A recent study published online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal brings up the unresolved debate about parental rights and physical punishment of children. This study lends support to an argument I made some years ago in an article called “Suing for Lost Childhood” about the use of the delayed discovery rule in child sexual abuse cases. In my article, I argued that physical abuse of children and neglect can have impacts on children’s development that are as destructive as sexual abuse, but for a variety of reasons we are as a culture more attuned to issues related to children and sexuality. (I later called the analysis used in that article “narrative genealogy” as it traces the cultural origins and migrations of stories that ultimately had shaping effects on legal decisions.)
The CMAJ study reviews 20 years of published research on physical punishment of children and concludes that no evidence exists of positive outcomes. Physical punishment is correlated with aggression and antisocial behavior, cognitive impairment and developmental problems, as well as depression, spousal abuse, and substance abuse. Co-author Joan Durrant says, “”There are no studies that show any long term positive outcomes from physical punishment.” Summaries of the study say that the study refutes the frequent argument that aggression comes before corporal punishment and not vice versa. (I’ll get to the viral video of the dad shooting his daughter’s computer with a .45).