005 – Chapter 1, Part 1

Chapter 1

Parental Disciplinary Practices andthe Ways Children Learn


“Children are to be seen and not heard.” “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Such slogans have guided parenting across the ages and were thought by many to contain a great deal of wisdom and truth. Hidden from view was an ugly by-product of these views of children and how to deal with them: children from all social strata were being neglected and mistreated, emotionally and physically, by the parents upon whom they were dependant for everything.

Our society finally confronted this betrayal of the most fundamental trust only after a long struggle against laws that treated children as property. In the 1870’s the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals successfully argued in court that children deserve protections at least as adequate as those provided to animals, and soon thereafter laws began appearing to limit the abuse of children at the hands of adults.

Over the centuries and across a great many cultures punishment was seen as the essential tool of discipline, to the point that the term discipline is commonly used as a synonym for punishment. This notion appears to be institutionalized in Western society:

In 2004 the British House of Lords defeated a law to outlaw spanking children even though adults aren’t allowed to hit each other. A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair stated, “The government wants an outcome that maintains the balance between the parent’s right to discipline and protecting the child. That is why we don’t want to criminalize parents. That is why we are opposed to outright bans. The government wants to send a signal that parents do have a right to discipline the child.”

In a similar vein in this county, proponents of corporal punishment commonly include the inference that discipline depends upon it. But to what extent does the focus on discipline through punishment represent the way that most modern parents deal with their own children?

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