The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been in the news, as President Obama considers that it is an embarrassment that the United States is the only “civilized” nation who has refused to ratify a document that calls for nations to abolish legalized violence towards children. Although I take issue with the fact that the UN Convention recommends school be compulsory, the UN Convention is the only international child-focused treaty that calls for the end of violence towards youth. Egregiously, the GOP opposes the UN Convention because they have traditionally viewed children as the property of parents. Conservatives as a group have a poor track record regarding fighting for human rights; this includes their refusal to accept children’s right to live in homes and communities where their bodies are protected from age-discriminating violence.
“Spanking” is a candy-coated word for violence- It is not discipline, it is not any of the rationalizing lies we tell ourselves as a culture that it is. Corporal punishment is a physical, emotional and spiritual assault on a child and it has negative consequences to a child’s neurological, psychological and social development. If we hope to teach our children to be peaceful, compassionate, nonviolent, responsible and cooperative people, then we must parent by deepening the parent-child attachment relationship, not hurt it through traumatizing violence. Hitting children teaches them to accept aggression towards the self or others or to become aggressive towards the self or others in some form- often in a form that they later do not perceive as aggressive.
People who justify and defend corporal punishment seem to unanimously use the same justifications for their actions, to the point of being uncanny :
1. “I was spanked and it didn’t do me any harm.”
This justification is so tragic as to be pathetic– It’s as if the person is so desperate to block off the pain they felt as a child from their parents’ assault on their childhood mistakes that they are trying to convince themselves that they “turned out fine”. In reality, under that veneer of “fine” is a person who is cut off from empathy and compassion for what it was like to be a child, a person who now internalized the message that it is acceptable for a human being over 18 to assault one under 18. In actuality, this is the worst harm that can be done, when we are cut off from our childhood suffering and then pass on the attitudes and behaviors of the person who caused our suffering. This is the reason for the majority of the violence, hatred and suffering on the planet.
2. “The problem with kids today is they aren’t disciplined…”
Not only has every generation lamented this superfluous “The-Problem-With-Kid’s-Today” rant, this rant mirrors justification #1, that the adult has cut him or herself off from the spirit, heart and mind of the child who was trying to signal unmet needs in the only way he or she knew how- To act out.
Ironically, consistent studies have shown that despite the public awareness and general social unacceptability of corporal punishment in many parts of the USA, the reality is that 90% of parents admit that they still hit their children. If 90% of parents have used corporal punishment, then defenders of corporal punishment might ask themselves why aren’t children angels if this is the magic solution? 90% of children are getting hit, so what is the problem? Deep down, defenders know corporal punishment harms. Deep down they know that they themselves as adults would never willingly cooperate with another adult who assaulted them to get them to do what was requested of them. Defenders must justify their own parents’ or alma mater’s abuse of power in order to not feel the complication of betrayal.
The truth is that discipline is about guiding a child through a deep, loving relationship, strong family and community modeling and example and through compassion, empathy and understanding that children signal unmet needs through misbehavior. Punishments, such as physical or verbal aggression, “time-outs” or arbitrary removal of a child’s belongings, only harm the relationship, and do not teach a child discipline. Punishments do to children what they do to adults- Punishments breed resentment.
3. Religious arguments, such as “The Bible says…”
To pervert spirituality by using it as a justification of violence seems to run counter to every universal spiritual principle about how to treat people. Religions that justify harming children show an ignorance about the science behind children’s brain development, social and emotional development. To suggest that a Higher Power would recommend a practice that trauma science has shown us rewires a child’s brain in a detrimental manner, puts children at risk for becoming aggressive towards the self or others, leads to depression, anxiety, lower IQ’s and the risk of passing on family violence seems counterintuitive. For those “spanking” proponents who say they do so in the name of Jesus Christ, they show very little historical understanding that Jesus was actually a very radical human rights activist who cherished children and had harsh words for anyone who would harm a child. In fact, he recommended people “become like” children, in other words, empathize with the experience of children.
Twenty-eight nations have legally abolished all forms of corporal punishment of children, starting with Sweden in 1979 and continuing with the most recent additions, Tunisia and Poland, this year, 2010. It is a crime that the USA, which boasts that it is the “Land of the Free” has not followed suit. In fact, in most of the states in the Southern part of the country, school teachers and administrators still can legally beat children with wooden boards– “paddles”– another candy-coated word carefully crafted to obscure the violence and the moral corruption of assaulting children.
In June, NY Representative Carolyn McCarthy introduced legislation to Congress to propose a federal ban on all school corporal punishment. Now in August, Obama is considering ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which challenges all world leader to abolish all forms of corporal punishment in schools and in the family. The USA has an opportunity right now to follow the lead of 28 other governments who have figured out that violence towards youth begets more violence and constitutes a grave human rights violation. These nations have progressively taken action to stand for more peaceful, compassionate ways of relating to their youngest citizens. It’s time Americans stop defending the very practices that caused them so much fear, pain and betrayal as children. It’s time to abolish corporal punishment in the USA.