The pope was speaking at the Vatican this week on the importance of a good father. He recalled a conversation with a father who admitted he hit his children, but not in the face.
“How beautiful. He has a sense of dignity. He needs to punish them and he does it justly and moves on,” Pope Francis reportedly said.
Funny. We call our detention centers “correctional facilities”, because the aim is reform, not punishment. When a boss verbally harasses an employee, they are subject to “disciplinary action”, not punishment. If a person hits their spouse with the intent of reforming their behavior, it’s called domestic violence. Most would call it “animal abuse” when someone “punishes” their dog or cat or bird by “spanking” it.
But yet, somehow, so many people still say that spanking a child is ok. Even more think that children need to be punished in order to reform their behavior into compliance with whatever their parents want them to do or say.
Tell me, what dignity is there in physical violence? What dignity is there in punishment? Even if you do believe in the necessity of changing a child’s behavior, how will physical force or punishment accomplish that? Is that how you would get your spouse or friend or employee to change their behavior? How about your adult child? Why are we holding onto this invisible line we’ve drawn around children that is such an enormous double standard? And what is that teaching those children about us, about life?
In the early 1800s most legal systems implicitly accepted wife-beating as a husband’s right, part of his entitlement to control over the resources and services of his wife. Feminist agitation in the 1800s produced a sea change in public opinion, and by the end of the 19th century most courts denied that husbands had any right to “chastise” their wives.
Why should we wait until it’s universally illegal and socially unacceptable to decide that it’s wrong?
Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children.
“I can just about count on one hand the studies that have found anything positive about physical punishment and hundreds that have been negative.” [ Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD]
And please, don’t use religion as an argument for spanking.
Rushworth Kidder notes that the Golden Rule can be found in the early contributions of Confucianism. Kidder notes that this concept’s framework appears prominently in many religions, including “Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and the rest of the world’s major religions”. According to Greg M. Epstein, “ ’do unto others’ … is a concept that essentially no religion misses entirely.” Simon Blackburn also states that the Golden Rule can be “found in some form in almost every ethical tradition”. All versions and forms of the proverbial Golden Rule have one aspect in common: they all demand that people treat others in a manner in which they themselves would like to be treated.
Unless you’re going to argue that children are less than human, chances are, your religion supports treating them the same way you want to be treated. They aren’t excluded from the Golden Rule. On the contrary, they should be the prime recipients of such compassion. How else will they learn it if they do not experience it firsthand?
(Graphic courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/humanrightsforhumanchildren)