Posts Tagged physical punishment

Who needs correcting? More misleading claims

June 12, 2009

In a feature article in today’s DomPost entitled The smacking debate needs some correction Bob McCoskrie of Family First makes a number of claims that warrant comment.

This is a continuation to our previous article on misleading claims.

Misleading claim 10: Mild physical punishment does no harm.

Our response: Physical punishment can be harmful, and is at best ineffective in modifying children’s behaviour.

Whether or not mild physical punishment harms is likely to depend on the circumstances it is administered in. The relevant question is does physical punishment do any good? Research indicates that it does not. People continue to strike their children in the name of behaviour correction for historical reasons. It’s time to pay attention to the relevant research and move on to more effective parenting techiques.

The fact that there may be little evidence that minor forms of physical discipline harm children in no way justifies the use of physical discipline. Does punishment, the infliction of pain and retribution really contribute positively to human development and shape behaviour constructively?

A smack is a violent act. If someone smacks an adult woman, do we ask “Does it do her any harm?” Of course not. We assume that to some degree it is harmful emotionally and harmful of her relationship with the person hitting her. It is also an affront to the woman’s integrity. Yet this very question, “Does it do them any harm?” is frequently asked in relation to hitting children.

Misleading claim 11: There has been an increase in child abuse in Sweden since physical punishment was banned there.

Our response: Sweden has been very successful in reducing child physical abuse. Raising awareness of the issue and mandatory reporting have caused reported rates to rise.

In fact there has been a steady decrease in assaults on children since the law changed in Sweden. In Sweden as in other countries increases in notifications for child abuse indicate an increased willingness on the part of the community to take action and report assaults on children rather than an increase in abuse. 

Misleading claim 12: Huge increases in notifications to CYF since the law change are in some way connected to the new law.

Our response: The increases are in fact largely due to increases in the number of children referred to CYF by the Police because the children have been present at incidents of domestic violence.

See the Briefing to the Incoming Minister for more information.

Misleading claim 13: The Police have discretion not to investigate cases brought to their attention but CYF do not have discretion.

Our response: Both agencies are required to investigate complaints.

In fact both the Police and CYF are required to investigate cases of assault on children brought to their attention. So they should. The nature of the investigation depends on the information they are given by the person making the complaint.

The Police have discretion not to prosecute which is different from discretion not to investigate. CYF do not prosecute because it is not their function. If they believe prosecution is warranted they refer the case to the Police. In a large proportion of cases CYF take no further formal action following initial investigation, not because there has been no substance to the referral, but because there is thought to be no risk of serious abuse the child. This does not mean all is well in the family, rather that a more supportive and informal solution is indicated eg. referral to a family support agency.

Report: Physical punishment of children is not effective in improving behaviour

June 12, 2009

The Centre for Effective Discipline released a report late last year entitled “Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research tells us about its effects on children“.

The report synthesizes one hundred years of social science research and many hundreds of published studies on physical punishment conducted by professionals in the fields of psychology, medicine, education, social work, and sociology, among other fields.

The research supports several conclusions:

  • There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behaviour in the long term.
  • There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
  • There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased mental health problems.
  • There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.

Download the report.

Dianne DeSantis: What is being taught by hitting?

June 4, 2009

Dianne DeSantis asks in The Examiner,

If a child does not know how to behave, how did they learn that behavior? Should a parent be allowed to hit a child because of the way he or she behaves?

Think about these questions. Would you be motivated to change your behavior because someone hit you? Why or why not? Would you feel violated? What makes hitting a child different than hitting an adult? What is being taught by hitting, spanking, or threatening?

The short term effect from spanking is that children will learn to avoid the behavior, avoid the parent, or how to be sure the parent does not see or learn about undesirable behaviors, but not to reason, think for themselves, or make better decisions.

The long term effects are embedded memories of either mild discomfort to pain, violent behavior, an unpleasant experience, confusion, stress, animosity among family members, unhappiness, sadness, fear, emotional reactivity, dislike for the facilitator, low self esteem, learned avoidant behaviors, and the most profound emotion attached to spanking or physical harm is anger. Many people who are taught to behave appropriately by way of spanking, threats, or physical harm become angry adults.

The whole article poses important questions about the effectiveness of physical punishment on children, and is well worth a read.

Margaret Mayman: A Christian Perspective on the Child Discipline Referendum

May 6, 2009

In the second article in our series on religious attitudes to child discipline, Rev Dr Margaret Mayman explains why she strongly supports a YES vote.

Two years ago, our congregation, St Andrew’s on The Terrace, supported the law change that removed the defence of reasonable force for the purposes of correction of children. Now we are arguing that the law change be retained and that citizens should vote “Yes” in the referendum.

Prior to the law change, there had been terrible cases of child abuse that had not resulted in an assault conviction because of the use of this defence. New Zealand has appalling rates of lethal and non-lethal child abuse and there is strong evidence that abuse often occurs as an escalation of physical punishment. The law needed to be changed to ensure that the children received equal protection.

The engagement of religious groups in public policy matters is controversial. Our view follows that of twentieth-century German theologian, Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer rejected the idea that faith was something inward and private with no relevance to society or politics. He wrote as a Christian engaged in profound opposition to Nazism and in criticism of Christian withdrawal from politics. He believed that the Church had a prophetic imperative to speak out for those who could not speak. In his case, for the Jewish people who were being brutally persecuted by the German state. Bonhoeffer believed that the witness of the Bible, and particularly the life and teaching of Jesus, required public advocacy. In his Letters and Papers from Prison, he wrote: We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the reviled – in short, form the perspective of those who suffer.

Our faith community, located in twentieth century Aotearoa, is engaged in supporting the law change, and in voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum, because we believe that suffering children are the ones whose perspective should be the basis our public response. We do not expect that our voices, as religious people, should be given more weight than any other group participating in the public discourse, but we nevertheless have an imperative to speak out and a right to be heard.

Progressive Christian voices are needed to balance those of religious conservatives who advocate for the continuing use of physical force to discipline children.

Biblical Interpretation

We believe that the Bible “contains the inspired word of God.” This word is mediated to us through the words of human beings who were subject to their culture, religion and history. We read it now with the guidance of the Holy Spirit (the aspect of God that is present within and among us all) in light of our cultural and scientific knowledge. The Bible was written down over a period of 1500 and covers a historical period even longer than that.

As followers of Jesus, we see a clear mandate toward non-violence in all aspects of our lives. We believe that the recorded interactions of Jesus with children in the New Testament call us to a radical respect for the personhood, and therefore the bodily integrity of children.

Key biblical passages for our understanding of our responsibilities towards children include passages such as Matthew 19: 13-15. When the disciples tried to rebuke people who brought their children to Jesus. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs. And he laid his hands upon them and went on his way.”

Jesus clearly felt love and compassion for children, adding that his disciples should “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. …So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Matthew 18:10, 14)

Reading the stories of Jesus teachings about children, and his interactions with them, in the gospels, we find no justification for physical punishment, let alone any directive for it.

It is true that there are biblical verses that might suggest that physical punishment is endorsed. They consist of a smattering of verses, primarily from the Book of Proverbs. The commonly quoted “spare the rod and spoil the child” is not actually from the Bible, though Proverbs does include “Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.”

Thousands of years of physical violence and assaults have been justified by this proverb and a number of others. However, twenty-first century Christians are bound to interpret the Bible contextually and in light of knowledge developed since the scriptures were written. This includes knowledge about child development and of the damage caused by physical punishment.

No one today interprets the Bible literally on this issue, despite the claims of conservative Christians that they do so. For example, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses told the people of Israel that “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.” (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21).

For those Christians who insist that the Bible requires parents to use physical punishment, they must account for this instruction that parent is required to put to death the persistently disobedient youth.

Within Christianity, the teachings and actions of Jesus, and his consequent understanding of the person and will of God, transformed the systems of violence and punishment. The religious narrative changed from an authoritarian God to a God who relates to Jesus and to all people as a loving parent.

Progressive Christians believe that Jesus teaching about love, forgiveness, and reconciliation compel us toward a path of non-violence in all aspects of our lives, including the way we raise children in families and communities.

The only words attributed to Jesus that could be construed to justify punishment can be found in Revelation, which relates a vision recorded by John long after the death of Jesus. In Revelation 3: 19, he said: “I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent.” It contains nothing specific about children and reproving and disciplining are not necessarily physical.

Another text cited from the New Testament is Hebrews 12: 5-11. The author justifies physical punishment by drawing upon an understanding of ancient history filled with divine punishment. He refers to his own experiences of childhood punishment as “painful at the time.” Nowhere does the author invoke the teaching of Jesus to confirm his beliefs. His words have been used to justify much suffering. His is a theology of an abused child.

Other New Testament sources include Paul’s epistle to the Colossians. Paul commanded children to obey their parents, but added an important injunction to parents, “Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.” In Ephesians 6: 1-3, Paul again urged children to obey and honour their parents, but he again added the instruction: “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4).

In other passages in his letters, it is clear that Paul accepted the institution of slavery while at the same time seeking to soften it. Nineteenth century Christians realised that to take seriously the teaching of Jesus about the dignity of all people, required that slavery be ended. Our interpretations of the Bible do not stand still.

Breaking Wills

It has been an assumption of Protestant theology, since its inception, that children are born sinful and disobedient and that parents must use physical discipline in order to save them from their depravity. This understanding was developed in detail in Christian parenting manuals from the nineteenth century and continues today in parenting material written by some evangelical Christians.

Progressive Christians are reclaiming a new theological anthropology that stresses the blessing of children, not their sinfulness. We have particular responsibility to guide them into a mature relationship with God and we cannot do that by fear or violence.

Parents, like all Christians, are required to show compassion and gentleness, including in the way they discipline their children.

Christians have contributed negatively to a culture of violence in the home. It has been reinforced by inadequate biblical interpretations and inadequate ethical reflection. As a faith tradition, we bear responsibility for the damage done to so many children in the name of our faith. In advocating for repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act, and in supporting a ‘Yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum, we are beginning to redress that injustice.

Creating a Good Society for Parents and Children

I am concerned pastorally for parents and children in Aotearoa. Many of our congregation have children of our own, and we understand the enormous challenges that parenting presents. We sympathise with parents who in times of great stress lash out violently towards their children. We believe that the law change sends a clear message to parents so that in times of stress they will be able to curb the emotional response to hit their children. Rather than increasing the burden of parenting, it will provide a very strong message that there are other, more effective ways of disciplining their children.

We also respond to those who claim that physical punishment did them no harm as children, and that they are able to control the delivery of violence in such a way that children will not be injured. This claim is contestable in that there is increasing evidence that harm is caused even when physical injury does not result. Given the very high incidence of child abuse and death in New Zealand, we all have a moral responsibility to protect children from parents who are clearly unable to limit physical punishment to a non-injurious degree.

In the end, violence is violence wherever it occurs. In a civilised society, we should not refuse to protect those most vulnerable. Our statistics, on international scales, are truly a cause for shame. We must do better to protect and cherish children, who are like all humans, created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27; 5:2).


Religious groups do not have a right to compel government to adopt their understanding into law. However, we have a responsibility to speak up for those who cannot speak, those who are vulnerable and powerless. In this case, we speak for the rights of children to bodily integrity and spiritual well-being, believing as we do that that the law change benefits adults as well. Inflicting violence on others damages the spirit of the one who perpetrates violence.

The law is working well. The wording of the referendum question is misleading and misguided, ignoring the discretion that the police have in regard to prosecution. I strongly support a “Yes Vote.”

Rev Dr Margaret Mayman
St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Families Commission report: Loving, nurturing environments lead to healthy brain development

May 5, 2009

The critical role of parents and caregivers in the physical development of children’s brains has been highlighted in a report released by the Families Commission today.

Healthy Families, Young Minds and Developing Brains vividly demonstrates how a child’s experience of love, pleasure and security – or the lack of these – has a major impact on issues as diverse as family violence, crime, social and educational success and mental health.

Prepared by Charles and Kasia Waldegrave for the Commission, the study identifies factors that enable children to reach their full potential, or prevent them from doing so. It demonstrates that the environment children experience in their early years impacts on their young minds which, in turn, affects how well they pick up everything from language and writing to important social and moral skills such as knowing how to control their emotions and desires. They might also fail to develop empathy for others, the skill needed to understand that some actions harm other people.

Author Charles Waldegrave says: “In loving, nurturing environments the child’s brain will develop normally. But recent developments in neuroscience and child development show that ongoing experiences of neglect, abuse or violence can seriously damage development in children, leading to long term impairment of their intellectual, emotional and social functioning.”

Chief Families Commissioner Dr Jan Pryor says the study shows how important it is for governments and society to value parenting and create environments that support strong, resilient, loving families and whanau within which to raise children.

“It also highlights the importance of early intervention if things do start to go wrong for families,” Dr Pryor says. “The longer a child experiences serious deprivation, the higher the chance that this will have serious long term impacts on their functioning as an adult and the harder it will be for intervention to remedy that harm.”

The paper also discusses how the experiences of the early years impact on society, Dr Pryor says.

“For instance, the Government has signalled that it is very interested in the drivers of crime. What this research tells us is that impaired mind and brain development during childhood can be a major contributor to criminal behaviour in later life, because of the developing child’s inability to self regulate and create sensitive relationships with others.”

The Families Commission will use the study to develop advice it is preparing for the Government on the importance of early intervention, what types of intervention are needed, what works best, and where government and community family services can best target their money and efforts for best effect. The study will also contribute to the Commission’s work for easy access by parents to parenting support information, early childhood education and childcare.

Download the report: Healthy Families, Young Minds and Developing Brains

For our children’s sake, let’s be fair and sensible

April 30, 2009

A coalition of organisations committed to positive outcomes for children and families wishes to set the record straight regarding the child discipline law.

After much debate and consideration of opinion and international evidence, this law was passed by both Labour and National and came into effect in May 2007.

It’s time the nation got the straight story on what the law does and doesn’t say, and how it is being used. The law is both fair and sensible.

It clearly states that parents can restrain or physically remove children from a situation to keep them or another safe from harm and to prevent them from engaging in any criminal, offensive or disruptive behaviour.

Parents can, of course, also perform the normal daily tasks that are part of good care and parenting, such as carrying a child to their room at bedtime, even if they protest; or holding them back from running onto the road; and enforcing boundaries, such as stopping them from hurting another person or an animal, shouting in a restaurant; and other disruptive behaviour.  Fair and sensible.

It does not allow the use of force for the purpose of correction. Children and adults now have equal protection under the law from all forms of assault. Fair at last.

It also clearly states that the police are not expected to prosecute in cases where assaults are very minor. Police monitoring of their activity in this area shows no significant increase in complaints, investigations or prosecutions. This information is on the police website for anyone to read and parents can be reassured. Again, fair and sensible.

So, physical punishment is out, positive parenting is in. Love, warmth, guidance, encouragement, clear boundaries – these are the parenting strategies that work and that support children so they know what is expected of them, what the rules are, and at the same time they feel valued and loved.

So let’s clear up the confusion. Let’s be fair and sensible and simply get on with supporting each other to love and nurture our children.

Anjum Rahman: An Islamic perspective on child discipline

April 17, 2009

Physical violence as a form of discipline is standard for most cultures around the world. Many Muslim parents are in the habit of using physical punishment, sometimes of a severe nature. This is despite there being no verse in the Qur’an requiring or even condoning the physical discipline of children. Neither is there any instance of Muhammad ever striking a child. He never used violence as a form of discipline on his own children or grandchildren.

There are some instances where physical punishment is allowed, for example to ensure that a child completes the daily prayers. In this example, physical discipline can only be used as a last resort for children of 10 years or older.

Even the most conservative scholars agree that a child should not be struck in anger. There is a strong requirement in Islam to show love and mercy towards children, and to preserve their dignity – this is just as much a right of the child as the right to be fed, clothed, and educated. One of my favourite stories is this one:

Abu Hurairah reported: The Prophet (Muhammad) kissed his grandson Al-Hasan bin `Ali in the presence of Al-Aqra` bin Habis. Thereupon he (Al-Aqra` bin Habis) remarked: “I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them.” The Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) looked at him and said, “He who does not show mercy to others will not be shown mercy”.

From my own experience, I have never seen a child hit or smacked in an absence of anger. I’ve never seen or experienced a parent who has sat down with the child, explained what was done wrong in a loving manner, and then smacked the child with love. I’m not saying it never happens, but that I haven’t seen it. Smacking has either been a response of the moment as a result of anger or a calculated attempt to instill fear.

Fear as a method of raising children is effective in that it limits behaviour and enforces compliance. The consequence is that this fear damages the relationship between child and parent. Children are unlikely to confide their troubles to parents who they fear. A parent should not be resorting to fear, but to respect and love. The best form of discipline is, of course, being an example yourself of the kind of conduct you wish to inspire in your children.

Given this background, I had no problem with the 2007 changes to Section 59. I don’t believe it criminalised parents who smack their children, but rather it removed a defense for those who abuse them. There was a lot of benefit to the debate as well, in that many parents started thinking more deeply about how they disciplined their children. Many sought more information on better disciplinary techniques which would improve their parenting skills.

The proposed referendum is mischievous in its intent. The wording does not mention Section 59, it does not provide any solutions to dealing with the “reasonable force” defense which resulted in juries discharging parents who had used severe forms of physical violence. The referendum question shows little interest in the welfare or the rights of children, and that is its biggest failing. Children are not able to speak or advocate for themselves, nor do they have any ability to participate in the law-making process. It is up to us, as adults, to protect those rights and ensure that the vulnerable are kept safe.

Anjum Rahman is a founding member of Shama (Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre) and the Islamic Women’s Council, as well as being involved with the Hamilton Peace Movement and various interfaith activities.  She was a Labour list candidate at the last election, and blogs at The Hand Mirror.

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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