First, here’s a few posts of mine on why all punishment is dependent on physical means:
The second one was written too quickly, but the concepts are there, and this is an online forum; I’m happy to debate them, clarify anything I said in my sloppy shorthand. But this is the other part of the same conversation: it doesn’t need to be physical to be damaging anyway.
I’ve been on this train of thought for a long time, and this idea didn’t develop during the first decade of the journey . . . it’s here now though, and in full force: why should our focus be solely on corporal punishment?
I mean, I’m sorry to kill any buzzes, but, does that mean there’s another kind, one we like better? Perhaps something more powerful, and therefore more efficient, like the mental kind. Whip a kid, he limps for a few days and then back to normal (so there’s all this maintenance), but mentally torture him once and you can fuck him up for years – is that the sort of bang we want for our buck? Of course not.
The thing is, when we opted for the term – Corporal Punishment – defining what wasn’t corporal punishment wasn’t the task, or the problem. It was more a matter of defining what it is, and that is basically the administration of physical pain as a deterrent and a penalty for misbehaviour. Perhaps it overlaps with ‘retribution’ to a great degree, in that they both mean pain, for the sake of pain, to balance the pain of the victims. Point is, we weren’t thinking about having defined Corporal Punishment that we would then have to determine what other sorts there are.
It’s time now, though. The best time is always ten years ago, but now is good too. So there’s your first homework assignment: define “non-Corporal Punishment.” Perhaps that job will morph into naming all the sorts of punishment that there are, for example, what sort of punishment is it when my mom gave me the “wait ‘till your father gets home” treatment? Mental, that it would cause anxiety for the rest of the day, until Dad got home, or probably more emotional, that I would suffer stress and fear for several hours? I guess on those times when all that was promised was given, it all just goes under Corporal, but on the days when Mom or Dad didn’t follow through, the promise was certainly a price to pay, certainly was a punishment in itself, and then should be classifiable. And the much talked about ‘Timeout?’ The solitary confinement must surely be an emotional punishment also, the temporary loss of the primary caregiver and their love?
I have asked rhetorically a few times over the last few years, and I will again – who will stand up and advocate for this form of non-corporal punishment, Emotional Punishment? Of course, no-one will. It is my dream that as other sorts of punishment are identified they are immediately moved to the list of cruel, banned practices, because if we do end up identifying the other sorts of punishment besides the Corporal variety, they are sure to include Mental Punishment, Emotional Punishment, Psychological Punishment and others – the ramifications, one, that the functions identified in the previous studies re: corporal punishment will apply and have always applied to all sorts of punishment, and two, that now authors, educators and social workers will be in the unenviable position of identifying some type of punishment off of the list as Approved For Use in the home – are pretty big. The ramifications of what we think and what we do as regards punishment in child-rearing in general have always been huge.
I, for one, am not convinced that all the study that went into the CRC and the anti-Corporal Punishment movement generally says anything like ONLY corporal punishment is damaging. The CRC and the rest list many sorts of damage and trauma beyond the purely physical damage in its condemnation of corporal punishment. Clearly any of these experts would admit at least some measure of the causes of other traumas – mental, cognitive, emotional, psychological traumas – to causes of the same names, mental, sexual, emotional, etc., punishments. Though it would be overly subjective to try to quantify exactly which aspects may produce exactly which or what amount of damage, I think it must be that both these vectors have some effect at some rate. Punishment genres tend to get mixed up in these dramas, often several varieties being dished out in one writhing mass, difficult to categorize.
Meaning, that in theory, emotional, mental sorts of punishments can also bring emotional and/or mental damage – meaning in turn that decrying and banning only “corporal punishment” isn’t going to be enough to stop the damage. So while selling the anti-Corporal Punishment message with this research is fair play, or fair enough, it certainly can’t be the only thing this important research supports. It also lays much of the groundwork to get us from anti-Corporal Punishment to anti-Punishment, meaning again, where all of the non-Corporal kind, like mental, emotional, cognitive, and psychological punishments are understood in our minds to be damaging and counterproductive as well. I know we all know that all those forms of abuse exist, but I think maybe we don’t like to appreciate that those forms of punishment also exist. Perhaps we’re also not appreciating how our acceptance of what we consider to be ‘legitimate’ forms and degrees of punishments tend to give oxygen to the illegitimate kind. We don’t know when we see a kid being dressed down and humiliated at the mall whether this is the worst episode of that family’s life, or the best moment of that kid’s day, much of which may not be spent in public.
When that sort of ambiguity can exist around whether a child is suffering physical punishment or abuse, imagine the additional difficulty of identifying these invisible types, mental, emotional forms of punishment and abuse. We need to do all we can to make abuse more visible, and the second and second best thing we should do is stop approving of all these things that look the same and provide camouflage for abuse. Of course the first thing we should do is realize that the downside of a culture of punishing has a major effect, possibly as big or bigger than the positive effect we always hope for when we’re punishing.