking a child, we are not conveying civilization, but its opposite: violence. 

Self-protection instincts are what make an animal halt, run away, or fight when danger presents itself. An experiment shown in a film featuring Henri Laborit, My American Uncle, gives a very good illustration of this subject. A rat is placed inside a double cage and given mild electric shocks though the cage floor; it is perfectly fine, provided that at the moment of each shock it is able to run to the other compartment, from which it can return to the first compartment when the next shock comes. Its tension levels stay the same, and if dissected its organs would show no lesions. If a second rat is now placed in the cage, each may think the other rat's presence is causing the electric shocks, so they may start fighting. This experiment can go on for a long time without causing the rats any harm. But if another rat is placed in a cage and kept from running away, it cowers and becomes tense, and dissection will reveal digestive system lesions. The stress hormones that normally serve to spur the animal to fight or flight have attacked its body, because their usual role was obstructed. We know today that stress hormones attack even the neurons. So . . . what is the current situation with a child being hit by his parents? It is the same as that of the third rat, able neither to flee nor fight back. The stress triggered by being hit and the fear of being hit attacks his body and can cause his brain to have the microlesions that Damasio discussed [see above, 7th paragraph from top].

Bonding instincts, identified and studied by the English psychoanalyst [John] Bowlby during the fifties, are also affected by parental violence. There can even be a veritable perversion in the psyche connecting love to violence. Plenty of visitors on sado-masochism websites attest that thanks to childhood spankings, they have trouble achieving orgasm without being hit. Domestic violence fairly often stems from parental violence as well. And it is a safe bet that disciplinary violence is the source of a considerable portion of violent acts committed by boys against girls.

In other primates and mammals, submission instincts have been observed, which are actually an extension of the bonding instinct. So strong is their need for social bonding that young apes will submit to the dominant male despite the frustrations they suffer at his hands. Using disciplinary violence to make children obey can lead them to acts of provocation, but more often it reinforces this innate tendency to submit. Stanley Milgram's experiments found that two-thirds of people are capable of torturing their peers to death out of simple acceptance of a recognized authority. And contrary to what may be believed, disciplinary violence does not teach obedience to the law so much as to a violent authority perceived as an incarnation of parental authority. Which is to say that those who have been subjected to it are driven to obey a neighborhood bully, or for that matter a Hitler, a Saddam Hussein, or a Kim-Jong-Il, with all the levels of collective violence this can entail.  

So, far from having a marginal and superficial effect, the smacks a child receives from his parents reach the most central and archaic areas of his brain. We think we are hitting him on the buttocks, face, hands, or back, when in fact it is a bit like launching a smart missile that lands right in the child's brain, however unwittingly or contrary to our intent.

What messages do children receive from being hit?

To strike a child is to make him accept a whole range of equally dangerous ideas:

  • I have the right to hit you.
  • I have good reason to hit you.
  • By hurting you, I am doing you good.
  • You think I'm hurting you, but I'm doing you good.
  • You are wrong to think I'm hurting you.
  • You are not capable of understanding what I'm doing to you.
  • Your senses and your feelings have deceived you.
  • You should not trust yourself.
  • Don't listen to the voice deep down inside of you.
  • Listen only to the voice of your mother/father.
  • That is how you know what to do.
  • Suffering is good.
  • Making someone suffer is good.
What a child learns is not so much what we are trying to teach him as the manner in which we teach him. This is the cornerstone on which he will form his life principles. In the lessons that children take from being hit, it is not hard to recognize the worst principles of Machiavellianism, cowardice, and cruelty:
  • Those who are bigger and stronger are entitled to beat on the smaller and weaker. Might makes right.
  • Those who are small and weak must submit to violence. 
  • Children must be hurt for their own good. The end justifies the means.
  • You can hit somebody for their own good.
  • When you love somebody, you have the right to make them suffer. To hurt them is to show how much you care.
  • I should be hit because I am bad.
  • Most children get hit, so most children must be bad.
  • Pay no mind to the suffering of those who are hit.
These principles are etched are the child's innermost being and will inspire his adult behavior without his even knowing where they came from.

Is it true that some children "ask for a spanking"?

Defenders of this type of punishment often have in mind a bratty, insolent, confrontational child who seems to do everything in his power to get a spanking: "He was asking for it!"  

It's true that children exploring the range of possible behaviors naturally try to see just how far they can go. If you haven't been able to convince him that such and such behavior is prohibited, it is natural and to some degree healthy for him to try doing it again. Do we adults not do our share of stepping over the line ourselves? If you react once again without the necessary force of conviction, the child may make a game out of getting a rise out of his mother or father. After a certain age, and not long after entering the social realm of children his age, he may say to himself: "If I don't do it, I'm chicken." As parents, we can be legitimately exasperated by such behavior, but that is no reason for a spanking. We should rather examine what about our attitude brought about this behavior.  

For a child who has been spanked before, the result can also be something else entirely: if spanking triggered feelings of sexual pleasure in the child, he could simply be trying to repeat the experience. A reader once told me that he would ask his mother to spank him for this reason, having seen her give spankings to his classmates in grade school where she was a teacher.  

But for the most part, young children, if they haven't become hardened to the blows, and often even when they have, are intensely fearful of spankings and physical punishments. Many children are willing to tolerate anything in order to avoid them. In June 1999, in the American state of Utah, a child was discovered inside a car nearly dead from heat exposure. His parents had given him a choice between getting spanked and spending an hour enclosed in their car parked out in the sun. The boy didn't think twice about it. In Africa, a massive number of children have stopped going to school and won't go home either for fear of the beatings they receive. This has become a problem for society in many countries. Churchill, a man whom few would accuse of cowardice, recalled with horror the two years he spent at a school where corporal punishment was practiced. Balzac compared the fate of the student about to be beaten to that of a condemned man going to the place of execution, and he knew whereof he spoke. The defiance and provocation of some children toward their parents, having gotten used to spankings after so many, should not lead us to think that this is the case for the majority of children.

If everything above is true, how is it that we are not practically all in the hospital or in jail, since nearly all of us were hit? Aren't most people pretty much normal?

As stated earlier, the effects of disciplinary violence are often offset by the presence in victims lives of "clear and compassionate witnesses" such as Alice Miller speaks of, who enable these children to retain their integrity despite what they endure. Children who have maintained their balance even though they have been hit, without repeating this behavior themselves against anyone, especially their own children, generally owe it to the looks of kindliness, affection, and esteem from an adult, perhaps a parent, neighbor, or teacher, who has enabled them to remain their true selves.  They owe it also to their capacity to rebel against what they have suffered, as a study by Hunter and Kilstrom has shown. But this capacity for positive rebellion (as opposed to the rebellion that leads, say, to delinquency) develops more readily in those who have known the esteem of even just one person than in those whom nobody has taught that they did not deserve what was inflicted upon them. The same study found that for children just to understand that what they had suffered was undeserved lowers the risk that they will end up harassing or attacking others.  What's more, the effects of disciplinary violence will obviously vary according to the level of violence inflicted. The highest level is that which produces serial killers and, from a political point of view, the taking of power by mass-murdering dictators and the fulfillment of their intentions. The level just below that causes various pathologies, accidents, violence against women, blatant child abuse, common crime and delinquency. And at its lowest level, disciplinary violence carries, as a sort of minimum guaranteed result, the repetition of ordinary disciplinary violence (smacks, face slaps, and spankings) or the justification of such forms of discipline.  

Do children by nature need to be punished?

A newborn is completely innocent. While he is animated by energy like all living beings, he harbors no original sin, no "death instinct," no "fundamental violence." The future Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Landru, Dutroux 11 and any of the worst criminals you can think of were once innocent babies who could have become wise men, heroes, or saints, or maybe better yet, ordinary men capable of simple humane feelings. The newborn wants merely to live, but cannot on his own. He is totally dependent on his parents or those raising him. "The connection to his parents," says child psychiatrist Alain Vanier, "is what the child values above all, more than his own physical integrity." The development of his personality takes place in interaction with the personalities that surround him, foremost being his mother.  

Each reaction to the child from the family circle, whether positive or negative, marks the child, is imprinted upon him, and he reacts to it according to his own temperament. Daniel Stern in Diary of a Baby 12 notably shows how a baby, yelled at or hit for the first time for touching something she didn't know to be off-limits, is frightened by what is happening to her without understanding the reason for it. So she goes back to her exploration "to clarify the confusion" and "evoke a different response this time." The adult now thinks the baby is trying to be provocative and aggressive. There is a risk that this false interpretation may then "become the infant's and later the child's official and accepted one." It is thus possible that the baby "may come to see herself as aggressive, even hostile. Someone else's reality has become hers. Thus, the failure of intersubjectivity can introduce a lifelong distortion."

Why should human rights organizations concern themselves with abolishing corporal punishment?  

"Whipping someone with a cane is cruel, inhuman and degrading. International standards make clear that such treatment constitutes torture. Such a punishment should have no place in today's world," Amnesty International declared in 2002 with regard to the punishment by caning of immigrants in Malaysia. These remarks could not be more correct. But how is it that no international organizations are making similar statements when children are subject to legal beatings in the majority of the world's countries, including in the schools of 22 U.S. states? What explains this age discrimination whereby people take action, rightly so, in defense of adults being beaten, yet do nothing about children being beaten the same way by their parents or teachers?

Why should feminists concern themselves with abolishing corporal punishment?  

The feminist movement has been a pioneering force in the struggle against family-related violence (sexual abuse, rape, conjugal violence, child abuse recognized as such) but so far it doesn't seem that they have tackled ordinary disciplinary violence. This is the compost, however, in which child abuse germinates, as well as much adult violence and conjugal violence in particular. Many mothers without realizing it adopt behaviors that they sincerely think are good discipline, but which risk leading their sons to behave in that way toward their wives or girlfriends. And in hitting their daughters, they run the risk that they will grow up to accept being beaten by their husbands "for legitimate reasons," 13 as many Indian women have, for example, quite simply because they consider themselves to have beaten by their parents "for legitimate reasons" — the same which cause them to beat their own children.  

Wouldn't it be true to their calling for feminist groups to make the passage of a law specifically against disciplinary violence one of their goals? As long as disciplinary violence is not formally banned and we do not help parents raise their children non-violently, domestic violence will have a bright future ahead. 14  

Why should environmentalists concern themselves with abolishing corporal punishment?  

Children are part of nature, and if we are protecting animals, it seems just as logical to make sure that children are not subject to brutality.   

It is not in any animal's nature to brutalize its young to discipline them. So when we do it, we are going against our nature.  

Most of all, children hit by their parents from an early age come to adopt their parents' point of view. They think they are actually to blame, that there is good reason for hitting them. The blows have an effect of self-denial upon them. They lose touch with their emotions, which make up their inner compass and their very being. Later they look back with contempt or derision on the children they were. Mistrustful of themselves, and having therefore lost much capacity for simply being glad to be alive, they need something to fill that void in order to survive, and the fillers sought out the most, along with various drugs, are appearance, material possessions, and power. There is nothing like the collective quest for these substitutes to create an environmentally destructive society, bent on possessing, on consuming, and on gaining power. The eagerness to possess ever more useless objects, the race to be rich and powerful cannot help but destroy nature, which we are endlessly plundering and polluting without qualms.  

We can never protect life on this planet unless the violence generated by disciplinary violence comes to an end. We will be able to take the steps necessary to the planet's survival only if the pressure of fear fostered by our brutality diminishes and as many people as possible have the benefit of all their emotional and intellectual faculties. This is not the case when disturbances are being caused in the majority of children's brains by the way they are disciplined starting in childhood.

Why should churches call for the abolition of disciplinary violence?

Banning disciplinary violence should in fact be advocated by all religions that are truly concerned about respect for all people, and especially for children if they truly wish for peace and the establishment of less violent human relations. But this should especially be the case with Christian faiths because of Jesus' unequivocal words about children, and the ethic of respect for others which is essential to the Gospels. No doubt they would have to make a public mea culpa for the way children were often treated in their learning establishments. But there is already precedent in similar mea culpae issued publicly by the Catholic church and Pope Jean-Paul II.  

With respect to the Protestant churches, the Ecumenical Council of Churches has begun, at least in Africa, to take fairly clear positions on the subject. Meanwhile, the Catholic church is for now content to lament child abuse without addressing ordinary disciplinary violence, which is quite inadequate given that no one feels abuse has anything to do with their behavior.

Included in the Appendices is a list of arguments that may be useful to those seeking to effect change in the Church's stance toward the issue of disciplinary violence.  

Why is ordinary disciplinary violence hardly ever cited as a factor in teen and adult violence?

In 1999, Claude Bartolone, then Minister of Urban Affairs, asked researchers at INSERM (French National Institute for Health and Medical Research) and at the European Observatory of Violence in Schools to do a report on violence by children and teens. This report which was submitted to the minister and published in September 2000 and which analyzes the causes of this violence, concludes with 100 proposals for the prevention of violence worldwide. Of these hundred proposals, six concern the family, yet not a single one mentions the fact children spend their very first years within the family and that their first contact with violence, sometimes when they are just a few months old, occurs beneath the hand, whip, or belt of their own parents. Within the report itself, there are but a few lines to be found that evoke disciplinary violence, but they are most interesting: "Children who are victims of parental violence, and especially maternal violence, are at greater risk (with physical abuse and all the more so with sexual abuse) during adolescence for delinquency, psychosomatic troubles, academic difficulties, relationship troubles, and, once adults, for depression, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and marital problems." (Marie Choquet). Despite this disconcerting catalog of results from what we usually consider trivial and without consequence — smacks, face slaps and spankings from mothers, not one proposal was made to the minister by the researchers to combat this form of violence. 

What explains this "oversight"?

Experts on violence, researchers, scientists — all are people like everyone else. Often they were hit themselves. And as we have seen, one effect of disciplinary violence is to make people blind and deaf to the effects of disciplinary violence. Because the shame and humiliation of having been hit stays ingrained into adulthood, people make light of the suffering they experienced and are unable to imagine it having serious consequences. We also avoid thinking about those humiliations, and we are so good at it that we blame adult violence on every possible cause except for that one (in the same report is found a long chapter on the supposed "fundamental violence" of children). Disciplinary violence is linked in our minds to so many childhood humiliations that anyone who takes disciplinary violence seriously is not all that likely to be taken seriously by most people. Such is the placement of disciplinary violence, with both the individual map and the collective map, on a dead end street of our minds. It is a blind spot right in the middle of all our knowledge.  

Man is an animal conditioned to violence from the cradle by his parents. And they further condition away his awareness that he has been conditioned. How long will it take for us to finally recognize this?

Is everyone capable of becoming Hitler?

It is often said, particularly by Christians or those influenced by the psychoanalytic school of thought: "Anyone can become a monster. It doesn't take much to send the best of men veering into monstrosity and crime."  

This idea comes across as sober, vigilant, and realistic. I myself recall telling my students, after reading one of Jung's books, "We are all living with a volcano inside that can erupt at any moment." As important as this idea seems, it is false.  

It simply takes no account at all of what is most fundamental: the degree to which we as children were or were not conditioned to violence. A child who has suffered traumas of which he is not consciously aware, who has accumulated an enormous violent charge due to harshness or indifference on the part of his parents or to sexual abuse he has endured, can indeed become a hardened criminal, a "monster," a Hitler. A child whose integrity has remained intact throughout childhood, whose brain has not been unsettled by the caretakers he loved and respected, will never become a monster. If he does happen to commit a serious crime under the pressure of particular circumstances or by accident, it will cause him such remorse that he goes all out to make amends. In missing this distinction, classical humanism is merely an abstract thought with no relation to the reality of the conditioning that children suffer — and in fact conceals this reality.

But there are also some children who batter their parents . . .

True. We know for example that in Quebec, 13% of teens physically assault their mother. But the study by Linda Pagani which established this figure by conducting a survey among a group of 725 girls et de 687 boys from different regions of Quebec, also shows "the existence of a link between the way parents handle discipline and conflicts and behavior towards mothers. If the adults yell, swear, or insult to assert their authority, the adolescent will tend to adopt the same behavior; if they have resorted to physical punishment (for example, a slap), the teen will use the same strategy to express his or her anger." 15 In other words, it is likely that the majority of cases of battered parents stem from cases of battered children.

Proceed/return to:


1 – A Brief History of Disciplinary Violence
2 – The Nature of Disciplinary Violence and Opinions on the Matter
3 – Why we must stop using corporal punishment
4 – How can we raise children without hitting?
5 – Why is it necessary to ban disciplinary violence?
6 – What to do?
7 – Question for the author
8 – Questions for the reader

World geography of disciplinary violence by continent and country

I – Introduction for the EMIDA Family Education Program
II – Why the Church must denounce ordinary disciplinary violence
III – Resistance every advocate of a spanking ban can expect to face
IV – Declaration against "disciplinary" violence



1. Bantam Books, 1995

2. Viking, 2002

3. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Translated from the French citation; original English quote not found.

4. Faut-il battre les enfants? Relations entre les accidents et la violence éducative (Hommes et Perspectives)

5. Le Développement socio-affectif de l'enfant, éditions Actualisation [citing Methods in Human Development, by Harold Bessell (Human Development Training Institute, 1970)]

6. One ethnologist relates how a child would proudly tell her: "My father beats me good!"

7. Éditions Laffont, Paris, 1979

8. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005

9. Guérir, by David Servan-Schreiber [referencing the article "Areal segregation of face-processing neurons in prefrontal cortex" (Science, November 7, 1997)]

10. 1973

11. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Marc Dutroux of Belgium was convicted in 2004 of multiple crimes against children, including kidnapping, rape, and murder. The case was aggravated by his accomplices’ having allowed two victims to starve to death.

12. Basic Books, 1990

13. Le Monde, November 21, 2000

14. A declaration seeking a specific law against disciplinary violence can be sent to the Prime Minister. See Appendix IV

15. TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: Source: Dominique Nancy, University of Montreal's journal Forum (November 27, 2000); see also: "Risk factor models for adolescent verbal and physical aggression toward mothers," Linda S. Pagani et al, International Journal of Behavioral Development, Vol. 28, No. 6, 528-537 (November 2004).