by Alice Miller
Many researchers have already proved that corporal punishment on children may indeed produce obedience in the short term but will have serious negative consequences on their character and behavior. Only if there was at least one single person who loved and understood the child, the disastrous development toward later crimes and illnesses could be prevented. During their whole childhood, dictators like Hitler, Stalin or Mao never came across such a helping witness. They learned very early to glorify cruelty and hypocrisy and to justify them while committing crimes on millions of people. Millions of others, because also exposed to physical maltreatment in childhood, helped them to do so without the slightest remorse.
Children should not be the scapegoats of adults’ painful experiences. The claim that mild punishments (slaps or smacks) have no detrimental effects is still widespread because we got this message very early from our parents who had taken it over from their own parents. This conviction helped the child to minimize his suffering and to endure it. Unfortunately, the main damage it causes is precisely our numbness as well as the lack of sensitivity for our children’s pain. The result of the broad dissemination of this damage is that each successive generation is subjected to the tragic effects of seemingly harmless “correction”. Many parents still think: What didn’t hurt me can’t hurt my child. They don’t realize that their conclusion is wrong because they never challenged their assumption.
When in Sweden legislation laws prohibiting corporal punishment were launched in 1978, 70% of the citizens asked for their opinion were against it. In 1997, the figure had dropped to 10%. These statistics show that the mentality of the Swedish population has radically changed in the course of a mere 20 years. A destructive tradition of millennia has been done away with thanks to this legislation.
It is imperative to launch legislation prohibiting corporal punishment all over the world. It does not set out to incriminate anyone but is designed to have a protective and informative function for parents. Sanctions could simply take the form of the obligation for parents to internalize information on the consequences of corporal punishment available today. Information on the “well-meant smack” should therefore be broadcasted to all, since unconscious education to violence takes its roots very early and inflicts disastrous imprints. The vital interests of society as a whole are at stake.
“Punishment Does Not Work”
Copyright © Alice Miller, 1998