I have been perusing your excellent Web site for over two years and have lately felt compelled to offer my contribution to the dialogue. Please feel free to post the letter below on your site, but please don't reveal my name.
I am the second son in a family of four sons and one daughter. My siblings and I are survivors of a family in which both parents were very heavy users of corporal punishment. Mom was an especially zealous practitioner, but Dad was no slouch in this regard either. Worse, I have, because of the family constellation's chronology, been effectively traumatized by CP twice: my youngest brother and my sister arrived late in the household, therefore I not only had my own and my first two brothers' CP experiences to absorb, I had to suffer the vicarious trauma of witnessing my two youngest siblings, especially my youngest brother, being assaulted regularly.
Mom was particularly severe with my youngest brother, hitting him daily and oftentimes even hourly for various peccadilloes. She routinely had him under siege by hand, switch, belt, or other weapons before his first birthday. Her constant violence shattered my already precarious psychic equilibrium; I was always fearful when my brother, for whatever reason, started to cry, because I knew that at least 40% of the time, he was going to get hit. His bedtime was a nightly battle that eventually compromised my own ability to sleep. During his first five years the family lived in the house of my maternal grandmother (who was herself a heavy CP user- we were under the gun from three pairs of hands!) and my youngest brother had to share sleeping quarters with Mom and Dad. His crib was in their room, through which we all had to pass to reach the bathroom. I cannot fathom how Mom and Dad expected the child to fall asleep on command with others running in and out, talking, making love, or watching television; but regardless, if my brother balked at quieting down and going to sleep-off came the belt and on came the pounding (Dad was usually the culprit). Meanwhile the rest of us were under the gun too and even as we ascended into our teens, if we said or did anything Mom didn't like, a stinging hand across our faces was a likely result. On one occasion Mom very nearly ruptured my eardrum because she lost her temper when I was stalling during a game of gin rummy.
None of the five siblings in the family has escaped unscathed. I am relatively healthy only because I intuited at an early age that Mom's behavior was inappropriate and we were not responsible for her immaturity. I had undergone many years of research and introspection before experiencing the cleansing vindication of the revelations offered by your website and others. I have become implacably opposed to ALL corporal punishment, no matter what the particulars or circumstances. This brings me to what I most want to share with you and your readers: CP MUST GO. No other cause is as urgent to the ultimate survival, let alone long-term health, of the human species. However, I have become convinced that our only hope of exorcising the curse of CP from this earth is to reframe the debate about it; specifically, we must decouple the issue of CP from the issue and concept of child discipline. It is time to attack CP as a human-rights issue and emphatically expose it for what it is: a nonconsensual assault upon a person, that we would never tolerate if its object were an adult but that we excuse for a child under the dubious pretext of "child discipline".
Many attributes that characterize specific acts of CP and long-term patterns of its use have a bearing on how deleterious its use will ultimately prove to the psychic and emotional health of those who receive it (and indeed, also to those who dispense it). In terms of all these attributes--frequency, duration, severity, chronicity, and context to name a few--my parents, especially Mom, were well into the range of what would now be considered abusive, even if it wasn't considered so when I was growing up. Mom routinely walloped us with belts and switches at up to a 2-Hz rate; she never lacked energy when it came to whipping us. Dad's incursions were less frequent but made up for it with sheer power and, occasionally, volcanic explosiveness-Dad was relatively slow to anger but once he did let loose, Mom's eruptions were to his as Mt. St. Helens was to Krakatoa. Reasons for CP were often flimflam and what would garner harsh CP one day might have received indifference a day earlier. On the other hand, certain issues were noncompromisable and we failed to measure up only at our peril. The drubbing Dad inflicted upon me for allegedly coming up short on my schoolwork in a semester that was barely two weeks old certainly changed my attitude toward school for the worse--forever. Whereas once I had been relatively buoyant and confident toward school, after Dad's belting I dreaded each new semester as a new obstacle I had to overcome just to stay out of trouble. It never got better for us even though we were, overall, good students--getting A's and B's and E's only meant we weren't getting our tails whipped-- THIS time. But what about next time? Back to zero, if you mess up you are TOAST. All this went on for years; indeed, if there is anything that awakened me to the need to rethink my strategy in opposing CP it was the utter egregiousness of the chronicity of my parents' (especially Mom's) use of it. No other issue fans my passionate and bitter resentment of their maltreatment of my siblings and me more than this one. I shall demonstrate the magnitude of my mother's folly with two recollections.
On October 24, 1965, I, by then well into puberty, was shocked rigid when I saw Mom repeatedly hitting my youngest brother on his bare legs and buttocks with her open hand because the infant was wiggling while she changed his diapers. Her demeanor reeked of petty irritation, betraying her sentiment that she was determined to make the baby pay for complicating, to any degree, the process of getting his diapers changed. Five days later, my youngest brother turned seven months old.
On November 26, 1976, Mom got into an altercation with my first two brothers (the older is two years my senior, the other is eleven months my junior) who, at this time, were 24 and 21. I didn't know what was up but knew as Mom's voice became progressively more strident that she was verging on resorting to physical violence. Indeed I heard her command her husband "You hit this one while I hit the other one", and ducked into the bathroom terrified that the sickening sound of hand against face was imminent. Dad didn't follow through and managed to cool Mom off. When I stepped out of hiding my second brother was crying. I never learned what was going on and certainly didn't want to risk my own hide by butting in. My brothers escaped the crisis without being struck; yet had Mom not committed the tactical error (?) of enlisting her husband, she surely would have slapped them both.
Clearly, this latter episode illustrates the enormous damage my parents' CP had wrought upon our senses of autonomy and individuality. Considering that my first brother had at least a second-degree black belt in karate by this time, he had no reason to yield to Mom's physical coercion other than that he was simply too cowed and too accustomed to the idea that Mom had the unfettered right to hit us no matter how old we were. My second brother was in no better straits, and I never had the strength to entertain any notion that Mom had no business hitting any of us and that I had not only the right but the duty to intervene to stop her. At 22, all I could do was run and hide.
These extremes in the chronicity in the use of CP emphasize why I no longer believe it is appropriate to regard CP as an issue of child discipline. It is a matter of parents treating their children (?) in ways they would never treat their adult friends or coworkers and would NEVER tolerate for themselves. When a parent hits a baby who wiggles during a diaper change, the only thing that baby is likely to understand is that the person he depends on for nurturance and protection is also a source of danger. The infant hasn't yet attained a level of cognitive and moral development that would enable him to comprehend a notion of cooperating with the procedure of getting his diaper changed. Hitting the child to coerce his compliance is useless as a disciplinary expedient, but indispensable to the parent for discharging frustration and hostility. The issue is even clearer at the other end of the offspring age continuum. If by the time a mother's sons are old enough to work, vote, drive, join the army, buy a home, get married, and sire sons of their own, that woman is still trying to slap them across the face because they said something she didn't like, it ought to be obvious that her cockamamie belligerence has nothing whatsoever to do with discipline and everything to do with her own emotional immaturity and moral and intellectual bankruptcy. When she is accustomed to coercing her offspring by the sting of her hand and they continue to put up with it because they're too zombized to challenge her, she has no incentive to consider alternatives; she gets what she wants and is smug in her conviction that she's in the right and the kids (?) deserve whatever she metes out to them.
Over the millennia various segments of humanity have evolved standards for how they interact with each other. Evolution of these standards usually begins in a small segment of the populace but gradually gains currency as increasing numbers recognize the benefits. Our society has evolved to the point where the nonconsensual infliction of violence by one person upon another is taboo and, in numerous instances such as spousal violence, cultural sanction against what was once considered quite rightful and proper is now codified in law. The one conspicuous exception, the violence of a parent or other adult against a child in the guise of corporal punishment, exists largely because this particular form of violence is exempted as a legitimate disciplinary prerogative. Anyone who argues against CP on the basis of its futility and downright harmfulness as a disciplinary expedient is inevitably going to get bogged down by their detractors' demands for proof of its inefficacy and deleteriousness, and a clamor for replacements for it (the implication inevitably being that without the availability of CP, kids would go bananas and never learn any "discipline" at all). Worse, those who zealously defend CP invariably do so because they are blind to their own childhood sufferings, culturally and experientially inured to the suffering of their own children and other children, and (even if only paraconsciously) terrified of admitting to themselves that their own parents mistreated them and that they were victimized by those upon whom they most depended.
It is time for those who crusade against CP to alter their avenue of attack. Anyone who considers CP an indispensable tool of discipline, or worse, a Biblically-granted prerogative, is likely to be unimpressed by the mountainous research that supports the counterclaims that CP is ineffective as a disciplinary expedient and is harmful to children. The latter contention is particularly vacuous to the CP zealot since the harm CP inflicts usually doesn't overtly manifest itself and most children are healthy enough to weather the consequences and develop into adults capable of satisfactorily coping with societal norms and demands (hence the oft-heard refrain, "I was whipped but I turned out fine!"). Research into the adverse consequences of CP is by no means pointless; if anything it emphasizes the urgency of the need for society to quit sanctioning the practice, since although most children do turn out "okay", even they aren't unscathed and enough others are sufficiently damaged to pose a significant burden to society in the form of crime, domestic violence, sexual molestation, mental illness, or other ills. But research cannot be the anti-CP crusaders' first point of attack. They must insist that everyone, regardless of age or dependency, is entitled to freedom from nonconsensual assault. No adult has the right to hit or otherwise assault another; it is time to extend the principle of sanctity of one's corporeal space to children. People shouldn't hit each other; no adult has any right to hit a child because children are people and people shouldn't be hit. Hitting is not healthful for children and other living things! We don't tolerate an adult hitting another adult without the latter person's consent; nonconsensual assault should not be acceptable just because the perpetrator is an adult and the victim is a child. Adults must quit using "discipline" as an excuse to treat children in ways they would never tolerate for themselves.
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