Corporal Punishment/Public Humiliation Part 1: Effects on Child Development

This a 2-part prequel to a 4-part Intentional Parenting series I want to start in April and continue 1x a month until July, writing from the perspective of a therapist providing supportive counseling to individuals interested in having or people who already have children. But before I start the series, I want to make sure that we’re all on the same page and have the same foundation. Meaning, we agree that corporal punishment (beatings) and public humiliation (shaming) are child abuse. And we agree that beating and/or humiliating children cause harm that outweighs any imagined “benefits”.

Lemme disclose right quick: my parents definitely believed in corporal punishment (beatings) and public humiliation (shaming) as discipline. Just like their parents and their parents before them and probably their parents too. I, and everyone I grew up around, thought this was normal even while we communed miserable experiences. Even as an adult, I have run into more people who have been beat and/or shamed as a child than people who haven’t. It’s gotten to the point that if you weren’t beat/humiliated as a child or if you’re a parent who decided not to beat/humiliate your children, people look at you like you’re weird. It honestly wasn’t until I started actively studying psychology that I learned how harmful beatings and shaming are to children and to adults. I’m sharing this information with you so we can begin to end this cycle. I want us to heal. This was a difficult series to write emotionally for me. I felt myself dragging my feet to write this because of how heavy this topic can be, but this is incredibly important and I really wanted to share this with y’all. It’s okay if you feel uncomfortable reading this and need to take as many breaks as I did while writing this.

Before I get into the ways beatings and humiliation are psychologically harmful, I want to state the obvious: Beatings and shaming don’t actually work. Think about all the reasons y’all got beat or shamed by your parents/guardians. Bet money y’all still:

  • Lie
  • Are disrespectful to elders
  • Cheat on things
  • Have messy bedrooms
  • Procrastinate
  • Masturbate

So if you’re still doing these things to this very day then beatings/humiliation failed change your behavior. You didn’t become a “better” person as a result. So following this logic, why continue to use methods that don’t even effectively change behavior in the long-term? That sounds like a waste of time to me.

Let’s start with the negative effects that beatings and shaming have on child development. In an article “Physical Punishment, Childhood Abuse And Psychiatric Disorders” in Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal, Tracie O. Afifi, et al. discovered that children who are beaten by their guardians are more likely to develop a mental disorder than children who were not beaten. Beatings and humiliation are supposed to be effective discipline, but, as I stated before, it doesn’t work. Most of us as adults still engage in a lot of the same behaviors we used to get beat over. We learned to hide from our parents and to lie, which sets the tone for any and all future interactions/friendships/relationships we have in the future. So by beating children, there’s a major risk of them developing a mental disorder with no real benefit to the child.

In another related article from the Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal, “Relationships Between Parents’ Use of Corporal Punishment and Their Children’s Endorsement of Spanking and Hitting Other Children,” Dominique A. Simmons and Sandy K. Wurtele found that beatings, especially frequent beatings, add to intergenerational trauma: children learn to co-sign beatings in general and cosign “aggressive problem-solving”. Meaning beating children teaches them not only that being physically hit is okay, it also teaches them that beating the tar out of other children is an appropriate way of dealing disagreements/conflicts.  Being beat as a child makes you more likely to see physical violence as the way to resolve issues you have with people. And maybe that works in some situations, but how many people have lost jobs, gotten injured in fights and have high medical bills, lost relationships, got arrested, etc. because they did not have another way to cope with the situation?

Someone might think that public humiliation/shaming is a tamer, more low-key form of discipline, but it’s just as damaging to children’s development. In Psychology Today, Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. agreed, calling the act of shaming children “ineffective” and “destructive”. Humiliating someone is a great way to show dominance, sure. But does shaming actually serve the purpose of discipline: teaching a child better behavior and how to make better choices in the future? Drexler stated the reason why shaming does not work is “because since most kids can’t distinguish between their impulses — their actions — and their selves,” the child can’t separate feeling ashamed about what they did vs shame for who they are as people. So shaming has a negative effect on children’s self-esteem. And all it really does is teach a child that their parents are capable of hurting them whenever they want and (in the case of parents’ using social media to shame their children) open the door for online strangers to harass young people on social media (comments, likes, retweets/reposts). And no one steps in and no justice is ever had. Not exactly something that makes for a solid parent-child relationship, the first relationship that a person learns how to build and manage. Children are adults in training. The human brain doesn’t finish growing until around age 25. And the last part of the brain to finish growing is the reasoning/decision-making part. Basically, our ability to make decisions and think through the consequences of our actions literally comes with age. Childhood and adolescence are basically probation periods where adults ideally guide/train them on how to be adults. They literally learn how to be people from you. Children are only going to use the tools that their parents show them. Instead of being able to use words to think about and maintain their own feelings, they are more likely to want to take their emotions out on other people or bottle those negative feelings inside.

And that’s not where the effects of corporal punishment, etc. ends. Even when we’re grown, the beatings we dealt with as children still affect us. In the Journal of Family Issues article, “Long-term Effects of Child Corporal Punishment on Depressive Symptoms in Young Adults,” Heather A. Turner and Paul A. Muller reported hitting kids in anger could lead to them being more at risk of experiencing depressive symptoms (See my depression post for more information on depressive symptoms, etc.). And it’s common knowledge in research and clinical practice that depressive symptoms can put someone more at risk of dealing with anxiety symptoms and substance abuse. It’s not enough to keep doing something just because it is what’s always been done. And the negative effects don’t just stop at an individual person. In the Journal of Pediatrics article “Childhood Corporal Punishment and Future Perpetration of Physical Dating Violence,”Jeff R. Temple, et al. found that not only do beatings teach children that hitting other children is okay, but that lesson sticks with them as they grow into adults. According to the article, beatings teach children how to treat the people they date and to deal with relationship conflicts using physical violence. The first thing that comes to mind is how this connects to the assault and murder rates of transgender and cisgender women of color, especially Black women, by their partners.

And what happens when it comes time for your adult children to take care of you? Elder abuse/neglect is unfortunately very common. If your adult child’s main way of dealing with frustration is with physical violence and then they take on the frustrating and stressful task of caring for you, an elderly parent:  How will they treat you? I mean, really, give yourself some time to think about it.

If you don’t have children and you truly feel you can’t raise children without beating/shaming them and have no interest in changing your methods, then be real with yourself. Just like anything: raising children involves sacrifice, compromise, and growth. If you don’t want to change yourself for the better of the child, you are probably not ready to have children.

If you already have children and want to change your behaviors for the better of your child/children, your next move is looking in the mirror and seriously begin asking yourself some hard questions, like:

  • What’s your end goal when you are disciplining your child? What lesson are you trying to teach? Does your method ACTUALLY teach the lesson or does it do something else for you (give you a power thrill, make you feel better, make you feel avenged, create fear, etc)?
  • What emotions do you feel in the moment when your child does something that disappoints/upsets you? In what ways do those emotions affect how you act and how you decide to punish them?
  • To what degree is beating/shaming your child a way to cope with/vent your feelings (frustration, anger, disappointment, etc) about the situation?
  • What are some things you can do to cope with these feelings/this situation BEFORE attempting to discipline your child?
  • Who can you contact for support and what kind of support do you want from them?

For the record, I am not going to be arguing back and forth with people about their opinions on corporal punishment and public humiliation/shaming. The research speaks for itself and I don’t care about anyone’s individual pro-beatings feelings or personal stories of how you specifically are “just fine”. I wouldn’t argue with someone who was anti-vaccine because that’s straight-up child endangerment and so is this. Period.

In the Part 2 of this 2-part series (which I will post on 3/25/18), I will cover alternatives to corporal punishment and public humiliation by talking about the psychology of how humans learn (Example: Learning from watching other people) and how knowing a little psychology can help you figure out ways to discipline children that will assist you in teaching the lessons that children need to learn in order to thrive. Thanks for reading.

Next post will be an intro to self-care on 3/11/18.

There’s a Time And a Place for Dating, Etc. And It’s Not At Work

I was inspired to write this when I saw an article of Tavis Smiley, saying, “Where else are you going to meet people in this business?” in response to PBS pulling his distribution deal in light of sexual misconduct accusations. I hear this every single time a work sexual harassment/sexual misconduct situation comes up.  It’s used as a way to try to make someone feel sorry for the person (because now that person looks sad and lonely). The question usually makes people uncomfortable and they don’t have a readily available fix for this situation so this is usually where the conversation dies off. This could be on purpose or it could be them subconsciously doing it. Either way, it’s a way to take the heat off of a person. And it usually gets the job done. But for psychotherapists, like me, this is just the beginning of the conversation. And it should be the same for you.

I am writing this post to address the question, “But where else am I going to meet people?”. The short answer is “…not at work.” I want to talk about 1) the psychological importance of keeping up a balance between the time you spend at work and your personal time, 2) the risks of dating coworkers, and 3) why employers “dating” employees is inappropriate at best because it potentially leads to abuse.

One of the first things that pops into my head when I hear, “But where else am I going to meet people?” is:

Why are you spending so much time at work?

No, but seriously why? Why do people spend so much time at work? Part of it is society’s expectations/pressures. This society values working at least 40 hours a week. Someone’s job/career becomes their whole identity and our jobs can have a huge influence on many of our internal clocks and schedules. This society also values our ability to work. Look at how health insurance is mainly connected to one’s job instead of health and wellness being a basic human right for all. Society (read: capitalism) even sees dedicating your whole self to labor as linked to your morals. How often do you hear someone talking about deserving something because they are “hard-working”? So many people have dedicated years of their lives to companies and were paid in dust. People are used up and spit out when they no longer have that same energy instead of valued for the effort they’ve invested into the company and any wisdom they gained. People are seen as expendable and very easily replaced like machine parts. People are not valued beyond what they can produce right now. And this, along with society teaching people to see their job as their main identity, results in people whose mental health is neglected. An employee’s monthly deliverables are valued over encouraging employees to take breaks, use vacation time, engage in self-care individually and as a team, etc.

And before anyone says “How is that a job’s responsibility?”: Companies ask, strongly encourage, require, and/or demand that their employees work overtime on a regular basis. Many people are often asked to work on their off days. Many people are asked to perform the duties of 2-3 people while only getting paid 1 person’s salary. Employers demand loyalty from their workers, but what do they do to earn that loyalty? What does your job do to earn your over time? Do you get paid enough to justify that effort? Do you get enough time off? How is your health insurance? If your job is sacrificing your mental health and there aren’t even any material benefits…come on.

Time for some self-reflection. If you are noticing that you are spending so much time at work that you don’t have time to date or to make time for hobbies, that is a red flag. Something is wrong with your schedule. Contrary to America’s puritan values, work should not be the center of someone’s life. You are more than a laborer. Work is supposed to be 1 of MANY parts of your life. There’s a reason you aren’t as content or as fulfilled as you’d like to be. There are parts of your life that are unfulfilled while all of your focus is being dedicated to work. More times than not, your job is not worth the unconditional loyalty they demand from you. Clock out and figure out who you are outside of work.

Assuming you want to date someone who is compatible with you, it would make the most sense to use hobbies, events, socials, meet-ups, parties, extracurricular workshops/classes, hookup/dating apps and websites…you know, situations that were basically created for the purpose of meeting other people. You know that saying, “There’s a time and a place for everything”? That’s wisdom. Being on the same page is important. There’s less room for miscommunication. Less room for “I thought they were into me!” when it’s actually “I was just being nice!”.  When people are at work, they’re more likely to focus on being polite to protect feelings rather than being open/clear about their lack of interest. No one wants to be the mean one. It’s easy to get into unrequited love/lust situations at work because you’re looking in the wrong place. Like looking to buy a hammer at a mattress store. Don’t get mad. Look somewhere else.

When you have other things going on in your life, it’s really easy to avoid workplace sexual and romantic relationships. I think because many people spend too much time at their workplace, it is easy to forget why they are there. Keeping an active personal life is an example of self-care and setting boundaries. When you know that you have other things to do after work, you conserve your energy throughout the day to make space for all your activities. That’s a good thing.

I know we hear about all the stories of coworkers meeting each other and falling in love. Or of couples who have started businesses together with little to no stresses on the relationship and they’re “fine” and live happily ever after the end. But that’s rare. The average person has more stories about the coworkers who dated each other and then all the sitcom-level nonsense that went down. So let’s be real. Coworkers dating while working together is distracting. You can say it isn’t, but it is. Everyone at the workplace knows when coworkers are dating and everyone knows when they’re fighting. It stalls the work day in obvious ways (people using coworkers as mouthpieces, which slows things down) and/or subtle ways (going out of your way to communicate only via email as a way to avoid face-to-face contact). It’s poor boundaries because now you’re seeing this same person all day with no breaks, which isn’t the best for most relationships anyway. Eventually y’all are going to get on each other’s nerves. And that’s assuming that there wasn’t any toxicity or abuse in the relationship to start with. That turns a situation from uncomfortable to potentially dangerous, not just for the partners, but for everyone at the workplace. Despite the fairy tale exceptions, it is generally risky for coworkers to date each other while working in the same workplace. And like I said earlier, when you have other things going on in your life, it’s not necessary to take on those kinds of low-benefit, high cost risks.

Although I see gray areas for coworkers dating each other (meaning I admit that there are situations in which coworkers could be in healthy relationships while working together despite the huge risk to the work environment):

Employers having sex with and/or “dating” employees is inappropriate.

This is due to the unequal power dynamics between employer and employee. Healthy interpersonal relationships are ones in which all the people involved respect and treat each other like equal human beings (I am not talking about D/s or M/s sexual dynamics in BDSM here) and where everyone is in a position to be able to give their enthusiastic consent. When the power is not shared equally in a relationship, there is the potential for abuse and neglect. When 1 person makes substantially less than another AND relies on that person financially, that power imbalance creates a potential for abuse [That is what makes paying everyone the same wage for a task regardless of their gender so powerful. It further decreases the opportunities for someone to be taken advantage of]. It is impossible to truly give consent, let alone enthusiastic consent, if the relationship is unbalanced from jump. If 1 person has the power to fire the other person in the relationship, that could mean loss of income, an inability to pay rent and bills, and possible homelessness because of the boss’s personal feelings.

If someone has that kind of power over you, you eventually are probably going to be careful of how you act around them, treading lightly around them, and more likely to agree to things you don’t really wanna do to keep them happy and keep the peace.

On the other side, your happiness is completely linked to their ability to keep a roof over their head. If you have that control over someone, they can never be their full, true selves with you without risking their livelihood. If you are cool with that, well…it definitely says a lot about what you are looking for in a “relationship”.

Because of this inherent inability to consent, this situation is a landmine for abuse. Even if it’s begun with best of intentions, a boss having sex and/or dating an employee is all fine and good until the moment it’s not. And then what? It’s messy for no real reason. The temporary thrill isn’t worth it in the long run. And there are much better thrills without the huge costs/risks.

There’s a time and a place for everything. Work isn’t supposed to be your everything and work was not created for dating. It’s not the most efficient place to date. Look at your job description. Listen to your mind & body. Your dissatisfaction is a sign that you need to diversify your life, not that you need to rely even more on this 1 area of your life. Having better boundaries creates a better work environment (because everyone is on the same page and there’s no room for miscommunication) and creates a better personal life for you.

TLDR: Where else can you go to find people? Clock out and explore the other interests/areas of your life. Again, there’s a time and a place for everything. Thanks for reading.

Next post will be a part 1 of a piece on adults using corporal punishment and public humiliation to discipline children on 2/25/18.