In many parts of the country, it is illegal for a parent, teacher, or anyone else to spank a child. In some states and provinces, it is only illegal for a teacher to spank. In all of North America, physical punishment by a parent, as long as it is not severe, is still seen by many as necessary disciple and condoned.
Because children learn through parental modeling, physical punishment gives the message that hitting is an appropriate way to express feelings and resolve problems. If children do not observe a parent solving problems in a creative humane way, it can be difficult for them to learn to do this for themselves. A punished child becomes preoccupied with feelings of anger and fantasies of revenge, and is thus deprived of the opportunity to learn more effective methods of solving the problem at hand. Thus, a punished child learns little about how to handle or prevent similar situations in the future. Physical punishment gives the dangerous and unfair message that it is permissible to hurt someone else, provided they are smaller and less powerful than you are. The child then concludes that it is permissible to mistreat younger or smaller children. When the child becomes an adult, the child can feel little compassion for those less fortunate than they are, and fears those who are more powerful. Punishment also interferes with the bond between parent and child, as it is not human nature to feel loving toward someone who hurts you. The true spirit of cooperation, which every parent desires can arise only through a strong bond based on mutual feelings of love and respect. Punishment, even when it appears to work can produce only superficially good behavior based on fear, which can only take place until the child is old enough to resist or the adult is out of sight. In contrast, cooperation based on respect will last permanently bringing many years of mutual happiness as the child and parent grows older.
For the past several years, many psychiatrists, sociological researchers, and parents have recommended that we seriously consider banning the physical punishment of children. Before considering this, we must first understand the differences in parenting styles.
In all cultures different parenting styles exist. These parenting styles include the authoritative style, the authoritarian style, the permissive style, and the uninvolved style. Many people ask which style is the “correct” style?
Authoritative parents make reasonable demands for maturity and they enforce them by setting limits and insisting on obedience. At the same time, they express warmth and affection, listen patiently to their child’s point of view, and encourage participation in family decision making. Authoritative child rearing is a rational, democratic approach that recognizes and respects the rights of both children and parents. In childhood, children are usually lively and have a happy mood. Children usually have a high self-esteem and social control.
Most children display the typical behaviors of being raised by an authoritative parent. Many children are happy and love to be given choices, but does this mean their parents are following an authoritative style? There are many parents who are demanding but the children have a low self-esteem and seem frightened of their parents. This type of reaction to a parent might mean their parent is an authoritarian style parent.
Parents who use an authoritarian style are also demanding, but they place a high value on conformity that they are unresponsive – even outright rejecting- which when children are unwilling to obey. An example of this would be if a parent said, “Do it because I say so.” As a result they engage in very little give-and-take with children, who are expected to accept an adult’s word for what is right in an unquestioning manner. If the child does not, authoritarian parents resort to force and punishment. The authoritarian style is clearly biased in favor of parents’ needs; children’s self expression and independence are suppressed.
Baumrind (1967, 1971) found that children with authoritarian parents were anxious, withdrawn, and unhappy. When interacting with peers, they tend to react with hostility when frustrated. Boys especially were in anger and defiance. Girls were dependent and lacking in exploration, and they retreated from challenging tasks. In adolescence, young people with authoritarian parents continue to be less well adjusted then those exposed to an authoritative style (Steinberg ET al., 1994). Nevertheless, teenagers used to authoritarian child rearing do better in school and are less likely to engage in antisocial acts than those with undemanding parents – that is, who use either of the two styles I am about to discuss.
The permissive style of child rearing is nurturing and accepting, but it avoids making demands or imposing controls of any kind. Permissive parents allow children to make their own decisions at an age when they are not yet capable of doing so. They can eat meals or go to bed when they feel like it and watch as much television as they want. They do not have to learn good manners or do any household chores and they are permitted to interrupt and annoy others without any parental restraint.
Children of permissive parents are usually very immature. They have difficulty controlling their impulses and are very disobedient and rebellious when asked to do something that conflicts with their momentary desires. In adolescence, parental indulgence continues to be related to poor self-control. Permissively reared teenagers are less involved in school learning and use drugs more frequently than do teenagers whose parents communicate clear standards for behavior (Kurderk & Fine, 1994).
Undemanding parenting and rejecting behavior describes uninvolved style. Uninvolved parents show little commitment to caregiving beyond the minimum effort required to feed and clothe the child. Many times, these parents are so overwhelmed by many other pressures and stresses in their lives, that they have little time and energy to spare for children. Some of these stresses could be the use of drugs, multiple jobs, illness or relationship problems. As a result, they cope with the demands of parenting by doing what they can to avoid inconvenience. They may respond to the child’s demands for easily accessible objects but any efforts that involve long-term goals, such as establishing and enforcing rules about homework and acceptable social behaviors, are weak and fleeting (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).
When it’s very time extreme, uninvolved parenting is a form of neglect. Especially when it begins early, it disrupts all aspects of development. Emotionally detached, depressed mothers who show little or no interest in their babies have children who soon show deficits in many domains, including attachment, cognition, emotional, and social skills.
Often, the question of which parenting style is effective has been raised. After researching this topic, I have found that the most effective style is the authoritative style. The authoritative style sets limits for the child. Nurturant parents who are secure in the standards they hold for their children provide models of caring concern as well as confident, assertive behavior. They are more effective reinforcing agents, praising children for striving to meet their expectations and making good use of disapproval, which works best when applied by an adult who has been warm and caring.
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