Why Ending “Corporal Punishment” Won’t Fix It

I had this idea of doing a YouTube sort of video, but for various reasons, I’m giving it up.

I spent some time writing it though, so here’s the rough script, just ’cause I can’t bear to write and not publish . . .

YouTube – Abuse with an Excuse


Me talking – scene? In the yard, birds and flowers?



Hey Folks, thanks for the click, of course.

This will be a talk about a sort of technical, psychological aspect of how we raise our children, and it’s not going to be exciting for most internet users.

If it were an 18th, Century manuscript, I guess it would be titled ‘A Critique of the Prohibition of Corporal Punishment’ –  maybe it will be, too, old-timey as it sounds, that is what it’s supposed to be.

I want to show that outlawing “corporal punishment” is not working and is not ever going to work to end spanking and violent child discipline and I plan to demonstrate that it is due to faulty assessment, that there is far more to this problem than what is happening in the very narrow definition of “corporal punishment.”

More, I hope to show that any policy built around the idea of stopping “corporal punishment” is in fact misguided, built upon a bad idea.

My belief, to avoid any surprises, is that punishment generally is a leading cause of our social problems and not a cure for them at all.

I think the world will become a better place with every act of punishment that we don’t engage in – but that is not the subject of today’s talk.

Today will be just one small part of that larger conversation.

So, Folks, if that interests you, if you’re a policy maker in the government or some Social Services agency, or a person engaged in the attempt to understand their own childhood and themselves, welcome!

Maybe you’re a teacher in an Early Childhood Education program, teaching our future daycare staffers and teachers, or simply a person who wants to delve deeply into parenting before, during, or after the experience of it, and if so, or for whatever reason this catches your eye, welcome!

I may bore you to tears or I may make you angry – parenting is very personal – the only thing I will promise is that unless you know me online or in real life already, you have probably never heard the views in here before.

If you make it through to the end, I’ll I commend your attention span, and welcome your input.

Again, on behalf of all humanity, because we all start out as children, I thank you for your interest.

OK then. I think we’re probably alone now.


Scene change?

Hi there, welcome to Abuse with an Excuse, the movement with a poor name and an even poorer chance of success, because, well, because we can’t have nice things, can we?

Scene change? – sad things, kids, people? A headline reading ‘Canadian Majority Government falls to No Confidence vote, nation gives Same Guys Super Majority?’

After all, if we could change only one thing to make the world a vastly better place, surely that would be too easy! Plus we wouldn’t deserve it, would we, sinners that we are?

Scene change? – images of Christian self-abasement, Whitey from ‘the DaVinci Code?


It sure seems like that sometimes, but I guess in truth, I’ll have to say no and no.

Of course we deserve nice things.

Plus, it’s a fact is that making this one change in the world will be anything but easy.

But that’s only because it’s unthinkable.

Scene change? – Galileo in the Tower of Pisa?


If we can get past that, it might not be so hard – so that’s the goal.

That’s my challenge to the world. Can we think the unthinkable? Can we get outside of the box?

We’ll be going after one of the PC Brigade’s favourites, I’ll warn you now. No shame in walking away.

Scene change? – Protest scenes, placards – Simpsons? South Park . . .



Don’t get too excited, I know we’d all like to think we get outside of the box sometimes – but we probably won’t like the outside of this one.

Most don’t.

We probably think that what’s outside of this particular box is something along the lines of a sharknado – no wait – Biebernado.

Scene change? – Can I do that? Sharknado scene, and the same with JB?



Don’t worry; I’ll get back to that.


Scene change? – Graphic of a box, and us flying into it, inside some image of people, humanity, then a “spanking scene,” then one of a parent administering a task-based penalty


Today’s box has two things in it, besides all of mankind: the first is “corporal punishment.”

The second, well, I’m looking for a better name, but generically perhaps we can call it simply “non-corporal punishment” for now.

The terms are problematic, and we’ll see why soon.

You get the idea, though, two sorts of punishment, corporal as opposed to otherwise, which means ‘pain, discomfort or endurance-based punishments’ as opposed to punishments that are intended to be non-violent?

Common examples of the latter kind are referred to as restrictions on ‘screen time’ for our modern, wealthy kids, the removal of a desired thing, a toy, the ‘timeout,’ ‘grounding’ (curfew), increased chores, etc.

Scene change? –graphic, outside of the box, someone closes box and labels it?

I’m sure I haven’t lost anyone; we all know that stuff, right?

That stuff, though, that is inside the box – and we are stepping out of it.

It is my hope that when we turn back to look at it, that we will see only the box, labelled “punishment.”

Scene change? – back to me talking – where?

So far so good? Super.

When we’re finished here, I’ll help you pack that box out to the curb. Hold on, we’d better back up.


This is about childrearing, parenting.

Scene change? – somehow show a bunch of folks approving of the task-based scene and disapproving of the “spanking.”

There are a great many people living in the box for whom the contents are distinct, very different things, and this conversation is intended for the ones who identify as anti-corporal punishment, people who do not hold with hitting children and “spanking.”

Scene change? – somehow show a bunch of folks approving of the “spanking” scene

All those who are pro-corporal punishment, you’re not going to care about what I have to say here.

Stay if you’re curious, but really, this conversation is for most of the folks you are in opposition to already.

Scene change? – somehow show the ‘pro’ folks disapproving of ‘anti’ folks  and vice versa

I don’t think you are necessarily any more harmful than the non-corporal punishment people on the whole, and I don’t think you’re not worth talking to – I just think this is internal, anti-spanking movement stuff.

Scene change? – meeting of the People’s Front for Judea? Palin guaranteeing Idle’s Right to have babies and Cleese’s response?

The errors I’m pointing to here are ours, not yours.

You’re next on my list to attack, don’t worry, I’m not forgetting you.

If you’re still being like that after I straighten these namby-pamby types out, we’ll talk.

Scene change? – me talking?


Where was I? Oh yes.

Don’t get me wrong –I’m anti-corporal punishment. Pain for pain’s sake? Kind of a no-brainer to my way of thinking.

In fact, I’m anti-punishment.

“Anti-punishment.” Let’s let that sit there for a second.

Scene change? – deer in headlights shot? Leela – “Yes. Wait – what?”

Has everybody heard that particular combination of syllables before?

Is it something we hear in the box?

Anti-punishment. Surely it’s been said, I just can’t be sure when or by whom.

The thing is, I want to be anti-corporal punishment, so I’m anti-punishment, period.

That’s how it works, sorry to tell you, but all punishment is physical, and it’s all based in violence.

It’s not all “corporal,” I’m not saying that, because “corporal” means the pain is the penalty.

What I am saying is all punishments require physical means to make them happen, enforcement.

Imagine forcing somebody to take a punishment over the phone, if you had no physical presence.

Scene change? – cartoon, Slyvester getting clobbered through the phone . . .


Me talking again

It’s possible, don’t get me wrong, some caregivers have that sort of power, but they got it through plain old-fashioned physical superiority, either in the past, the kid’s experience – or because of a present or future threat.

Or both, obviously.

(A word about pronouns. Sometimes when I’m talking about hypothetical kids, I’ll say, he or she, him or her, but if I lose track and I’m always talking about boys, it’s only an example, I don’t mean to leave the girls out.

I’m a man, and if the hypothetical has a correlation for me, I may say ‘he’ just through identifying with it.

I’m not intentionally just using male terms as global identifiers.

Mostly, I’m always writing this exact sort of stuff, and to type ‘he or she’ twenty times a day is tiresome to do, and tiring to read as well.)

When we can control our kids with a word, when we can impose a punishment and simply watch while the kid hands over the toy or walks himself to the naughty chair, whatever he has to do to pay for his crime, that kid knows something that we maybe don’t.

He knows that it isn’t optional, that if he says no to this penalty and opts for what comes next, that things only get worse for him.

Children that appear to take their punishments willingly know from experience what happens when they get their backs up and refuse.

This is what I’m saying about “non-corporal” punishment: it is always only the child’s first, best option.

It does in no way replace the rough kind of punishing, the physical kind is always there, because “non-corporal” punishment cannot exist without it.

Hmmm . . . wait a second . . .

Trauma doesn’t have to be consistent to be damaging, I mean your life doesn’t have to be all trauma to damage you.

Even one-timers can destroy people, worst case scenario.

That means that a child whose life includes mostly non-physical penalties is still vulnerable to trauma and damage if the discipline only turns violent occasionally – and it always does, at least occasionally.


The physical kind of punishing is always there, because “non-corporal” punishment cannot exist without it, that statement needs a little support, to say the least, right?

Well, this isn’t hard science, but I have a few things.


is everyone aware that much of the older child-rearing advice was proudly corporal?

Do we know that they advised smacking babies specifically because they lack language skills and therefore cannot be reasoned with?

Scene change? – baby shots, maybe an old birth scene with the ritual First Spank?

Actually, fair enough almost, they do lack speech and can’t be reasoned with, but I’m not actually feeling the need to weigh in here on corporal punishment of babies as such – I’m anti-ALL punishment, I’ll remind you.

But what the previous generations’ childrearing literature means is what I’m telling you about kids and non-physical punishments: we often learn our physical lessons before we even get our legs.

When a toddler or a child has learned to stand still and take his medicine, it’s likely because he has been trained by force, because, third time, you can’t talk babies into anything.

This I offer as proof that if we control our babies, if a great many of life’s conflicts with our babies are settled in our favour, there is only one way we can have accomplished it.



Scene change? – shots of Darwin, Goodall, a frowning, hairy Jemaine Clements . . .


when it really isn’t actual force – and I may have to know you well to believe you if you say so – maybe there’s a human nature aspect to it, that perhaps humans have retained some instincts. Maybe kids just know to toe the line when the parent is only showing warning signs.

That is something like genetic proof, if we have that instinct, because it means those of us without it flourished less, and that heeding the warnings is a survival trait– and it reminds us that a first non-violent attempt to control a child isn’t something we just invented.

If there are two varieties of punishment, they have always existed together, side by side.

Scene change? – Walmart scenes with kids? Corporal punishment in public?


Scene change? – back to me talking

Evidence that they can be separated is still pending; I’m not holding my breath, because the vast majority of households in Canada and America self-report still “spanking.”

That tells us this “no corporal punishment” narrative isn’t changing anything.


we have a long, long childhood and most of us never make it all the way through without calling the parents’ bluff at least once.

Somebody tell me that we never learned this when we pushed our grownups to the limit– our caregivers weren’t bluffing, were they, because what is punishment if the parent won’t back it up?

And in what way, while I’m asking questions and being rhetorical, in what way has this generation changed that fundamental fact about punishing? That you can’t bluff?

Rhetorical, of course, we haven’t. That’s the secret.

You know you have to follow through, right?

That statement right there, there’s another sort of proof.

If you have to follow through, then your non-physical punishment was always going to be physical if it had to be to work.

(That is a whole other discussion, what we mean when we say something “works.”

Perhaps that will be the next entry.)

Scene change? – scenes to show the following two scenarios . . .


and I’m sorry, it’s the same as number one, really, just another angle – how physical do you have to be sometimes to follow through?

Grounding and curfew aren’t corporal punishments – but the fight that will ensue when your teenager says ‘fuck you’ and heads for the front door is sure to trespass into the physical, isn’t it?

Same with a toddler who doesn’t want his timeout; timeouts certainly aren’t corporal punishments, but bringing him to where timeouts happen and keeping him there is something that happens in the physical world, isn’t it?

Where else?

Scene change? – me talking

So, that’s three or four points, arguments to show that “corporal” punishments aren’t the only rough kind, because all punishments have force, violence, and disregard as their basic, necessary ingredients.

I repeat: what is any punishment if we don’t follow through?

Punishing means following through.

Unfortunately, following through means just what it sounds like it means.


“Corporal” is not the point, if the other kind is also nasty, is what I’m saying.

What I’m saying is corporal punishment VS non-corporal punishment is not really it, it’s not a meaningful distinction.

The distinction should be physical or not, violent or not, if that’s what we’re trying to say, ‘don’t hit.’

Does it really matter if we hit them because we planned to, because that’s the sort of penalty we like and really not matter if we hit them to make them stay in timeout, stay in house arrest, or complete their extra chores?

Scene change? – a scene to show this? The old one of Dad marching a kid to the neighbor’s with the broken window, ball gear . . .

If we hit them to force them to do the restorative part, pay for the broken thing, apologize to someone?

Scene change? – – a cartoon for the following?

This entire conversation, could be put another way, I could say that we don’t endorse “corporal punishment” for original crimes, the thing the child did to warrant punishing, but we do indeed recommend it if the little bugger won’t take the first offering.

Scene change? – me talking

Ha. Sort of.

I’m not asking this directly, ‘is hitting in those situations bad;’ I’m asking is it qualitatively different than simply skipping the restriction or the chore and just hitting them straight off?

What difference do we think it makes if we fail at what we hoped for and wind up using force and violence anyway?

None of course – well, not enough, I should say.

If a thing is rough, it’s rough.

We don’t get to pick and choose which violence is good, because it serves our purposes and which is bad, because it doesn’t; a bad thing is a bad thing, so let’s double check, ask again.

Is hitting children bad?

Apologies – it’s just a rhetorical reminder.

If that’s the distinction – whether we hit them right away or not, whether we hoped we wouldn’t have to or not – then I’m really sorry, but all of our punishments are on the wrong side of the line and the wrong side of history.

This violence isn’t from corporal punishment, from hurting kids as a penalty, this violence is from stubbornly following through and getting physical in an attempt to punish “non-physically.”

Ironic violence I suppose, but it counts!

Scene change? – Monty Python fish slap? Back to me talking

Corporal punishment is physical by definition and non-corporal punishment still depends on our willingness to back it up with force, so there really isn’t a sort of punishment that doesn’t.

That means everything that is wrong with “corporal punishment” – which we say as though it means “violent punishment,” as if there were another kind – is really what’s wrong with punishment, all of it.

There is no “other kind,” this is what I’m trying to show, because again, as we know, what is discipline if we don’t back it up, don’t follow through?

Oh, Hell, this is the way I write, isn’t it? Nobody talks like this.

Actually, nobody writes like this either, let’s all just be thankful for that and move on.


Just say it, right?

We can’t “not hit” young children and still have control. I’m not condoning “corporal punishment;” that was intended to demonize control.

Control is the problem, and deciding “not to hit” alone won’t help.

When our control of our kids is non-negotiable, they will make us hit them, which is the trap, the rookie mistake we all make.

Do we think our parents were never starry-eyed youngsters who were never going to do that to their kids?

OK, maybe not all of them, but certainly some were!

The trap got them and us along with it, and it’s going to get us again because of this . . . misunderstanding, this misconception that hitting is merely a choice, when we’re not really changing any of the other choices that our parents made.

The trap has us if we think that.

Again, if our control of our kids is non-negotiable, they will make us hit them.

Didn’t many of us do exactly that in our youth?

Call the bluff, make them hit us?

Scene change? – Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting, “Nope. Bottle.” Williams, “Why?” Damon: “”Cause fuck him, that’s why!” Back to me, talking

I know my brother did, regularly.

(My ‘back story’ is that I watched my three older siblings and the fighting that went on in the house, and watched my hyperactive brother attract all the attention, more bad than good – so I was good, scared straight.

Actually, though, I did act out and earned a spanking and a grounding once, I guess, an all-day skip out of grade four or five and shoplifting spree, and it was from that sort of need too, for sure, testing for limits.

It was my one and only formal punishment as I recall, in childhood, before the teen dropout/rebellion.

The teen thing was too late for spankings and by then there really wasn’t anyone around with the will or the attention to administrate the groundings.

It’s at about that age that for good or ill, our parenting is often already done and over.)

Thing is, until we have kids, we may not know that we are quite so committed to being in charge, many of these attitudes are, uh, unexamined.

Scene change? – family voting scene from ‘Signs?’

Back to me, talking

For many of us, the idea of some democracy in the family is a new and dangerous idea, no-one suggests it; and if no-one questions parents’ rights, then no-one has to answer for them.

You know what?

It was sort of possible taking the first three quarters of this thing at least a little ways down the road towards fun – irony is fun for adults, right? –but at some point things are serious, or we wouldn’t be here, would we?

Punishment, over-punishment and abuse are very real.

I’ll try, but I’m afraid I can’t see many jokes from here to the conclusion . . . I’ll just try to make our time on the Dark Side as brief as possible and just remind us all that the truth can be painful, but it will set you free.

I think getting outside of this particular box hurts – so to try to take the sting out of it, let’s just watch my hummingbird feeders while we push on, OK?

Humour can only take us so far.

I think maybe some peace and quiet might serve us better.

Scene change? – Hummingbird video . . .


We’ve all watched parenting or caregiving from the day we were born, and it’s like the air, always there, we’ve never known life without it, and we can’t imagine having to ask ourselves what it is, or how it should be approached, right?

Scene change? – early scene from ‘Look Who’s Talking?’

Hummingbird video . . .

Of course, I‘m sorry if it’s obvious, but humans have built some deep fields of knowledge on the subject of air, despite that the air has always been there, that we’ve watched it from the day we were born . . . pick anything and look closely, and there’s a world of study in it.

For me it’s this question, one better than ‘corporal punishment or not’ this one – ‘punishment or not?’

For me, this opens up a new understanding of the world, such as the bit I’m trying to share with you today, which is “corporal punishment” is too specific, that too much violence, too much damage to children and damage to family relationships is still getting past.

Which it is.

Consider the growing prison industry and the proliferation of psychiatric drugs for kids and teens.

These poor fixes show that something isn’t working, that the hurt and the damage are still happening, despite our idea that we have stopped supporting violent punishing practices, because really we haven’t; not yet.

As children, we’ve all felt unfairly punished and known that those times had the opposite of our parents’ intended effect, that they made us sad, angry, less wanting to be responsible, upstanding citizens, if that was they wanted.


As parents, haven’t we all had some heartbreak or remorse, feeling terrible after having done the ‘tough, responsible thing,’ perhaps sensing that the effect wouldn’t be what we wanted?

Both of these multi-generational hurts happen because of this trap, because we imagine that simply choosing not to hit is going to be the answer to it, while really, that wasn’t the trap itself but only the bait.

It happens, our hearts broken at both ends of the transaction.

As kids and again as parents, we fall prey to this misconception that we can have it all our way with the kids, total control without hurting them in the process, because we think only “corporal punishment” is the bad kind, we think only “corporal punishment” will hurt and damage them.

When really, there is no other variety than the bad one.

Really, it’s all bad – if by “bad” you’ll allow that I mean forceful, callous, often violent . . .

“Corporal punishment” is the central element of a myth that allows the violence to continue that none of us wants or we wouldn’t buy into it in the first place.

Irony always in this conversation.


I hope I’ve been able to get us to see this myth, this “corporal punishment” with fresh eyes and some logic, and to see how that idea misses the point and subverts our efforts to lessen the violence and callousness inherent in our childrearing.

It’s a test for truth, that when we buy into a narrative and the promised change isn’t forthcoming, that the truth is lacking.

Let’s stop wasting each other’s’ time with this one, OK?

Let’s look at it a little closer, and we’ll see: the emperor has no clothes, the myth has no truth.

Banning “corporal punishment” will not stop the violence in our childrearing, and hoping so, just as so many of our parents did, won’t change it either.

We need to kill this well-intended zombie lie, and you know how to kill a zombie.

You have to go for the head, the brain.

Now, finally, again, don’t get me wrong, end corporal punishment now, sure – but it’s not the real problem.

The real thing, of which corporal punishment is only its lure, is punishment, all punishment.

I mean, we’ll phase it out; it won’t be all at once, I know what that’s like.

We don’t punish at our house, so when we get a punished kid to look after who’s in that never-ending grudge match with the adults, and he starts looking for a fight?

We can’t deal, we dial 911.

We just can’t play that game anymore.

So I get how if we simply punished and pissed everybody off forever and then suddenly removed all constraints – I get it, not bright, kind of terrifying.

Looking at you, Bieber.

There it is! Sorry, I had that one loaded up, I kind of had to.

Scene change? – scene of JB behaving badly

Hummingbird video . . .


Slow change is OK – but “corporal punishment’s” end is NO change, because every sort of punishment requires the ‘follow through.’

In that sense, all we’ve done is taken a stand and condemned the mirage, but no actual, real thing is going to be examined or criticized.

Worst case scenario, we’ll act like we’ve found the problem, and we’ll grow old and die wondering what went wrong – the current state of affairs – the worst case means we just never figure it out.


Of course, the only possible real cause to point to is punishment itself, again, if we think hitting kids is bad and we shouldn’t do it.

It might change the world if we can see that, if we can see that it’s the very core of it, the essence of punishing we’re really at issue with and not something . . . peripheral.

If it’s violence, hurt and disregard we’re trying to stop, then we’ll have to start to see that’s all punishment that is, let’s say problematic.

That’s the first step, obviously.

The thing is, we don’t even try to solve a problem if we’ve confused it with a solution. That’s part of this problem.

Scene change? – A few seconds of peace and quiet, then back to me talking

Thank you for reaching the end!

I’ll have the text of this available at abusewithanexcuse.com, my WordPress blog and elsewhere, along with two hundred mostly shorter blogs from the last few years, and I’m happy to discuss any and all of it.