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Violence by Any Other Name

by Cynthia Good Mojab, MS

Monday, April 24, 2000
Oregon Live

Violence against children has long been accepted–even advocated–in the name of discipline. In the United States, no law prevents 26 percent of our population (70 million people under the age of 18) from being physically punished by their parents. When an entire society incorporates hitting, spanking, slapping, smacking, pinching, paddling, … into childrearing, it can be difficult to see the resulting harm. But violence by any other name is still violence.

People across the country and around the world increasingly recognize this fact. Over 40 national organizations favor the abolition of corporal punishment, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and the National Education Association. Twenty-seven states (including Oregon) have banned physical punishment in public schools, as have 24 nations. Ten countries have banned it altogether. Reasons for doing so include that physical punishment:

  • has overwhelmingly been shown to cause lifelong damage, such as poor school performance, juvenile delinquency, sexual dysfunction and domestic violence.
  • poses immediate risks of physical injury to children, including bruises and broken bones.
  • is used more often against children who live in poverty, have disabilities, are male, and are minorities.
  • is often used as a first (not last) resort, even for minor misbehaviors.
  • teaches children to hit someone smaller and weaker when they are angry and that force is an acceptable method of gaining compliance.
  • creates fear, anger and resentment in children, emotional states that undermine the ability to learn and further increase the probability of a child engaging in violence.
  • destroys children's trust in their parents, impairing their ability to trust and develop healthy relationships with all others.
Many people use physical discipline because it was used on them. But this harmful cycle does not have to continue. Countless mothers and fathers have courageously looked for effective alternatives to corporal punishment and successfully put them into practice. Instead of striking out, they model good behavior, point out the times a child does something positive, and call a friend for support so they won't take their anger out on a child. Many more ideas can be found in books about how to rear children nonviolently and by talking with other nonviolent parents, as well as with family counselors.

A wealth of support and information is available. Parents working to make a change do not have to do so alone. And whether or not we have children ourselves, we can all make a commitment to learn, advocate and teach childrearing methods that enhance development and well being while guiding behavior. We can also encourage community leaders, organizations, and legislators to do the same.

In spite of research, resources and the growing number of people who successfully raise and educate children with nonviolent guidance, arguments in favor of corporal punishment will continue to be made. The fact remains that any degree of violence is harmful, especially against children. Hitting a child in the name of discipline is like breaking a window to cool down the house. When effective alternatives are available that will not cause harm, they are the better choice. It is never right to hit a child.

Cynthia Good Mojab is an author, researcher, and advocate for children and their families. She lives in Oregon. Additional resources are Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) and EPOCH-USA. PTAVE publishes the free booklet "Plain Talk about Spanking" and can be reached at PO Box 1033, Alamo, CA 94507; Tel: 925-831-1661; EPOCH-USA, an organization that encourages alternatives to corporal punishment, sponsors SpankOut Day each April 30th. Anyone can participate in SpankOut Day by making a commitment to not use physical punishment on children. EPOCH-USA can be reached at 155 West Main Street, Suite 1603, Columbus, OH 43215; Tel.: 614-221-8829;

© Cynthia Good Mojab, 2000. All rights reserved. 

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