Bad advice from people who should know better
By David Cooperson, LCSW, ACSW, June 14, 2007

I was appalled to read an endorsement for corporal punishment in the 2007 book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen by Dr Robert Epstein, former Editor and Chief of Psychology Today and former research professor at a California University.

On page 333 he discussed research studies about the effect of paddling on schoolchildren. He wrote "Not a single one shows spanking a child [or paddling a young person in school] actually causes the associated problems." He also wrote "Corporal punishment although barbaric and unpleasant, is actually useful sometimes in child rearing." This is from a man who, according to his own account, taught non-physical methods of punishment to clinical psychologists for years to enable them to fulfill their licensce requirements. But now, in apparent self-contradiction, he claims that corporal punishment is "the only technique we have to supress behavior both immediate and long term."

There has been an explosion of research about the effects of abuse on the developing brain. Numerous studies by Murray Strauss and others demonstrate the deleterious effects of physical punishment. Dr. Epstein seems to have ignored this research, and the actual experiences of the professionals who work day to day with children. Epstein admits on page 334 that corporal punishment is "a risky means of behavioral management," but he still maintains its value. On page 323, he says acceptance of corporal punishment is one of the changes that should be made, although parents or schools must prove they tried less risky behavior management that did not work.

I recently retired after 32 years as an administrator, supervisor and social worker responsible for the well being of abused and at-risk children. I dedicated my retirement years to working with organizations in anyway I could to educate the public about the danger of child abuse both in families and in schools. For professionals, who should know better, to condone the use of corporal punishment is especially dangerous. I know this from personal experience. I have seen many seriously injured children whose abusers used the excuse: "it was just corporal punishment" or "it was a last resort." In the course of my professional career, I also have seen countless parents and school employees who may have been abused themselves or who were otherwise unstable, looking for justifications for the use of corporal punishment on children. Authorities who give them that permission are a very special threat to children.

We face a formidible task if we are to achieve true safety for our children and for future generations of children. Dr. Epstein's new book doesn't help. As for those famous experts who have offered too-generous endorsements of The Case Against Adolescence, I can only assume they hadn't read it.

David Cooperson, MA, MSW, LCSW, ACSW



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