Aristotle taught there are multiple types of relationships we may form during our lives, but the deepest are based on a shared understanding and acceptance of values, providing insight to enable us to better comprehend the ultimate goals and responsibilities that lie at the heart of parenting. This deeper understanding helps us grasp the developing relationship between children and parents, which becomes the model used to form adolescent and adult relationships.
The book is divided into three main topics. The first discusses “Children’s Rights”, outlining the fundamental rights of physical integrity and human dignity, also applied to children in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. (Included Appendix A). While many responsible for children, may take issue with the concept of “Children’s Rights”, the document asserts that esponsibilities, rights and duties of parents, or others legally responsible for children, including those based on local custom, and individual cultural practices, must be respected (providing they are legal within that jurisdiction). The general premise is that parents are most knowledgeable about children and are most appropriate to make decisions, unless proven otherwise. Therefore, they are considered best able to prepare children to live independently within society, and when children have been given the right to freely express themselves in matters affecting them, to help determine the weight appropriate to accord a child’s views. Thus, while the term children's rights, focuses on ensuring safety and well being, it is emphasized that those responsible for children have should set the limits, and provide input regarding these rights.
The second section reviews the literature on the prevalence of corporal punishment, factors that predict it’s use, and the implications of these findings for child behavior and development. This is a well presented and well balanced section, presenting information from both sides. One especially notable point made, is that this type of discipline is never strictly physical, always including psychological ramifications for the child. When carried out in a public, it may involve exposing the child’s body, inevitably drawing attention. This can shame and humiliate children, resulting in psychological and emotional aftereffects.
Another important point raised is that, with the exception of the most extreme cases, there is no adequate way to identify the boundary between physical punishment and abuse,. There is a generally held standard that when discipline leaves marks it’s abuse. However, any Pediatric Emergency Room Physician will confirm there are countless ways of causing pain leaving no marks. Cultural differences found in the U.S. and countries are also described. With the existence of so much variability, creating a demarcation between “acceptable physical punishment” and “physical abuse” is not practical. Without a valid and reliable manner of conceptualizing and categorizing physical discipline, or the ability to collect data, research to determine how to define and interpret differences cannot produce dependable results or useful implications.
Given this, the author does a remarkable job of synthesizing the research conducted in the area to date, pointing out confounds or weaknesses, and offering exceedingly conservative interpretations.
Based on an international review, the author concludes, that corporal punishment is extremely common in the lives of numerous children in multiple countries. Additionally, the literature demonstrates a lack of evidence supporting corporal punishment as an effective educational or disciplinary technique, while providing overwhelming evidence that it contributes to developmental problems, some relatively short term, but many worsening sometimes into adulthood. Many believe that corporal punishment will improve children's behavior, helping them grow into responsible adults. The research suggests that corporal unishment is associated with aggression and antisocial behavior, impedes moral development, destroys the child’s respect for parents, and commonly precipitates escalating physical violence, and emotional or mental abuse, across generations.
The author transitions into a positive discussion of suggestions, advice, alternative practices from other cultures and case examples where corporal punishment has been replaced by other techniques, resulting in positive family changes in a relatively short time period.
The encouraging ending to the second section transitions cleanly into the third, which consists of constructive suggestions for child discipline, demonstrated to improvie family relationships and teach age appropriate behaviors. While able to provide only basic information, it establishes a basis for beginning to think about child discipline in different ways. In addition, there is a wealth of additional resources supplied in Appendix B.
The primary strength of this book is the extensive research related to the books thesis, summarizing a complex body of literature and empirical findings from all over the world. The information is integrated such that conclusions can be drawn, based on a concise extraction of the crucial information from countless primary sources. Much of the book is devoted to presenting positive, practical alternatives, explaining and discussing them based on multicultural perspectives. In addition, an extensive list is included of national and international resources that can provide further education and more detailed explanations of alternative disciplinary techniques.
Although corporal punishment remains a sensitive, hotly debated topic, the authors do an exceptional job of presenting and backing their case with objective support, and providing a clear path that can lead to improving our ability to raise children to become well adjusted adults.