Feature

Corporal punishment: The ugly reality

The YouTube video of a father whipping his daughter with a belt for seven minutes has renewed the debate over corporal punishment.

Imagine waking up to find video of “the worst thing you’ve ever done” all over the Internet, said Bob Richter in the San Antonio Express-News. That’s the predicament of county Judge William Adams of Texas, whose daughter Hillary, now 23, last week uploaded to YouTube hidden-camera footage of her furious father viciously whipping her with a belt for seven long minutes, back in 2004. The harrowing clip went viral, and was viewed millions of times. In a TV interview, Adams said he hadn’t “done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing.” Millions of Americans would agree with him, said Erik Eckholm in The New York Times. Witness the wild success of a Christian parenting manual, To Train Up a Child, which has sold 670,000 copies and recommends beating children with “quarter-inch flexible plumbing line.” To raise children without physical punishment, says its evangelical author, Michael Pearl, would be “to give up our views of human nature, God, eternity.”

In theory, corporal punishment can sound reasonable—a biblically sanctioned tool for teaching right from wrong, said Patricia Kilday Hart in the Houston Chronicle. But the Adams video illustrates the reality. Defiant teens can provoke real rage, and the resulting discipline often escalates beyond a well-meaning parent’s intentions.” Even if “the rod” is administered with restraint, said the Chicago Sun-Times in an editorial, studies show that children who are frequently hit are left emotionally scarred. They’re more likely as adults to be depressed, commit crimes, and resort to violence against their own families. “Now there’s a message that needs to go viral.”

Attitudes are already slowly changing, said Patrik Jonsson in CSMonitor.com. Nationwide, the percentage of adults who believe children benefit from the occasional “good, hard spanking” declined from 83 percent to 70 percent between 1986 and 2008. Even in the South, where corporal punishment remains legal in schools, beatings with belts and canes are far less common than they were a generation ago. The furor over the Adams video may accelerate that process—and not just because it puts corporal punishment in such an unflattering light. From now on, parents and teachers tempted to lash out physically have to wonder if their Web-savvy teens are secretly filming them—and getting ready to put the video on the Internet, for everyone to see.

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